MEDFORD, MASS - UN Secretary General Kofi Annan yesterday criticized President Bush's decision to abandon the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, saying the move could severely harm international efforts to stop the potentially disastrous climate changes that he said are being caused by human activity.
''Imagine melting polar icecaps and rising sea levels, threatening beloved and highly developed coastal areas such as Cape Cod with erosion and storm surges,'' Annan said at graduation ceremonies at Tufts University's Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. ''Imagine a warmer and wetter world in which infectious diseases such as malaria and yellow fever spread more easily.
''This is not some distant, worst-case scenario,'' Annan said. ''It is tomorrow's forecast.''
With a degree of bluntness unusual for a diplomat, Annan rejected the arguments of the Bush administration and its supporters in Congress and the private sector for abandoning the Kyoto Protocol and not acting to limit US production of the gases blamed for global warming.
''This is not science fiction,'' he said, taking aim at assertions that global warming has not been scientifically proven, that links between warming and human activity have not been demonstrated, and that there is no immediate crisis.
Leading scientists, including many from the United States, have ''carefully sifted the evidence and concluded that climate change is occurring, that human activities are among the main contributing factors, and that we cannot wait any longer to take action,'' Annan said.
In direct counterpoint to Bush's express concern that the US commitments recorded in the Kyoto document could hurt the American economy, Annan said, ''We do not face a choice between economy and ecology.''
''In fact,'' he said, ''the opposite is true: Unless we protect resources and the earth's natural capital, we shall not be able to sustain economic growth.
''We must stop being so economically defensive, and start being more politically courageous.''
Annan also disputed assertions by US officials, most prominent among them Vice President Dick Cheney, that conservation measures and technologies are insufficiently developed to make major contributions to greenhouse-gas reduction efforts.
''Hundreds of these technologies and practices exist today,'' he said. ''Advances in the use of renewable resources have been exceeding expectations....''
''Economists now broadly agree that energy efficiency ... could bring great benefits at little or no cost,'' he added.
At a news conference after his speech, the UN secretary general said the international uproar and domestic opposition generated by Bush's decision may be causing the administration to rethink its position. He declined to cite specific signs of this, but said that he sensed ''a slight shift in some of the latest statements'' of the US position.
He also said the fact that the administration is conducting ''quite a lot of consultations, particularly with the European leaders, and conversations with environmental activists'' suggests that ''the door is not closed.'' He said the test of this will come in July, when signatories to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, including the United States, are scheduled to meet in Bonn.
The Bush administration and some of its congressional allies have said they object to the Kyoto Protocol because it does not require developing nations to make the same sorts of gas reductions as industrialized nations. However, both Annan and William R. Moomaw, professor of international environmental policy at the Fletcher School, said yesterday that some major developing nations recently have dramatically slowed emissions by modernizing inefficient factories and power plants.
Meanwhile, said Moomaw, a member of a top UN panel on climate change, the efficiency of motorized vehicles in the United States dropped throughout the 1990s and is now at its lowest level since 1980.
Moomaw said the Bush position on the Kyoto Protocol is in line with other US positions - blocking the Law of the Sea Treaty, undermining efforts to control hazardous waste, threatening to abrogate the Anti-Ballistic missile treaty, and previously refusing to pay UN dues - that are undercutting the US claim that it honors its international commitments.
He pointed out that European allies' anger at the Bush stand on the Kyoto Protocol was a major factor in the United States recently being voted off the UN Commission on Human Rights.
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