BERLIN (AP) - British Petroleum will start measuring the so-called greenhouse gases it pumps into the air and set targets for reductions in what the oil giant's chief called a "constructive contribution" to halting global warming.
The voluntary decision adds to the company's reputation as a maverick within the oil industry on global warming. Its chief executive officer, John Browne, lined up with environmentalists in the spring.
Browne said BP's program could serve as an example before a December United Nations meeting in Kyoto, Japan. Officials from 150 countries hope to adopt a binding timetable and limits for cutting emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases blamed for global climate changes.
"For too long, this has been an issue on which few were prepared to accept responsibility," Browne said.
"The oil industry has the ability and the responsibility both to contribute to the debate ... and to take a leadership position by showing that we, ourselves, can make a constructive contribution to the solution."
The Environmental Defense Fund, which will help set up and monitor the program on a no-payment basis, called BP's action a "historic acceptance of responsibility for the overriding environmental problem of our time."
In a telephone interview, Fred Krupp, executive director of the New York-based group, said it "puts real pressure on the other oil companies to act like responsible adults, and I think it puts substantial pressure on the Clinton White House to advance a meaningful reduction target."
Many scientists believe the planet is slowly heating up as concentrations of polluting gases build up in the atmosphere and trap the sun's heat like a greenhouse.
The fear is that higher temperatures could cause droughts and flood island nations and coastal cities with water from melting polar caps.
President Clinton has pledged a "strong American commitment to realistic and binding limits." But the United States, responsible for one-quarter of global emissions, has yet to commit to specifics.
The Global Climate Coalition, a lobby representing major U.S. oil companies, contends the scientific evidence is still unclear and has been lobbying against binding limits, saying they would slow economic growth and kill American jobs.
Browne, however, said "constructive action now" could address the problem "without disrupting economic development." He also said he felt the other oil giants would eventually come around to BP's view: "Attitudes change but time is important."
A spokesman for the Global Climate Coalition in Washington, John Grasser, said his group supports "the notion of increasing efficiencies within one's own operations and any other things that make sense."
But he said it remains opposed to adopting binding targets at the Kyoto conference.
BP plans to begin measuring and reporting its own carbon dioxide emissions by next year, and to set targets for reducing emissions over the following two years.
The company will then begin a program at 10 of its key units under which emissions reductions can be traded to meet their targets. "If that works, we'll expand it to cover more, and eventually the entire company," Browne said.
Greenpeace International welcomed BP's move, which it noted stood "in stark contrast" to the rest of the oil industry.