Negotiators from more than 140 countries met into the night Friday, working to approve the text of a global warming treaty that satisfies the Bush Administration but disappoints most environmentalists.
Despite many misgivings, the draft version of the treaty, officially presented to the delegates earlier in the day, was expected to be approved with only minor changes and then be sent to the Earth Summit conference in Rio de Janeiro in June for signing by dozens of national leaders.
The treaty, a weakened version of what had been proposed originally by Western European governments, commits the developed nations to a reduction in their emissions of carbon dioxide and other so-called greenhouse gases. But the commitment is general and vague; there are no mandatory, specific amounts of gas that must be reduced.
Its passage would clear away what most analysts considered the main obstacle in the way of President Bush's attendance at the Earth Summit.
Although there has been no announcement from the White House, the President is now expected to join more than 60 other heads of state and government to sign the global warming treaty and a series of other conventions on the environment. Advisers had been reluctant to have him risk being drawn into a donnybrook over the environment down in Rio. But approval of a global warming treaty would presage a harmonious Earth Summit.
As word spread during the past week that negotiators were giving in to Bush Administration pressure, however, environmentalists were quick to denounce the new shape of the treaty.
A stinging statement, for example, came from Daniel Becker, a Sierra Club official. "President George Bush has forced the world to accept a do-nothing treaty on global warming, . . ." Becker said. "Working hand in glove with the coal, oil and auto industries, President Bush has made this treaty meaningless. It requires no one to do anything on global warming other than issue reports. The treaty is a victory for polluters and a defeat for the environment."
Many scientists believe that carbon dioxide and other gases, created by the burning of oil, coal and other carbon fuels, are functioning like a greenhouse and trapping the sun's heat in the atmosphere so intensely that the average temperature of the world could go up by three to eight degrees by the end of the 21st Century. This heating could engender such catastrophes as oceans rising to flood island nations and rich farmland drying into desert.
Under the terms of the first draft of the treaty, the developed nations of the world would have agreed to cut their emissions of carbon dioxide back to 1990 levels by the end of the century. The Bush Administration, however, objected to such strict goals, insisting that, while the United States would probably meet these goals on its own, it wants the flexibility of lowering them in case they prove too costly to the economy.
Under this pressure, the European governments gave in and accepted a treaty in which the developed nations promise to limit the emission of greenhouse gases and recognize "that the return by the end of the present decade to earlier levels . . . would contribute to such modification."
Although the governments are not committed to specific targets, the treaty requires them to submit a periodic report showing that they are living up to the general aim of reducing emissions.