BONN, Germany, July 19, 2001 -- Delegates representing the 178 nations here at the big conference on global warming appear resigned , at last, to the fact that the United States is not going to change its position on the Kyoto Protocol. President Bush rejected the agreement in March, calling it "fatally flawed."
Paula Dobriansky, the new undersecretary of state for global affairs, said earlier this week at the U.S. will not be putting compromise proposals on the table at this continuation of the Sixth Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (COP-6) "We very much appreciate that others are reaching out to the United States and are thinking of ways of engaging us, but we do truly believe the protocol is fundamentally flawed," she said, echoing President Bush. "We will not be coming back to the protocol."
In an editorial today, the New York Times described Dobriansksy as having "the unfortunate distinction of being the first American climate change negotiator with no negotiating position." In fact, she has a clear position: It is that the U.S. has rejected Kyoto as an extreme and expensive solution to a problem that has still not been confirmed by science. What is needed, the president has said, is more research.
Even die-hard Kyoto enthusiasts like Jurgen Trittin, the German environmental minister, are getting the message. Trittin said that "it would be unreasonable to infer that Washington would change it position," the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine reported today.
So what is the point of this meeting? For the pro-Kyoto contingent, it is hard to say. After talks broke down at the original COP-6 at the Hague, a Bonn follow-up was scheduled. It was put off for two months, but supporters did not want to cancel it -- even though another COP, this one in Morocco, is set for late October.
But for the U.S., this Bonn meeting is crucial: It provides an important opportunity to put the final nail in Kyoto's coffin and to demonstrate the new president's resolve in foreign affairs in general.
The U.S. is cast in the role of a parent that has told a child "no." The child, not surprisingly, continually tests the parent: "Are you sure?" "Won't you change your mind?" In this case, the parent -- both here in Bonn and in the G8 meeting of world leaders that starts tomorrow in Genoa, Italy -- is simply reaffirming the decision -- mainly as a matter of substance but also for the child to know that the parent's word should be taken seriously.
As a result, compared with the excitement at the Hague last fall -- when Europeans were negotiating with Americans on ways to implement Kyoto -- Bonn is boring and, for Kyoto advocates, deeply dispiriting. Demonstators are few (the floating party of Euro anarchists prefers Genoa by the sea, and why not?), and the American delegation is low-key and inconspicuous. In contrast to the Hague, when Senators like Chuck Hagel (R-Neb) and Represenatives like James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis) were in constant evidence, not a single member of Congress is here.
While there are 34 Americans on the official list of participants, that's not a big number as these international meetings go. The Dutch have sent 43 government delegates here; the French, 47; and the hosting Germans, 106.
Even Greenpeace, the hard-core environmental organization whose young delegates dominated the halls at the Hague conference, is barely visible. Early this morning, three Greenpeace students debated three American students from an anti-Kyoto group before a crowd of about 100. Such balance would have been unthinkable at past global environmental meetings.
Kyoto opponents, including the students, were pleasantly surprised by an article that appeared on page 3 of the highly regarded German newspaper Die Welt yesterday featuring Ulrich Berner, a Hannover scientist whose research, like that of Sallie Baliunas of Harvard, indicates that cycles of solar intensity, rather than build-ups of carbon dioxide, are the main cause of surface heating on earth.
In fact, one of the major changes since the Hague is that opponents of Kyoto, encouraged by the official U.S. position, are not afraid to speak out. A delegate from Canada, for example, speaking at a press conference this morning, insisted that the country's emissions-reduction target be met in large degree through the use of "sinks" -- forests and farmland that suck up carbon dioxide.
Kyoto requires enormous reductions in greenhouse gases for developed countries, especially the United States. A study by the Energy Department during the Clinton Administration estimated that implementing the treaty would reduce U.S. output by three to four percentage points annually -- a cost of $3,000 to $4,000 per American family. Other economists have said that the ripple effects from slow or no growth in the U.S. would severely damage developing countries.
At the Hague, the U.S. attempted to clarify how it could use other means, including sinks and emissions trading, to meet its targets, but Europeans took a hard line, dooming any chance for American ratification. By a vote of 95-0, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution in August 1997 opposing any climate-change agreement that excluded developing countries from its strictures and that would result in serious economic harm to the U.S. Partly as a result, the Clinton administration never submitted the treaty for ratification, but it delegates in the Hague, led by Frank Loy (who eventually got a pie in his face from enviro-activitsts) tried hard to get the Europeans to compromise, but to no avail.
Now, the only question is whether Kyoto will proceed without the Americans. That prospect, too, seems unlikely. Much of the early attention here has focused on Japan, which has been ambivalent -- and generally lukewarm -- about ratification. The nation's new prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, said flatly on Sunday, "We will not be able to reach an agreement in Bonn." Koizumi, like Bush, was only stating the obvious, but, at U.N. conferences, such candor is exceptional -- and difficult for delegates and bureaucrats to absorb.