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Global Effort to Curb Harmful Gas Emissions Continues

It was championed by the Clinton administration as the world's first global effort to curb the harmful gas emissions that cause global warming. But the Kyoto Protocol was rejected by the Bush administration, even though 120 countries would eventually sign it. The treaty goes into effect Wednesday, Februrary 16.

You can see it here in the far reaches of Russian Siberia. Subtle hints that the world's climate is warming. Mikhail Cherkasov is a reindeer herder.

"In the spring when the reindeer are calving a lot of young deer, there's more flooding in the spring than there used to be," said Mr. Cherkasov.

That is what the Kyoto Protocol hopes to control - the world's first attempt to limit heat-trapping gas emissions from industrialized nations, which scientists say cause global warming. One hundred and twenty countries have signed the treaty with three notable exceptions, China, India, and the United States, the world's largest contributor of greenhouse gases.

William Kovacs is with the U.S Chamber of Commerce, which represents American business interests. They, along with the Bush administration, are opposed to the Kyoto treaty.

"What we are saying to the rest of the world is, before we commit economic suicide, we ought to ask ourselves, 'Is the treaty worth doing?" says Mr. Kovacs.

The Bush administration, and American business interests, concluded the treaty would harm the U.S. economy with little to no impact on reducing gas emissions. Most parties to the agreement believe the protocol as written will only delay the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere by about six months.

"Here is the problem with the Kyoto protocol. If once a country signs on if they are going to implement it, they are going to have to limit the use of energy they have in their environment. That means they are going to have to restrict the use of energy of oil for use for cars, they are going to restrict the electricity they produce, they are going to have fewer jobs, less economic development and in the long term they are going to harm the economies of their country. Why would a country do that for a treaty that is not going to have any impact," said Mr. Kovacs.

While Kyoto may be flawed, U.S. environmental policy analysts have criticized the Bush administration for withdrawing the U.S. negotiating team from any effort to fix the treaty.

Nigel Pervis, with the Brookings Institution, a Washington D.C. research group, says pulling out of the process will also eventually harm American business.

"I do believe that if the United States continues to be a reluctant participant in the effort to address global warming and other nations feel that they are taking on burdens that American companies are avoiding, there will be an effort to level the playing field. And whether that is through some type of border-tax adjustments in the end that would add additional costs to U.S. products when they enter those markets I don't know. It is too early to say," said Mr. Pervis.

All agree the solution to global warming is technology. For example, cleaner energy sources, and cleaner burning cars. U.S. business thinks it should police itself. And, developing new technology should be voluntary.

Bill Stanely with the environmental preservation organization, The Nature Conservancy, disagrees.

"Well, if you look at the history of pollution in general voluntary measures are good in so far as encouraging people to reduce emissions. But, in the end, you are going to need a mandatory approach to be effective. It's just not going to be enough to really take on such an important issue and address it in a meaningful way. The voluntary approach won't go far enough to make a difference," he said.

There are other regulatory measures currently under consideration in the U.S. Senators Joseph Lieberman and John McCain have sponsored the Leiberman-McCain Climate Stewardship Act. The bill would require that gas emissions in the United States in 2010 be no more than they were in 2000. The bill is expected to come to a vote sometime in the next year.