With the US facing the prospect of the least-powerful government in its history, world leaders are gathering in the Hague in an atmosphere of crisis to discuss the dangers of climate change, and there is talk of compelling the US to act domestically to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions if the country will not act on its own. The discussion centers around making provisions of the controversial Kyoto Protocol, which seeks to require industrial nations to reduce releases of carbon dioxide and other gasses which trap heat in the atmosphere.
Previously, there has been little agreement because scientific results were unclear. But a combination of new findings that powerfully support the global warming model, and bizarrely violent weather that has left homeless nearly thirty million people in India, South Asia and Mozambique, caused ferocious gales in Europe and some of history’s worst flooding in Great Britain, has changed the minds of many world leaders.
President Clinton said on Saturday, November 11 that climate change is a reality, and that the United States faces serious damage as a consequence.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair has stated that climate change is the probable cause of the British flooding, and has committed his government to seeking solutions.
The US emitted more greenhouse gasses in 1998 than Japan, Russia, Germany, Britain, Canada, Australia and Italy combined. It is by far the largest contributor to this problem, and its percentage change in emissions is rising faster than that of any other country in the developed world. In fact, emissions in Germany, Britain and France have been falling due to cleanup efforts, while emissions in Russia have dropped dramatically because of economic problems.
Senator Frank H. Murkowski, the Alaska Republican who is chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee, said important aspects of the treaty were far from the goals the Senate set in a resolution 1997, before the accord was adopted at a Kyoto meeting.
It would be an unfair burden on the American economy, Mr. Murkowski said, by forcing cuts in the use of coal and oil. And, he added, there appeared to be no requirement for developing countries to limit future emissions. That was a specific demand of the Senate resolution, which passed on a 95-to-0 vote.
Governor George W. Bush has questioned the validity of the science pointing to a warming trend caused by human activity, and is opposed to the treaty.
Vice-President Al Gore has been a supporter of the Kyoto Protocol from the beginning, having worked on its behalf in Kyoto during the 1st 1997 meeting.
Damaging and disruptive world weather patterns have changed the attitudes of many 1st world governments toward the treaty. Previously, they were hesitant to sign an accord that committed them to reductions in emissions without addressing the problem of lack of pollution standards in the third world. They were supported by delegates from oil-producing countries, who uniformly oppose any reduction in world oil consumption.
To take effect worldwide, the agreement must be ratified by any combination of industrialized countries with combined 1990 greenhouse gas emissions of 55% of the world total. Previously, it has been thought that this would be impossible without US support, but changing world weather conditions are making it more likely now that the agreement will be adopted without American participation.
Meanwhile, many international corporations, concerned at what they are being told by their own scientists, are making unilateral decisions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on their won. Among these are Ford, Shell, Polaroid, DuPont, British Petroleum, Suncor, Alcan Aluminum, the French aluminum producer Pechiny and Ontario Power Generation. Numerous other companies are actively involved in planning to take similar action. Some companies, most notably Exxon, which was also responsible for one of the world’s worst-ever oil spill at Prudhoe Bay in Alaska, lobby aggressively against environmental action.
Within the world’s insurance industry, there is also a growing movement to take unilateral action against global warming, because the gigantic losses that this industry is enduring threaten its continued ability to function. It is believed, for example, that the British floods may cost the industry sums so vast that some companies are at risk of bankruptcy.
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