Environmental Impulse

THE Paris summit confirmed the inseparability of the economy and the environment. If threats to the world's water, air, and life are to be met, the countries whose industrial engines use most of the world's energy and give off most of its pollution will have to take the lead. The leaders of North America, Western Europe, and Japan specified ozone depletion, global warming, and deforestation as issues that demand ``decisive action.'' They called for more research to arrive at a better understanding of these problems.

Underlying their emphasis on the environment is the realization that pollution defies national boundaries. Carbon dioxide churned out by urban centers can alter the climate and affect people everywhere. Sulfurous gases pouring from coal-burning utility plants kill trees and lakes half a continent away. Uncontrolled ocean dumping taints a resource shared by all.

What can we expect to see in terms of concrete steps following up on the summit's strong words?

First, the Group of Seven leaders have given energy to ongoing efforts to address environmental crises. The Montreal Protocol of 1987 identified some of the chemicals responsible for ozone depletion and charted some courses of action. The protocol called for reassessment of the problem as increased scientific evidence became available. That evidence has been mounting, and the parties to the protocol have scheduled a meeting for early next year. In light of the Paris communiqu'e, tougher international regulations should come from that meeting.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, including a wide range of participant countries, has been tracking the global warming issue. The panel plans a meeting in Washington this October to discuss policies for controlling so-called greenhouse gases. President Bush has invited the group to hold its meeting in the White House. That gathering is likely to lay the groundwork for an international convention on global warming.

Just as important as international efforts will be environmental policies forged within the major industrial nations themselves. Will the clean air package proposed by Mr. Bush survive lobbying attacks within the administration and Congress? Will the United States be able to retool and clean up its decrepit nuclear arms industry? If the world's economic leader, led itself by a man who aspires to be remembered for environmental activism, can't break the trail toward pollution-free living, who can?

Each country involved in the summit, in fact, has a leadership role to play in protecting the environment. And as the summiteers noted, the time is short. Global pollution moves slowly but inexorably. Conditions we see approaching today - such as significant ozone depletion and climate change - could arrive by the time our children are adults.

The Paris summit can, and should, be a watershed for environmental action.

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