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This chapter has, as its aim, the development of policies and programmes to promote increased understanding and effective action to combat climate change, stratospheric ozone depletion and transboundary atmospheric pollution. Next to discussions on finance, the atmosphere negotiations proved to be the most difficult and protracted at UNCED. On the insistence of the Arab Group, PrepCom IV was forced to transmit a completely bracketed chapter to UNCED. The Arab Group maintained that the chapter was not only duplicative of the work of the Climate Change negotiations, but that it placed an over-emphasis on energy efficiency and conservation.

In contact group discussions (chaired by Swedish Amb. Bo Kjell‚n) many Northern countries fought hard for the retention of the reference to new and renewable energy sources throughout the text. They argued that repetition of concepts as supremely important as environmentally-sound sources of energy was perfectly valid and acceptable. In fact, as negotiations moved from the contact group to the Main Committee, several developing countries openly called into question Saudi Arabia's true motives for calling for the deletion of these references.

Another contentious matter pertained to the phrase [safe and] in the context of energy sources. Most countries had requested the deletion of that phrase on the basis that it connoted an anti-nuclear bias. By contrast, Saudi Arabia insisted adamantly that the phrase be retained, in light of its opposition to nuclear power. Kjell‚n, with the assistance of the Brazilians, was able to resolve the matter with a generic solution, whereby a paragraph would be included in the Preamble to Agenda 21 stating, "Throughout Agenda 21, the term 'environmentally sound' means 'environmentally safe and sound' in particular when applied to the terms 'energy sources', 'energy sources', 'energy supplies', 'energy systems' or 'technology/technologies'. The result of this formulation was that all the brackets around the phrase "safe and" would be deleted in the body of the text. The repeated references to new and renewable energy sources will remain in the chapter with a footnote at the end of the chapter that lists the nine new and renewable energy sources (as referred to in the reports of the Committee on the Development and Utilization of New and Renewable sources of Energy). At the final Plenary on 14 June, Saudi Arabia formally placed on record its reservations with the atmosphere chapter. Since Agenda 21 is not a legally-binding instrument, but rather, a statement of policy, the Saudis' formal reservations to the chapter have no substantive implications.

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