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Why the White House prefers to wait.

Why the White House prefers to wait

Less than four months after endorsing this consensus statement at a Paris economic summit of leading industrialized democracies, Bush forbade his representatives at the Noordwijk conference to endorse specific emissions limits on greenhouse gases or a timetable for achieving them.

Senate leaders explored the apparent contradiction between the administration's rhetoric and policy at a Nov. 14 hearing. Testifying the day after he returned from Noordwijk, White House Science Adviser D. Allan Bromley acknowledged that in helping quash a proposal for freezing [CO.sub.2] emissions by 2005, the U.S. delegation left "an impression abroad, and to some degree in this country, . . . that the United States and specifically the Bush administration is dragging its feet" on curbing greenhouse-gas emissions.

But an anti-freeze stance "was in fact the highest form of leadership," Bromley told the Senate hearing. Many countries pressing for a specific timetable for reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions "totally lack the understanding of what they are committing themselves to, how they would achieve those commitments and what the cost of achieving those commitments might be," he said.

The United States will back only those initiatives that "we can follow through on" and achieve "in an economically reasonable fashion," Bromley said. Toward that end, he added, the United States seeks to quantify the economic impacts of various greenhouse reponses in time for the November 1990 second World Climate Conference in Geneva, Switzerland.

The U.S. government has also led an international effort to phase out ozone-damaging CFCs and has strongly supported greenhouse research, Bromley noted. It currently spends about $500 million annually, he said, on research into climate change and greenhouse-warming mitigation -- "more than an order of magnitude more than any other nation."

But Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), who chaired the hearing, remained unconvinced. The vast majority of nations, he said, went to Noordwijk prepared to adopt a freeze. Derailing their consensus signifies a failure of U.S. leadership, Kerry charged. Though scientists cannot predict precisely when the climate warming will occur and how large it will be, he said, it is "abundantly obvious" that if the world -- including the United States -- stays on its present course, environmental catastrophe lies ahead. Kerry quoted a statement made at Noordwijk by Mostafa K. Tolba, the executive director of the United Nations Environment Program: "We know enough right now to begin action."

"Between now and next November," Bromley argued, "we are not going to have any dramatic greenhouse-induced [climate] changes, so I am prepared to wait [until then to draft policies]."

This wait-and-see attitude might seem more acceptable, Sen. Albert Gore (D-Tenn.) said at the hearing, if serious questions remained about whether current greenhouse-emissions rates indeed threaten Earth's climate. But Gore pointed out that Bromley had just testified that the delay in U.S. action stems not from scientific uncertainties but instead from the administration's lack of data on the costs of responding to the greenhouse threat.
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Title Annotation:on control of greenhouse gas emissions
Author:Raloff, J.
Publication:Science News
Date:Dec 16, 1989
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