More than 1,500 scientists, including 98 Nobel laureates, urged President Clinton Tuesday to fight for cuts in carbon dioxide emissions during the global climate conference this December in Kyoto, Japan.
“Let there be no doubt about the conclusions of the scientific community: The threat of global warming is very real and action is needed immediately,” said one of the laureates, Henry Kendall, chairman of the Union of Concerned Scientists.
In a news conference, Kendall presented Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt with a declaration signed by 1,500 scientists calling for a treaty that would set concrete limits on the emission of heat-trapping gases including carbon dioxide.
“Scientists usually like to stay out of politics, but this is too important for our community to stay quiet,” said Kendall. The nonprofit union offers scientists an opportunity to speak out on issues where science and technology play a critical role.
The talks in Japan are aimed at getting binding commitments from industrial countries to limit their carbon dioxide emissions while asking developing countries only for promises of voluntary action and perhaps future commitments.
Clinton has said the threat of global warming must be addressed with new international commitments, but the White House has yet to propose specific cuts and deadlines. It has rejected a European proposal for industrial nations to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 15 percent by 2010.
“Let’s just say there’s a spirited debate going on in the administration on which targets and which timetables,” Babbitt said.
Clinton plans to host a conference on climate change Monday to help him decide what targets the United States should call for at the Kyoto negotiations. Monday’s conference here will include scientists, economists, state and federal officials and business leaders.
Babbitt said Clinton wants to find the right balance between the environment and business.
“It’s kind of like walking a tightrope,” he said. “If you don’t get enough, 10 years down the line people are disappointed and the environment is still having problems. On the other hand, if you go too far, the economy will be hurt needlessly.”
Babbitt and the concerned scientists agreed that the most difficult problem facing the negotiators will be figuring out how to deal with carbon dioxide emissions from developing countries, which are expected to become the main producer of greenhouse gases early in the next century.
“There is a certain moral problem with a country like the United States where people earn around $30,000 a year saying to countries where the average income is $300 to cut back their emissions,” Babbitt said.
With about 5 percent of the world’s population, the United States produces around 25 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide, Babbit said.
In a UCS panel discussion, physics professor Jose Goldemberg of the University of San Paulo in Brazil, said developing countries should not shoulder the main burden of cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
“Telling us to cut our emissions would be like someone telling the United States to cut its emissions at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution,” Goldemberg said.
However, he added that developing countries should try to cut the growth of carbon dioxide emissions.
“Everyone will have to give a little in this process, but the best the developing world can do is use the latest technologies to keep their emissions at the lowest possible levels,” he said.
While the UCS called for a tough stance at the Kyoto negotiations, business groups were warning the Senate of economic havoc if the United States commits to cutting greenhouse gases.
Economists and industry representatives told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that as many as 1.5 million people could be out of work and energy prices could soar if industries are forced to cut carbon dioxide pollution to levels agreed to at the June 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. That summit called for industrial countries to reduce their levels of carbon dioxide to 1990 levels by 2010.
“The cost of meeting the proposed caps on carbon dioxide usage will be very substantial. … Americans would feel as if we were living through the oil price shocks of the 1970s and 1980s all over again,” said Murray Weidenbaum, former White House economic adviser in the George Bush administration.
Earlier this year the Senate passed by a 95-0 vote a resolution urging the White House to commit to no binding pollution cuts unless developing countries like China do so.