WASHINGTON (AP) -- Representatives from 130 nations are gathering this week to begin negotiating a treaty to limit millions of tons of pollutants -- primarily carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels -- that cause global warming.
But the 10-day U.N. conference opening today in suburban Chantilly, Va., is likely to produce little more than a general outline of goals -- if that -- when it concludes Feb. 14.
Two more such meetings are scheduled for Nairobi, Kenya, and Geneva later this year. And environmentalists hope a treaty will be ready to be signed in mid-1992 at the U.N. Conference on Environment and Development in Brazil.
"These negotiations are every bit as important to the future of the planet as the arms control talks that have been at the center of diplomacy for the last three decades," says Daniel Lashof of the Natural Resources Defense Council, a leading environmental group.
Environmentalists argue that a 20 percent cut in carbon dioxide emissions by 2000 should be a minimum and that much of that could be achieved through energy conservation and a shift away from fossil fuels.
Among those advocating a go-slow approach is President Bush, who has steadfastly refused to commit the United States to specific pollution reduction goals. His science and economic advisers say a dramatic shift away from burning fossil fuels, which would undermine the economy, shouldn't be taken until there's a clearer picture of the global warming threat.