Washington, 7 October 1997(RFE/RL) - U.S. President Bill Clinton says he sides with environmental protection advocates who say the planet is at risk of damaging climate changes because of man-made pollution.
Clinton opened a scientific conference in Washington on the controversial issue of "global warming," by saying: "I know not everyone agrees on how to interpret the scientific conclusions. I know not everyone shares my assessment of the risks. But I think we all have to agree that the potential for serious climate disruption is real. "
Global warming, or climate change, has been under intense discussion in scientific, government and business circles for several years. A panel of 2,000 scientists sponsored by the United Nations found "a discernible human influence" on global climate. This segment of the world scientific community believes that the surface temperature of the Earth is warming up unnaturally because the burning of fossil fuels -- coal, oil and natural gas -- is pumping huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This traps heat radiating from the planet's surface, raising the temperature.
Continued warming will lead to elevated sea levels, coastal flooding and changes in ecosystems around the globe, some experts contend.
The solution to the problem, say environmentalists, is to sharply reduce gases produced by industry and other human activities -- such as driving cars and heating homes -- and then strictly enforce lower limits on how much of the polluting substances any nation could emit in a year.
The view that global warming is a danger is not universal, however. A significant number of scientists say that not enough is known about the workings of the Earth's climate to blame temperature increases on industry.
Skeptics do not deny that emissions are increasing, but they contend computer models are unreliable and other factors could influence warming, such as clouds and oceans.
Business and industry leaders contend the changes required would cost hundreds of millions of dollars and could do great damage to the economies of the world's leading nations.
In his speech, Clinton conceded that the issue is "one of the most complex, crossing the disciplines of environmental science, economics, technology, business, politics, international development and global diplomacy, affecting how we and all others on this planet will live, support our families, grow our food, produce our energy, and realize our dreams in the new century."
Despite the skeptics, however, Clinton said he is "that the science of climate change is real." He said that while not all of the facts are known, "what we do know is more than enough to warrant responsible action."
The task for the U.S. now, says Clinton, is to take a leading role in the international discussions about what should be done to control global warming. Clinton said that, "if we expect other nations to act on the problem, we must show leadership."
United Nations members are scheduled to convene in Kyoto, Japan in December to work out a new treaty on pollution control. Five years ago, industrial countries promised to bring fossil fuel emissions down by the year 2000. Instead, all but a few have seen emissions increase. In Japan, conference delegates will seek to negotiate binding emissions caps. The United States says it wants binding controls but has not yet said how much or when.
Any treaty would have to include mechanisms for enforcement, and in the U.S. would require Senate ratification. The Senate has already criticized some draft treaties for the Kyoto conference that would require big reductions by the U.S. but would exempt nations in development such as China and India.
The president, however, said the U.S. will go to Kyoto with the expectation that all nations, "both industrialized and developing," will participate "in a way that is fair to all."
Said Clinton: "The industrialized world alone cannot assume responsibility for reducing emissions. Otherwise, we will wind up with no reduction in emissions within a matter of a few decades. In Kyoto, therefore, we will ask for meaningful but equitable commitments from all nations."
Clinton said he knows that not everyone agrees with him on this issue and that not everyone shares his assessment of the danger, but, he said it also, "would clearly be a grave mistake to bury our heads in the sand and pretend the issue will go away."