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First Step on Global Warming

THE United States has finally offered a tangible sign of support for an international treaty to combat global warming. The Bush administration's pledge of $75 million to help developing countries reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants affirmed that the world's largest industrial power is willing to devote some cash to that effort. Without assurance of financial assistance, third-world countries would balk at the treaty.

The full price of weaning industrializing countries away from reliance on polluting fuels like coal could run into the billions of dollars. A final financial commitment from the developed world may not be arrived at until the early May deadline for drafting a treaty.

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Money to compensate for the antipollution efforts is one major hurdle to be cleared before a global-warming treaty can be signed at the June Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Another is agreement among major industrial countries to limit their own emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

The Western European countries propose a plan of specific reductions by specific dates. But Washington has resisted this approach as too burdensome on industry. The US has vaguely pledged to undertake energy-saving measures that would reduce greenhouse emissions. But the Europeans, as well as the developing nations, will demand more.

As with the money issue, developing countries want assurances that the burdens of cutting back on traditional fuels will reasonably be shared. As they see it, nations whose prosperity was attained using resources that will now come under restrictions ought to bear a big part of the sacrifice.

Time is getting short for deciding these issues. The US administration needs to make up its mind about a timetable for reducing greenhouse gases by the mid-April meeting of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, at which the global-warming pact will be discussed.

Global warming remains a subject of scientific inquiry and debate. But the benefits that would result from a treaty that starts a global move toward cleaner economic development are not debatable.

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