In a landmark step toward a post-Kyoto world agreement to combat global warming, 158 nations agreed in principle to cut their greenhouse gas emissions between 25-40% below 1990 levels by 2020.
The non-binding, rough targets will still be subjected to rounds of negotiations -- particularly because Russia, Canada and Japan did not agree to the targets -- but the conference in Vienna of countries that ratified the Kyoto Protocol was considered a success. The United States, because the Senate never ratified Kyoto, and President Bush rejected it as too costly, was not at the table.
Bush instead intends to convene his own conference of the world's biggest polluters, in order to develop an alternate, parallel framework of non-binding targets. European delegates and U.S. advocates are fighting to see binding targets that reduce emissions sufficiently to stave off the worst consequences of global warming -- possibly 50% worldwide and as much as 90% from industrial countries by mid-century.
The 36 nations that ratified Kyoto agreed to cut carbon dioxide emissions and other greenhouse gas emissions by 5% below 1990 levels by 2012. Worldwide, emissions of carbon dioxide increased more than 26% since 1990, and are projected by the U.S. Department of Energy to increase as much as another 47% by 2025, if no new technologies and policies are developed to transition economies away from fossil fuels -- particularly coal and oil -- and toward some mix of renewable energy, nuclear power and pollution controls that capture and store carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels.
Already, several indicators that global warming is having serious consequences are becoming apparent. Glaciers and polar ice are melting faster than scientists had predicted. Some storms seem to be growing in strength. Wildfires are growing more intense and frequent, and heat waves and floods are becoming more common.
Some top U.S. climate scientists have been saying -- for several years now -- that the world has about a decade to significantly shift course, or it will have effectively made its choice to usher in a new era of violent weather patterns, shrinking coastlines and other effects from global warming.
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