NOORDWIJK, The Netherlands -- A conference on global warming attended by 68 countries Tuesday fell short of adopting concrete measures to cut the carbon dioxide emissions that scientists warn are damaging the environment.
The United States joined Britain, Japan and the Soviet Union in refusing to aim at freezing carbon monoxide pollution at present levels by the year 2000 and introducing 20 percent cuts by the year 2005.
Carbon monoxide, which is released during the burning of fossil fuels, is believed the main cause of the warming of Earth's atmosphere, which environmentalists warn can lead to a 'greenhouse effect'.
'Frankly, anyone who thinks that the world can go forward without disagreement is not aware of what is involved,' said William Reilly, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Reilly said the United States, which accounts for 25 percent of the world's carbon dioxide emissions, 'in principle' supported the stabilization of emissions of the gas.
'But we have not yet costed out the changes,' Reilly said.
He said EPA estimates that stabilizing carbon dioxide emissions would require at least a doubling of U.S. automobile fuel efficiency.
Delegates to the conference did, however, agree to attempt to stop widespread clearing of the world's forests by the turn of the century. The burning of forests in South America, or 'deforestation,' is a leading cause of air pollution.
The environmental group Greenpeace condemned the plan as a 'disaster' and 'major setback in moves to halt the greenhouse effect.'
The American delegation proposed that before decisions are made on carbon dioxide levels, the nations of the world await recommendations from the U.N.-sponsored Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change, which is to issue a report next year.
Britain also opposed deadlines on cutting emission levels, saying there is not enough scientific concensus proving the direct relationship between emissions and changes in the global climate.
Japan, on the other hand, maintained that its emission-cutting program is far ahead of other countries already and it should not be grouped with the other nations.