Surprisingly, the Soviet Union and East Germany have joined the ''30 Percent Club'' at the June 24-27 air-pollution conference in Munich. (Bulgaria has also joined, according to Reuters.)
Unsurprisingly, the United States and Britain have not.
The ''30 Percent Club'' of Canada and nine European nations pledged in Ottawa last March to reduce 1980 levels of cross-frontier sulfur compound discharges into the air by 30 percent by 1993. Sulfur dioxide and nitric oxides are believed to have been killing forests and damaging centuries-old stained glass windows and monuments in Europe.
The nine included West Germany, the host of the current 29-nation Munich conference, France, the Netherlands, the four continental Scandinavian countries , Austria, and Switzerland.
The accession to the 30 percent pledge by Moscow, East Berlin, and Sofia - the clear highlight of the Munich gathering - left the West Germans very pleased with their conference. Their main aim in issuing the conference call last fall was precisely the political one of engaging the Soviet bloc in common East-West talks and projects during a period of strain over the initial deployment of NATO medium-range nuclear missiles in West Germany, Britain, and Italy.
In this context, Soviet-bloc willingness to attend the conference was a triumph in itself. And the Soviet frankness in admitting domestic environmental problems on an international state is all but unprecedented. The activist Canadian Environment Minister Charles Caccia termed it a ''breakthrough.''
The interest of the East Europeans in a common air cleanup effort is somewhat less of a surprise. The East Germans, who have some of the dirtiest air in Europe in the southern industrial region around Halle, have been fairly open in discussing their difficulties in the past half year or so. And even the Czechs - who have been more rigid than the East Germans in claiming that the Communist Party has solved all social problems, including pollution - have recently been acknowledging that their forests are probably dying faster than anybody else's in Europe.
Prague's alarm over the phenomenon is not yet sufficient to induce it to join Moscow, East Berlin, and Sofia in promising a 30 percent reduction in power plant and other sulfur compound emissions. Czech levels of sulfur pollution are currently far worse than East Germany's, Hungary's, West Germany's, or Britain's according to Die Presse of Vienna.
What was altogether novel at Munich was to hear Yuri A. Izrael, the chief Soviet delegate, describe Soviet forests. Large areas of pines are being replaced by deciduous trees because of the inability of the conifers to renew themselves, he said. The proportion of oaks in Byelorussian forests has dropped from 4.8 percent to 3.9 percent, probably as a result of pollution, he added.
Both the US and Britain are leery of having domestic environmental policy driven by international commitments. They argue, too, that they substantially reduced their sulfur polution before 1980, and that a 30 percent drop from 1980 levels would therefore be much harder for them than for others.
American Environmental Protection Agency administrator William D. Ruckelshaus was more diplomatic in praising the efforts of the Munich conference and the '' 30 Percent Club.'' But he, too, refrained from making any commitment to cleanup of the sort that Canada in particular would like to hear. Despite this, Ruckelshaus is still appreciated by Europeans for participating in international environmental conferences in a way that his predecessor James Watt never did.