Author:French, Hilary F.
Position:US' hesitance to sign environmental treaties - Editorial

When a last-minute deal was struck in last December's contentious Kyoto climate change talks, environmentalists initially breathed a sigh of relief. But it soon became clear that celebration was premature. With the ink not yet dry on the Kyoto accord, U.S. Senators were already pledging to block ratification of the agreement. The Clinton Administration bowed to this reality by agreeing not to submit the protocol for a vote until the Senators' demands that developing countries be brought into the accord have been met.

The Kyoto story is part of a larger pattern of U.S. footdragging in international environmental affairs. The Kyoto protocol was a follow-on to the U.N. Convention on Climate Change, a product of the June 1992 U.N. "Earth Summit." The other major accord reached in Rio, the Convention on Biological Diversity, has so far failed to pass muster with the U.S. Senate, although it has been approved by 172 other countries. Recent warnings from leading scientists that we are in the midst of an era of mass extinction of species underscore the urgent need to translate this accord from words into action. (Also see "Plants in Peril," page 9.)

The Rio Earth Summit also set in motion negotiations for a treaty on desertification - the degradation of arid lands, normally in response to poor agricultural practices, overgrazing, or deforestation. More than one billion hectares of arid lands are degraded worldwide - an area greater in size than all of China. Hundreds of millions of people suffer the consequences, which can include malnutrition, migration, and economic ruin. Yet the United States has so far refused to join the 124 countries that have become parties to this accord since it was completed in early 1994. President Clinton took the occasion of his recent trip...

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