Prague, 11 December 1997 (RFE/RL) -- After 11 days of grueling talks and tough negotiations, 150 nations have drafted what seems destined -- if it survives -- to go down in history as the "Kyoto Protocol."
Bleary delegates in Kyoto, Japan, ended a world environmental conference today with a round of applause and an agreement on the table. The protocol sought to knock a dent in what some believe is the biggest problem facing the 21st century -- global warming. And the United States, which originally came to the conference unwilling to cut its gas emissions, ended up taking responsibility for its role in producing half of the world's pollution.
The crux of the agreement involves 38 nations and binding cuts which would be achieved between 2008 and 2012. Under the pact, the European Union would reduce its greenhouse emissions by 8 percent from 1990 levels, Japan by 6 percent and the United States by 7 percent. Twenty-one other industrialized countries would meet similar targets. On average, the 38 nations would be cutting greenhouse emissions by slightly more than five percent from 1990 levels.
The United States' role in the pact is particularly important. Because the United States is responsible for more than half of the world's pollution, delegates in Kyoto looked to that country to take a leading role in reductions. Originally U.S. Vice President Al Gore planned to walk away from the treaty promising about a 3 percent cut. Then in a 24-hour visit to the conference, Gore promised delegates that the United States would agree to a 5 percent cut. In the end, feedback from other nations and political representatives encouraged Gore and U.S. President Bill Clinton to give a little more. The result? A seven percent cut.
U.S. senators in Kyoto said that the Clinton administration will face a battle in Congress to win ratification of the accord. A Senate resolution passed unanimously earlier this year opposes any treaty which gives the developing world a free ride on cutting emissions or that threatens to harm the U.S. economy.
In Kyoto, Senator Chuck Hagel expressed one opinion, in his words: "There is no way, if the President signs this, that the vote in the United States Senate will even be close. We will kill this bill."
Other nations may face similar problems when they bring the pact home for approval from their governments.
A feature of the accord is an emissions trading element. Under it, a nation falling short of its cutback target could purchase unused emission rights from another. Critics from environmental groups like Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund labeled emissions a loophole, one of many.
Another issue in the Kyoto Protocol is what role, if any, developing nations will take in improving the environment. The United States originally demanded that Third World nations agree to targets in reducing greenhouse gases. But, in the end, developing nations got a break. They will not be obligated to restrain their emissions for now, but under a special mechanism for transferring energy-efficient technologies, they will make headway in producing nonpolluting forms of energy. Richer nations will transfer technologies, like wind and solar power, to poorer nations, thus cutting their emissions.
If the evidence presented at the Kyoto conference is valid, lasting effects of the agreement would be truly global in nature. Greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide, may trap heat in the atmosphere, causing a rise in average Earth temperatures. Some scientists predict that without control measures, the average global temperature will rise roughly one to three degrees Centigrade by 2100.