On Global Warming, No One Is off the Hook If Emissions of Heat-Trapping Gases Are to Be Tamed, Developing Countries like China Must Participate

Article excerpt

Have no illusions about it. From the beginning, the international battles over global climate change have been intertwined with economics. And now, in the latest phase of the global warming saga - how to control greenhouse-gas emissions in an age of global markets - the issue remains economic: Who will gain and who will lose if governments agree on a new treaty that imposes specific timetables on countries to reduce emissions of heat-trapping gases?

The strategic goal ought to be clear: to curb the rising concentrations of greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide, that many scientists say contribute to shifts in weather patterns. The vehicle to accomplish this must be an action plan acceptable to a broad consensus of industrial and developing countries. How best to arrive at such a plan is a more political matter.

Global participation International talks aimed at reaching a global climate treaty will be held over the next nine months. Constructive steps that involve participation by all nations, not just industrial countries, should be considered now. For the United States, the danger is that developing countries will not be required to do anything about reducing emissions. Their output would overwhelm reductions made by industrial nations - just the opposite of what a new treaty is supposed to achieve. The fact is, developing countries, as a group, will produce the majority of greenhouse emissions in future years. According to the International Energy Agency, as much as 85 percent of the projected increase in man-made global emissions of carbon dioxide will come from developing countries and emerging economies in Eastern Europe. What's more, these countries will have an economic incentive to refuse to agree to future greenhouse gas reductions. For example, as its share of industrial output rises, China would become the world's largest source of carbon dioxide, emitting nearly double the amount the US emits and more than triple what Western Europe produces. Yet the Clinton administration has agreed to a proposed treaty that places binding commitments on industrial nations but none on developing countries. Even such economic powerhouses as Korea and Singapore would be let off the hook, while the US would be held to legally binding targets, timetables, and common measures to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions beyond the year 2000. These restrictions would commit us to a 15 to 20 percent reduction within about 10 years. …