Fri, 17 Nov 2000

Wanted: Global leadership

The worldwide campaign to slow down global warming, the subject of an ongoing international conference in The Hague this week, is faltering because of a lack of leadership. The United States, which has provided the leadership for global peace, trade and a host of other matters, is unwilling to take the initiative this time round, largely for selfish reasons.

The United States remains the only country in the world which can and should provide that leadership in stemming the global warming trend. As the wealthiest country in the world, it has the ability to lead the campaign. As a country which accounts for 4 percent of the world's population, but contributes about 25 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, it has a moral responsibility to provide that leadership. This is especially true considering that the rest of the world, particularly poor countries, have to bear the impact of global warming.

Now, as Americans are enjoying their longest period of uninterrupted economic expansion, is actually the ideal time for the United States to seize the initiative. But since reducing greenhouse gases means cutting back on the consumption of fossil fuels, Americans are reluctant to take the lead in the campaign to slow down global warming. Not now of all times.

The United States, whose leader and people like to preach to other nations about democracy, human rights and environment, has clearly failed in the leadership test.

There is a growing body of evidence that the Earth has been experiencing global warming over the last 1,000 years. There is also evidence that global temperatures are rising faster than most experts had earlier predicted. And there is no denying that human activities, particularly the burning of fossil fuels, contributes to the trend toward global warming. The case for cutting back on greenhouse gases is already so compelling.

The meeting in The Hague, which continues until next week, is expected to discuss details of implementing the accord that more than 100 countries, including the United States and other major industrial countries, signed in Kyoto, Japan, three years ago. The Kyoto Protocol calls for industrial nations to cut heat- trapping greenhouse gases by 5.5 percent over the next decade. Europe pledged to decrease gases by 8 percent, the United States by 7 percent and Japan 6 percent.

To date, however, none of the industrial countries have ratified the accord, meaning that they are under no obligation to meet their commitments. European countries and Japan are waiting for the United States to make its move. The United States is shifting the burden on developing countries, demanding more stringent regulations on greenhouse gas emissions for countries like India and China. No one, it seems, is willing to take the initiative or leadership.

The Kyoto Protocol makes various provisions to accommodate the concerns of developed countries about the costs or sacrifices they will have to bear. For example, developed countries can buy "greenhouse gas credits" from developing countries or include their investment in cutting global warming in other countries, such as planting trees as part of their national program.

With the United States and other developed industrial countries quibbling over details of the Kyoto Protocol without any intention of abiding by their pledges, the meeting in The Hague is not expected to lead to anything substantial.

This is probably one of those times when the services of international non-governmental organizations is needed. Some militancy, such as the kind we saw during the World Trade Organization conference in Seattle a year ago, is probably what it takes to jolt government leaders to act now.