US SIGNS KYOTO GLOBAL-WARMING CLIMATE TREATY
Author: Evelyn Leopold
The climate accord reached last year in Kyoto, Japan, must still be ratified by the U.S. Senate and the White House is not expected to submit the treaty for at least two years.
Under the pact, industrial nations must find ways to cut heat-trapping emissions from burning fossil fuels that are believed to cause global warming by an average of 5.2 percent below 1990 levels in the period 2008 to 2012.
Signing the accord, however, usually signals a nation's intent to abide by the treaty that aims to limit emissions produced by burning such fuels as oil, coal, wood and natural gases.
But U.S. Vice-President Al Gore said immediately in a statement in Washington that the signing imposed "no obligations on the United States." Washington is waiting for large developing countries, like China and India, to join the pact before ratification procedures begin.
"We are confident that in time the nations of the world will arrive at a course that maintains strong and sustainable economic growth, respects the needs and aspirations of all nations, and protects future generations from the threat of global warming," Gore said.
The treaty, called the Kyoto Protocol to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, was signed by Ambassador Peter Burleigh, charge d'affaires at the U.S. mission to the United Nations.
"We are guided by the firm belief that signing will serve our environmental, economic and national security goals," he said after the signing.
The Clinton administration, facing stiff opposition to the climate treaty from the Republican-led Congress, is among the last of the rich governments to sign the treaty.
The U.S. Senate has passed a resolution saying it would not approve the treaty unless developing countries pull their weight.
U.S. Senator Jesse Helms, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a staunch opponent of many U.N.-sponsored treaties, called on Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in a letter to submit the pact quickly "so that the Senate may reject the treaty and scrap the Kyoto Protocol process altogether."
The United States, which accounts for nearly 23 percent of the world's total carbon emissions, had increased its output of such gases more than eight percent over the last five years.
In Buenos Aires, Argentina, where 160 nations are arguing over how to meet the treaty's emission-reduction goals, U.S. Under Secretary of State Stuart Eizenstat said again that the White House would not submit the treaty until there was "meaningful participation" by developing nations.
Until recently, developing countries presented a united front in resisting targets on their emissions. Argentina, however, announced on Wednesday it would adopt binding targets voluntarily.
"We applaud Argentina's leadership as the first developing nation to make such a pledge," Burleigh said in his comments.
The European Union and many developing countries have complained that the United States is pushing plans to let it meet its Kyoto target of a 7 percent reduction in emissions below 1990 levels by buying allowances to pollute from other countries.
They say the United States must make more domestic sacrifices.