Global Warming: A Compromising Position

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BONN: Some of the world's top diplomats put their heart and soul into this: a bargaining text in advance of the climate-change treaty in Kyoto, Japan. The document they cobbled together here asks nations to vote on one of three objectives for carbon dioxide emissions: reductions of either 5, 15 or 20 percent below 1990 levels, presumably depending on how serious they consider the threat of global warming. Many hailed the idea as a brilliant compromise between industrialized and developing countries.

They left out only one thing: The United States of America.

"Realistically, the Americans should have put their proposal forward back in June," said David Prior, a British Environment Ministry spokesman. But, he added tactfully, "we do appreciate that President Clinton ... has internal political problems to address."

No kidding. Clinton administration officials will unveil their own suggestions later this week -- and since a report released Monday shows that last year's greenhouse gas emissions jumped by 3.6 percent, environmental activists are asking the President to go no lower than the 5 percent minimum reduction. Big industry says there should be no reductions until the developed world is required to join in. Even Clinton's famed talent for finding the middle ground might be tested by this one.