Global Warming Treaty Turns 10

"We are on the verge of reaping an appalling deterioration of our natural assets."

Published: 22-Mar-2004

WASHINGTON -- The 10th anniversary of the world's first treaty on global warming is today, its main provisions ignored by the United States and most other countries.

Although it is an obscure document, the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change contains specific requirements for reduction in greenhouse gases.
 
The treaty was signed by President George Bush at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The agreement went into effect after Portugal became the 50th country to ratify it on March 21, 1994.
 
Among other provisions, countries agree to return their output of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to 1990 levels.
 
"I have grave doubts that the United States is in compliance with its obligations under this treaty," said Gustave Speth, dean of the Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.
 
"It specifically obligates signers, including the United States, to get moving and start dealing with this issue," Speth added. "But they are not."
 
Speth, former director of the U.N. Development Program, warns in a new book, "Red Sky at Morning," that in spite of all the international negotiations and agreements of the past two decades, efforts to protect Earth's environment are not succeeding.
 
"Time is running out," said Speth, who served as chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality under President Jimmy Carter. "We are on the verge of reaping an appalling deterioration of our natural assets."
 
But some advocates of government action to control the buildup of greenhouse gases take heart in the public discussion that has followed the framework treaty and the ill-fated Kyoto Protocol, which grew out of it.
 
"I think the whole view has changed profoundly," said Rafe Pomerance, who in the mid-1970s became the first environmental activist to devote his full time to the twin issues of global warming and ozone depletion.
 
"It wasn't clear to the public 10 years ago that this was a problem," said Pomerance, president of the Climate Policy Center in Washington. "I think the whole view has changed profoundly. The framework convention was part of building that consciousness."
 
Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, agreed.
 
"You have to look at it two ways," she said. "Have we made a lot of progress toward the goals of the convention? I think the answer is no.
 
"But have we begun to seriously think about how to do this? Yes," she said. "Many governments have started to take action, and many in the business community have made major changes in the way they look at this issue."
 
The Pew Center and the Aspen Institute last week jointly published a report in which representatives of energy, mining and automobile industries and environmental and consumer organizations agreed that a mandatory greenhouse gas reduction program could be both effective and politically feasible.
 
To be sure, adamant opponents of action on global warming remain. Fred Smith, who heads the Competitive Enterprise Institute, called the framework "the first misstep on the road to global poverty."
 
"There's no real threat from climate per se to a wealthy, technologically adroit world," Smith said, adding that restrictions like the framework convention and the Kyoto Protocol would stand in the way of economic development that could enable poor countries to cope with climate change.

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