Effective action to slow greenhouse warming will require international effort regardless of policies in the United States. Many of the cost-effective options appropriate for the United States are also applicable in other countries, including developing nations. The coal resources in China and the former USSR alone ensure that without their cooperation, policies aimed at stabilizing greenhouse emissions elsewhere would probably be doomed to failure. Yet the position of the United States as the current largest emitter of greenhouse gases means that action in the rest of the world will be effective only if the United States does its share.
Developing countries may participate in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions if the first steps are taken by the industrialized countries and if some sort of international agreement is made providing them with additional financial and technical resources to make the necessary changes.
Global population growth, which will largely take place in developing countries, is a fundamental contributor to increasing emissions of greenhouse gases. Developing countries accounted for about 17 percent of world commercial energy consumption 20 years ago, and about 23 percent today. They are expected to account for about 40 percent by 2030. Although it is the industrialized world that contributes most of the current greenhouse gas emissions, this will likely change in the future. Emissions from developing countries will become even more important as they improve their economies and consume more fossil fuels. Either increasing population or growing economic activity can increase emissions of greenhouse gases. Even with rapid technological progress, slowing global population growth is a necessary component for the long-term control of greenhouse gas emissions. Although it may not be financially costly, it is beset with other political, social, and ideological obstacles.
The long-term control of greenhouse gas emissions will require the diffusion and implementation of technology in developing countries. A real challenge will be to ensure that technologies reach those who need them, overcoming such obstacles as lack of information or inability to pay for them. The technological capabilities of developing countries need to be improved. The creation and enhancement of the infrastructure for research and absorption of technology form a precondition for this improvement. Programs in agriculture, forestry, pollution control, and housing might be used both as vehicles for the transfer of relevant technologies and for the enhancement of the research and technology infrastructure.
Similarly, reversing deforestation, to lower atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases in the short term, raises a host of issues other than costs. It will be important for international programs to use a broad perspective.
Much work has already been accomplished on the international level, and more is currently under way. Internationally, research on a variety of global change issues (including greenhouse warming) is being undertaken principally under the auspices of two complementary scientific programs: the World Climate Research Program (WCRP) and the International Geosphere-Biosphere Program (IGBP). The WCRP was established by the World Meteorological Organization in 1979 under its overall program, the World Climate Program (WCP). Its major objectives are to determine the extent to which climate can be predicted and the extent of human influence on climate. The IGBP was adopted by the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU) in 1986. The objective of the program is to describe the interactive physical, chemical, and biological processes that regulate the total earth system.
In 1988 the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme sponsored the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). At the first IPCC meeting, in November 1988, three working groups were set up: Working Group I, to provide a scientific assessment of climate change; Working Group II, to provide an assessment of the potential impacts of climate change; and Working Group III, to consider response strategies. Hundreds of scientists from different countries contributed to the IPCC report produced in 1990.
The Second World Climate Conference was convened in late 1990 under the sponsorship of several U.N. organizations. The conference was separated into a scientific and technical session and a ministerial session. The conference discussed the results of the first decade of work under the WCP, the First Assessment Report of the IPCC, and the development of the IGBP. The scientific and technical session produced conclusions and recommendations
in three areas: (1) greenhouse gases and climate change; (2) use of climate information in assisting sustainable social and economic development; and (3) priorities for enhanced research and observational systems. The ministerial declaration essentially recognized greenhouse warming to be an international problem and urged further elaboration and assessment of response strategies.
A large number of deliberations are under way concerning international negotiations on greenhouse issues. Recent experiences with the Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer and its subsequent elaboration in the London Protocol and with the earlier Law of the Sea provide guidance about what approaches are useful and what to avoid. It is expected, however, that negotiations about limiting greenhouse warming will be more difficult than their predecessors in the environmental area.
Future International Agreements
There is a growing momentum in the international community for completion of an international agreement on climate change in time for signing at the 1992 U.N. World Conference on Environment and Development. The first meeting of the Ad Hoc Working Group of Government Representatives to Prepare for Negotiations on a Framework Convention on Climate Change was held in February 1991. The panel believes that the United States should fully participate in this process.
Identification of priority actions should take full account of their potential to reduce or offset greenhouse gas emissions and their costs of implementation. Further, the panel believes that international arrangements should allow nations to receive credit for actions taken to reduce or offset emissions in other countries. In other words, under such an arrangement countries like the United States could negotiate interventions in other countries if these proved more cost-effective than domestic actions.
The importance of multilateral international agreements should not obscure the value of unilateral or bilateral action. The United States should not only adjust its own policies, but also pursue bilateral agreements and technical assistance programs that promote reforestation, protection of biodiversity, and greater energy efficiency.
In framing actions to respond to greenhouse warming, the United States should consider cooperative programs in other countries that might be more cost-effective than domestic options.