Modesty Prevails at Kyoto

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KYOTO, Japan: One day left for the 160 nations gathered at the climate change conference to cut the Gordian knot of global warming, and the U.S. is keeping its greenhouse gas treaty bottom line close to its chest. "We are close to a solution," claimed the Argentine chairman Raul Estrada, who is preparing a draft agreement for industrial nations — but that doesn't jibe with China’s intention to nix anything that inhibits its economic growth. Many senators have already said they won't ratify any treaty that doesn't have China's name on it.

A pretty depressing picture for environmentalists, then? Not entirely. Once you accept that Kyoto is going to be primarily an agreement for industrialized nations, things start to look a little rosier — or greener. Al Gore's instruction to his negotiators to show "greater flexibility" does seem to be reaping rewards: While the U.S. delegation once wouldn't go a single percentage point below 1990 carbon dioxide levels, they're now calling reports of 2 percent below "an understatement." So a "modest achievement," in Estrada's words, does seem close — and Senate ratification is a battle Gore et al can fight another day.