“Most countries are exempt.” This is simply not true. Under the U.S. proposals that are to be put forward in Kyoto, no countries will be exempted. Developing nations as well as the big industrial countries will have to begin cutting back on their CO2 emissions in order to deal with this global crisis. (On a practical level, advanced nations may have to provide technological know-how to developing countries so they can choose alternative energy paths rather then rely on carbon-rich coal and petroleum.)

The original idea of exempting the poorer countries, set forth at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, was based on the belief that the developed nations, being by far the gassiest, should act first to set an example. Unfortunately, the U.S. and other industrialized nations failed to meet their own “voluntary goals”: On Earth Day 1993 President Clinton pledged the U.S. would cut its greenhouse emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2000, but in fact they’ve jumped 8 percent already.

Now the Clinton administration will go to Kyoto with a proposal to reduce global output to its 1990 level sometime between 2008 and 2012. This is seen as woefully inadequate by the European Union, Japan (whose proposals are also seen as weak, but not as weak as ours) and the Alliance of Small Island States, who face the loss of their very existence should sea levels rise as projected (Florida and New Orleans, take note). The fossil fuels industry, on the other hand, sees any kind of binding goal for CO2 reduction as unacceptable — although some of them have expressed thanks to Clinton for choosing the weakest proposal his White House advisors presented.