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U.S. Bringing up the Rear in International Efforts to Combat Climate Change

Washington--The United States ranks absolute last on a World Wildlife Fund (WWF) scorecard of 20 industrialized countries' efforts to combat climate change--a growing threat to many of the earth's most endangered species and ecosystems.
The scorecard ranks nations on four political and scientific indicators--fulfillment of the 1992 Rio Conference commitments; support for significant carbon dioxide reductions at the 1997 Kyoto Climate Summit; per capita carbon dioxide emissions; and gross national carbon dioxide emissions. Each country is given a green, orange or red light (with red being the worst) indicating how well it is helping to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, the major cause of global warming.

The U.S. is the only country receiving red lights on all four indicators. It is the largest source of carbon dioxide emissions, accounting for nearly 22 percent of global emissions, and tops the list in per capita emissions, with 19.1 metric tons per year in 1992. The U.S. will not achieve its national climate protection goal of stabilization by the year 2000, with carbon dioxide emissions continuing to rise above 1990 levels. Currently, the U.S. is only committed to voluntary, non-binding targets for emissions reductions.

"The U.S. is at the bottom of this list when it could be a global leader in efforts to reduce fossil fuel emissions," said Adam Markham, Director of WWF's Climate Change Campaign. "What happens this year is critical and represents the last real chance of the century to combat climate change. It's time for governments to stop stalling and take decisive action."

The vast majority of the world's climate experts agree that global warming is occurring, and that human activity, specifically the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas, is the primary cause. Greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide trap more heat in our atmosphere and disrupt the global temperature balance, resulting in melting glaciers, rising sea levels, increases in severe and unusual weather, spread of infectious diseases and many other negative consequences for humans and wildlife.

WWF's scorecards are being released as governments meet in Bonn, Germany for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiations, a critical opportunity on the road to the Climate Summit in Kyoto, Japan, Dec. 1-12. WWF is urging developed countries to commit to a 20 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2005.

Several countries, such as Australia, Japan and Canada, ranked only slightly higher than the U.S., while countries such as Denmark, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom ranked toward the top of the list. Markham cautioned, however, that no country received a green light on all four indicators, and that individual green lights are not excuses for countries to relax--for instance, Germany's and the UK's high scores on their fulfillment of the Rio Conference commitment are due to non-climate policy related conditions; the reunification of Germany and the switch from coal to gas in the UK.

"Individuals, governments and industries should take a close look at these scorecards and decide how their activities are affecting the future of our planet," Markham said. "We CAN do something to combat climate change, whether it be urging governments to commit to carbon dioxide reductions, or encouraging industries to adopt more energy efficient AND cost effective practices."

Markham added that individuals can make changes in their own lives to reduce global warming, such as telecommuting, switching to compact fluorescent bulbs, using mass transit and making their homes more energy efficient.