Combating Global Warming

Buenos Aires conference works to put Kyoto agreement into effect

Last December in Kyoto, Japan, 160 countries reached an historical agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions and put markets rather than regulation and heavy taxes to work to help fight global warming. These nations are now gathered in Buenos Aires to take the next steps in meeting the most profound environmental challenge of the 21st century.

One year after Kyoto, the scientific evidence of global warming - gathered from centuries-old trees, satellites, and Arctic ice - continues to mount. Every month so far this year has set a record high for global temperatures, right on the heels of 1997, the warmest year on the books. And a powerful El Nio gave us a taste of the extreme weather we can expect from global warming - droughts and floods in Texas, drought-driven fires in Indonesia, Florida, and Mexico, and devastating floods in China and Bangladesh.

As the evidence has grown stronger, so has our resolve. Some in Congress tried to block the administration's common-sense efforts to reduce greenhouse gases. Some even sought a gag order to keep us from educating the public about Kyoto. But President Clinton stood firm and, in the recent budget agreement, won more than $1 billion for clean energy research - a 25 percent increase. He will propose more in next year, including incentives for farmers and others to take steps to absorb carbon from the atmosphere.

The administration also is working intensively with business, launching creative efforts such as the Partnership for Advancing Technology in Housing that will help build new homes that are as much as 50 percent more energy efficient, and the Partnership for the Next Generation Vehicle that will triple the gas mileage of automobiles. We are working to help energy-intensive industries be more productive while using less power. And we have launched a government-wide effort to reduce the federal energy bill by $1 billion a year.

Even more striking is the growing number of leading corporations recognizing the urgency of addressing global warming. Companies like British Petroleum, Shell, United Technologies, and IBM have pledged publicly to reduce their emissions - in some cases, well below the Kyoto target. Senators Joseph Lieberman, John Chaffee, and Connie Mack recently introduced bipartisan legislation to reward companies that take early action by granting them credit that can be used against future emission reduction targets.

IN Buenos Aires, we face two major diplomatic challenges. First, we must begin to design the flexible, market-based measures agreed to in Kyoto - such as emissions trading - that will dramatically lower the cost of reducing greenhouse gases. Emissions trading works. It has allowed the US to combat acid rain at less than half the expected cost. To achieve both lower cost and real environmental gain, we need to develop firm rules that guarantee an efficient market with high integrity. We hope the Buenos Aires meeting will produce a work plan with clear timetables to establish such rules.

Well-meaning critics want to restrict the use of trading, viewing it as a loophole to avoid real action. They have it wrong. Strong rules can ensure that trading has integrity without sacrificing its capacity to bring down everyone's cost of reducing greenhouse gases. Moreover, those who argue for limits on trading fail to recognize the basic bargain struck in Kyoto: Our agreement to an ambitious emissions reduction target was premised on the availability of market measures to cut costs. That bargain must hold. It is critically important - especially at a time of global economic uncertainty - that everyone gets the greatest reduction possible for each dollar spent. Therefore, the United States and like-minded nations, from Japan to Russia, strongly oppose efforts to restrict use of market measures.

Our second challenge is to make progress with developing countries. As we have emphasized in our vigorous diplomatic efforts, we understand that developing countries face pressing needs and cannot take on commitments identical to those of industrialized nations. Nevertheless, developing nations will generate a majority of emissions in the next century; without them, we cannot meet the challenge of global warming no matter how much we do at home.

That is why Mr. Clinton has said he will not submit Kyoto for ratification without meaningful participation from key developing nations. While we do not expect to reach this goal at Buenos Aires, we are pressing ahead. We are emphasizing to developing countries that addressing climate change can help promote economic growth, and that many of the protocol's market-based mechanisms can speed the transfer of investment and clean-energy technologies to them.

The Kyoto Protocol represented a landmark advance, creating the structures to begin combating global warming. In Buenos Aires, the international community has begun the task of turning the protocol's broad concepts into working realities. Our success over time will ensure that we pass on to future generations a sustainable and livable world.

* Stuart E. Eizenstat is undersecretary of State for economic business and agricultural affairs. He is head of the US delegation to the climate change talks in Buenos Aires this week.

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