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Western Press Review: Pollution And Nuclear Weapons Imperil Entire World

  • Breffni O'Rourke

Prague, 8 December 1997 (RFE/RL) -- As the United Nations talks on climate change reach their climax at Kyoto in Japan, the Western press today focuses on their presence at the talks of U.S. Vice President Al Gore.

Gore has made a last-minute trip to the environment summit to better explain the U.S. position, which is meeting opposition on several counts. He offered an olive branch soon after his arrival, when he said that he had instructed U.S. negotiators to show increased negotiating flexibility. But he said that depends on a "comprehensive plan being put in place, one with realistic targets and timetables, market mechanisms, and the meaningful participation of developing countries."


An analysis in the New York Times today says that as Gore spoke, perhaps 48 hours remained in which to forge an agreement. It said that while differences had narrowed on some issues, none had been settled.

"Two big areas of concern are under discussion", says the analysis, which is by William Stevens. "One is the extent to which industrialized countries should reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, and on what schedule. The other is the question of the near-term role of developing countries in helping solve the problem."

The article notes the different approaches of the major participants. The European Union has been seeking a 15 per cent cut on 1990 emissions of three principal greenhouse gases by 2010, while the U.S. wants to stabilize emissions of six greenhouse gases at 1990 levels by 2012.

The article says that "The combined effect of the gases, many scientists say, will raise the average global temperature by 2 to 6 degrees Fahrenheit (1 and 3 Celsius) by 2100 if emissions are not reduced. This, say the scientists, would cause the oceans to rise, rains to become heavier, floods, droughts and heat waves to become worse, ecological and agricultural zones to shift northward and growing seasons to become longer in northern climes like those of Canada and Russia."


The Financial Times today carries an article by Lyle Boulton which examines the other major stumbling block to agreement at Kyoto. That is, the attitude of the developing countries that the problem is caused by the developed world and that thus the industrial countries must bear the burden of fixing the situation.

The analysis says: "Developing countries on Friday rejected a proposal by New Zealand that they agree to a deadline for capping their emissions once the industrialized world started cutting theirs, But [British delegate, Deputy Prime Minister John] Prescott warned developing nations that unless they compromised, nothing would be done by the U.S. to tackle a problem which threatened them too.

"The U.S. Senate has said it will not ratify any deal that does not offer matching commitments by developing countries. The White House says however that it is simply seeking a formula that will commit developing countries to more climate-friendly growth with the help of know-how from the industrialized world."


An editorial in Sunday's Washington Post says the United States faces an extraordinarily difficult challenge as it seeks, during the next few days, to negotiate an international treaty on climate change with the rest of the world's nations. The editorial says this is not so much because the U.S. has suffered delays in deciding its own position. It says the real difficulty lies in the issue itself.

"Global warming presents a long-term challenge," the Post writes. "It is serious but not urgent, it has been said, while politicians excel at problems that are urgent but not serious. There's no question that human activity-particularly the burning of oil, gas and coal-will affect the earth's climate, increasingly so over the coming decades. There's no question, either, that the risks of this unprecedented human impact on climate include flooding, severe storms, droughts, pestilence and more. These risks are not imminent, however, and they cannot be quantified or predicted with any reliability. And therein lies the quandary: If we wait to take action until the risks are clearer, we may well be too late to avoid harm. But the alternative is to act before knowing whether the actions are worth the cost."

The Post editorial also looks at the economic downside of trying to do the right thing for the environment: "There are costs associated with most measures aimed at curbing the emission of greenhouse gases that cause global warming. These costs are likely to include a slowing of economic growth and job creation; even if the most optimistic scenarios come true and there is no overall economic injury, some countries, regions and companies will pay. At the same time, in the face of inaction, the cost of climate change wouldn't be shared equally, either-start with the low-lying island nations that could, quite literally, disappear. That's why an oil producer like Saudi Arabia is in Kyoto lobbying against any effective treaty, while a small island state like Antigua is desperate for results."

The Washington Post also points at what it says is the special responsibility of the United States, which, with less than one-twentieth of the world's population, produces more than one-fifth of its greenhouse gas. "It promised, back in 1992, to rein in the growth in its emissions and wrestle them back down to 1990 levels by the year 2000. Instead, the graph points steadily up: U.S. emissions will be, if current trends persist, 12 percent higher than 1990 levels by the year 2000 - and 34 percent higher by the year 2010.

"It's true that China, with its huge population and rapid economic growth, will overtake the United States in annual emission totals by the year 2015, and that it must eventually be part of any global solution. But China and other poor countries have a legitimate claim to see real signs of U.S. commitment before they agree to compromise or slow their own economic development."


Another topic occupying the press today are arms and arms control. An analysis by Steven Lee Meyers in the New York Times deals with a change in U.S. guidelines for nuclear war. It says that "during the Cold War, the United States had a stated strategy for fighting an all-out war with the Soviet Union, which basically came down to this: The Pentagon was prepared to launch or drop as many nuclear weapons as it took, for as long as it took, to win.

"But now, for the first time, the Clinton administration has rewritten the guidelines for using nuclear weapons so as to drop altogether the Pentagon's need to try to prepare to win a long, all-out nuclear exchange."

The analysis quotes General Eugene Habiger, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, as saying the new basic concept is that nuclear war is so horrific, the implications to life as we know it so profound, that it is unthinkable.

The article continues: "The new guidelines were secretly drafted over much of the last year and quietly signed by President Clinton just before Thanksgiving (Nov. 27). They call on the Pentagon to focus its strategic planning on deterring the use of nuclear weapons rather than on winning a nuclear war outright."


Sunday's Washington Post carries an analysis by David Hoffman, datelined Moscow, which deals with the START II nuclear arms reduction treaty. Hoffman writes that a senior Russian legislator, Vladimir Lukin, has said that Russia's State Duma is unlikely to ratify START II this year because of widespread opposition from Communists and nationalists.

Hoffman says Lukin's comments underscored the problems facing the agreement signed in 1993 by Presidents Boris Yeltsin and George Bush. The 450-member Duma is dominated by Communists and nationalists.

He writes: "According to diplomatic sources here, failure to approve START II has put on ice any plans for another U.S.-Russia summit.

"In recent months, Moscow and Washington have hammered out a series of smaller arms-control agreements that many experts hoped would ease the way for START II ratification. Another positive sign, diplomats said, was the Duma's recent overwhelming approval of the Chemical Weapons Convention, after Yeltsin lobbied for it.

"But backers of the START II accord in the Duma have complained that Yeltsin's efforts to get it ratified have been scattershot at best. In September, the defense and foreign ministers made a pitch for the treaty. But some lawmakers say the government has been unable to present a coherent long-term plan for restructuring Russia's nuclear forces under future agreements.