n influential panel of scientists is
preparing to endorse two strategies for curtailing global warming
that have been major points of contention between the United
States and Europe in efforts to complete a climate treaty.
In a report scheduled for next month, the panel concludes
that by protecting existing forests and planting new ones,
countries could blunt warming by sopping up 10 to 20 percent of
the heat-trapping carbon dioxide that is expected to be released
by smokestacks and tailpipes over the next 50 years.
also says the cost to industrialized countries of a global
climate plan could be cut in half if they were allowed to buy and
sell credits earned by those that make the deepest reductions in
carbon dioxide and other so-called greenhouse gases.
conclusions could bolster the position of the United States when
negotiations over details of the treaty resume this summer. But
some experts involved in the talks stressed that a scientific
analysis of untested climate-control strategies says little about
whether such efforts would prove effective.
question is whether real programs in the real world will work,"
said Dr. Daniel A. Lashof, a senior scientist at the Natural
Resources Defense Council, a private environmental group. "The
devil's in the details."
The report was written by a
working group within the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change, a network of hundreds of scientists who advise
governments on climate issues under the auspices of the United
Nations. The group plans to release it at a meeting in Ghana.
A final draft was recently sent to governments for comment,
and a copy was given to The New York Times by an American
The panel's findings are closely watched by
governments as a barometer of mainstream scientific thinking on
A report by another working group last
month concluded that the burning of fossil fuels and other human
activities are responsible for most of a one-degree rise in
average global temperatures measured in the last 50 years. This
was the first time the 12-year-old panel found that human actions
were the dominant force behind the recent warming.
climate treaty, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, would require 38
industrial countries to cut emissions of greenhouse gases by 2012
to 5 percent below emission levels in 1990. It has been signed by
more than 100 countries but lacks fine print and has not yet been
Negotiations over details broke down at a
tumultuous meeting in November in The Hague when the European
Union rejected an American proposal calling for trading in
credits for emissions reductions and granting credit for planting
forests and crops.
The report lends some new credence to
the American positions. According to the panel, "Forests,
agricultural lands and other terrestrial ecosystems offer
significant, if often temporary, mitigation potential."
Even if the carbon taken from atmospheric carbon dioxide is
eventually released again from plants or soil, the report said,
"conservation and sequestration allow time for other options to
be further developed and implemented."
added that if the rules for such living carbon reservoirs were
right, they could also preserve endangered species and improve
The European Union and some private
environmental groups have opposed giving credit for forest
planting, saying it could take the pressure off industrial
countries to cut emissions from the source: vehicles, power
plants and industry.
In The Hague, the United States
scaled back the amount of credit it sought for farm and forest
changes, but American negotiators and many representatives in
Congress say this remains an essential component of the final
Trading of emissions credits is equally
contentious. Such trading is a way of encouraging the greatest
cuts in pollution where they can be done most cheaply. In theory,
under such a program the United States or another wealthy country
— either directly or indirectly — could get credit toward
greenhouse-gas targets by investing in new, efficient power
plants in, say, Eastern Europe.
The new plants would
represent a big leap in performance over old, pollution-belching
plants there, proponents of trading say. Building similar plants
in the United States would cost more and would result in a
smaller improvement in emissions.
According to the new
report, a variety of economic models predict that a climate plan
without trading among industrialized countries would result in a
range of losses to their gross domestic products of anywhere from
two-tenths of 1 percent to 2.2 percent. Under a climate plan with
emissions trading, the range of losses could be cut in half.
Over all, the report says, even in the middle of this range
of possible losses, costs of adjusting power plants and other
sources of greenhouse emissions would be small enough that no
substantial economic harm would result. On one point, the
scientific panel, some environmental groups and some industry
officials all agree: To make emissions trading work, there must
be clear, enforced rules and an accurate way of measuring changes
in gas emissions.
"If you don't have a system that's
legitimate and verifiable, there's tremendous potential for
gaming the system," said Dale E. Heydlauff, senior vice president
for environmental affairs of American Electric Power, a
$12-billion-a-year energy company that supports trading under the
But some environmental groups insist that
there is a moral obligation for countries to make a significant
amount of their emissions reductions at home.
European perspective, we think that should be a priority," said
Frances MacGuire, the climate change policy director in the
London office of Friends of the Earth. "There is a place for
trading, but it shouldn't be without limit."