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Editorial: World coming together on global warming
OUR OPINION: U.S. COULD WIELD MORE INFLUENCE BY JOINING KYOTO PACT
Miami Herald
Published December 20th, 2004


The two-week U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change in Buenos Aires ended last week with good feelings all around and a firm commitment to fight global warming, even though the results weren't wholly satisfying. The United States remains the biggest obstacle to success because it pollutes more than any other country, yet has refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocols for pollution controls.

A modest goal

While there isn't much to commend the U.S. position, the Bush administration did send delegates to the conference who explained as best they could why the U.S. plan for developing cleaner-burning technology over the long term will work. That's not nearly enough, but it is at least a more-engaged position than four years ago when President Bush expressed doubt about global warming and withdrew U.S. support of the accords.

Nonetheless, the treaty has been ratified by 130 countries and its protocols will begin to take effect Feb. 16. The protocols call for 30 industrialized nations to reduce emissions of ''greenhouse gases'' by 2012 to a level 5 percent less than 1990 emissions -- a modest goal at best. Developing and nonindustrialized countries are exempt from the pact, which is a mistake.

Fast-growing China, for example, qualifies as a developing country. China's output of greenhouse gases doesn't match the United States'; we're responsible for 21 percent of the world's emission of carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases. However, China's size, rapid growth and heavy reliance on fossil-driven technology make it an imminent threat. A recent multinational study of pollutants discovered a heretofore unrecognized source of mercury pollution in the Great Lakes and New England states -- China's coal-fired power plants.

Evidence of the effects of global warming are all around. Last month, an international team of 300 scientists confirmed that Arctic winter temperatures had risen by 4 to 7 degrees since 1950. In 2003, Europe experienced its worst summer heat wave in 500 years. Last summer a record number of giant typhoons struck Southeast Asia, and Florida had a record four hurricanes in a single season.

On the sidelines

The conference has made clear that different countries have different requirements, needs and expectations from the treaty. Europe, Japan and Canada are big supporters while poor and developing countries worry that they will be the first to bear the ill effects of global warming. The United States, China and India would rather sit on the sidelines.

It's true that the protocols aren't perfect and could use tinkering and fine tuning. But global warming is real, and the better choice is to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

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