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Western Press Review: Kyoto Conference Agrees On Emission Reductions

  • Don Hill

Prague, 11 December 1997 (RFE/RL) -- A global warming conference ended today in Kyoto, Japan, and Western press commentary critically examines the results.

NEW YORK TIMES: Environmentalists hailed the agreement

New York Times science writer William K Stevens notes in an analysis today that the conference's agreement covers only some of the issues and is only conditionally binding on the participants, but is considered to be an achievement none-the-less.

Stevens writes: "Negotiators from around the world agreed (today) on a package of measures that for the first time would legally obligate industrial countries to cut emissions of waste industrial gases that scientists say are warming the Earth's atmosphere. But details on one contentious issue -- the possible trade or sale of emission permits between countries -- remain unsettled, and may remain unsettled for months, and the United States has said it wants this issue resolved before it signs the treaty. Any treaty is subject to approval by the U.S. Senate."

The writer says: "Despite the uncertainties, some environmentalists hailed the agreement as a remarkable political and economic innovation, in that it would establish a global system for dealing with what many scientists believe is the overarching environmental concern. Opponents of the treaty condemned it as economically ruinous."

Stevens writes: "The agreement appears to represent a significant concession by the United States." And adds: "It remains to be seen, however, whether the (administration of U.S. President Bill Clinton) can persuade the Senate to accept the agreement, or even whether the United States will sign it."

CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR: There is a price to pay for any activity that generates carbon dioxide

Global warming countermeasures would have immediate effects on consumer pocketbooks, Cameron Barr writes in today's issue of the U.S. newspaper Christian Science Monitor. Barr says: "Just as many people now see their garbage as something that costs money to throw away, they may soon have to accept that there is a price to pay for any activity that generates carbon dioxide -- say, driving a car. The price of gasoline may rise 50 cents a gallon by the year 2010; electric bills could be 50 percent higher, and inflation may rise while the economy slows, according to a new forecast."

Despite the uncertainties remaining, Barr writes, "The talks themselves are an achievement, the culmination of a century of scientific inquiry, decades of activism, and years of growing public and political awareness about the dangers of polluting the atmosphere. Nearly 160 countries have participated in the negotiations." He says: "It is of little surprise that a pact to prevent global warming has been so hard to conclude. Even in an era that has seen an ever-increasing amount of international cooperation -- from pacts to save fisheries to regional trade blocs to last week's land-mine ban -- the Kyoto deal asks a lot."

TIMES: The mountain of preparatory negotiations has produced a mouse

A Times of London essay by Wilfred Beckerman comments skeptically today about the root issue of global warming, in Beckerman's phrase, "The Kyoto Fallacy." He writes: "As had long been inevitable, the mountain of preparatory negotiations leading up to the Kyoto conference has produced a mouse. Green pressure groups will now protest that we have betrayed our obligations to future generations."

The essay goes on: "But four key points need to be established in order to justify this dismay at the failure of Kyoto to produce really effective action to curb global carbon emissions. These are that predictions of significant climate change are reasonably reliable; such change would seriously damage future standards of living; the costs of preventing climate change are less than this likely damage; and any policies adopted do not hit the poor for the benefit of the rich.

"In fact, only the first link in the chain has any strength at all. And even that is exaggerated by the vast scientific and bureaucratic establishment that is financing its research and building careers on the back of the threat of global warming.

LOS ANGELES TIMES: The hardest task was simply to find common ground

Maggie Farley, writing from Kyoto today in the Los Angeles Times, says in an analysis that the conference took only a step in a continuing process. She writes: "The accord crafted this week in Japan has been called one of the most difficult international pacts ever negotiated, with the 166 countries gathering to decide the future of Earth's atmosphere discovering that their hardest task was simply to find common ground." The writer says: "While nearly all sides lauded the adoption of the protocol, which seemed at some moments precariously close to failure, it is considered by most to be a work in progress."