Carbon dioxide: An exhaustive look

When it comes to defining and measuring global warming, scientific and political agreement is hard to come by. Some scientists say the human use of fossil fuels is releasing too much carbon dioxide (C02) into the air, amplifying the "greenhouse effect" that is warming the earth, melting glacial ice, and causing more wildfires and wetter winters. Other scientists argue that the earth is in a normal, cyclical warming trend; that the temperature fluctuations we find now are well within the range of changes documented through core samples dating back several million years.

The 1997 Kyoto Protocol set a target of reducing human C02 emissions worldwide by some 5.2 percent by 2012. The treaty requires leading industrial nations to reduce emissions, while sparing developing nations such as China and India, who say emissions controls would unfairly restrict their industrialization.

As negotiators from some 180 countries gather in Bonn, Germany, this week to finish drafting the rules for the Kyoto Protocol, the very treaty itself is on the line. The US recently backed out of it, saying, among other things, that it is unfair for American businesses to absorb the cost of emissions controls when developing nations don't have to. Other nations, such as Canada and Australia, voice similar concerns. They point out that by 2012, China and India will rival the leading industrial nations in emissions levels.

The US move has infuriated the European Union, which says it will go ahead with the Kyoto treaty - with or without the US - reducing its collective emissions some 8 percent below 1990 levels by 2012.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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