Bonn Climate Meeting Is Crucial for U.S.

Puts final nail in Kyoto coffin, demonstrates American resolve


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.

The Japanese also indicated that it was unlikely that they would ratify Kyoto unless the Americans do so. Yoriko Kawaguchi, Japan's environmental minister, said that "partcipation of the U.S. is critically important." Together, the U.S. and Japan are responsible for 42 percent of greenhouse emissions by developed countries (as of 1990, the base year); the treaty requires 55 countries with total developed-nation emissions of 55 percent for enactment.

But, if the Europeans are so enthusiastic about Kyoto, why don't they proceed, whether they get the requisite 55 percent or not. So far, however, not a single European country except Romania has ratified the treaty, which was signed nearly four years ago, nor have the Europeans taken the natural step of modifying treaty terms to lure the U.S. back into the fold. Why not?

In an article posted online by the New Republic earlier this week, Gregg Easterbrook, a respected writer on environmental issues, raised the specter of continental hyprocrisy. "When Euros say" they back Kyoto, Easterbrook wrote, "they mean it with the same deep, sincere conviction that members of Congress used when they said they backed campaign finance reform, confident it had no chance of passage. European Union states can now thump their chests about how badly they want Kyoto because they are confident it has absolutely no chance of going into force."

Easterbrook also notes that, not only has no E.U. country ratified Kyoto, but "the European Commission, the E.U.'s executive body, has proposed no meaningful anti-greenhouse measures; of European states, only Denmark and Norway have taken domestic action, and of the token variety."

If the Europeans were serious about enacting Kyoto, this theory goes, they would simply relax their position, get support from Japan, Canada and Australia and go ahead without the United States.

Still, judging from the morose faces here in Bonn, I find it hard to agree that the Europeans—not to mention their allies in developing nations, who are required to do absolutely nothing under the treaty—are truly overjoyed at the firmness of the U.S. opposition.

But, then again, lumping all Europeans together may be misleading. It is Europe's enviros—mainly the Green Party politicians who control environmental ministries—who are represented here. The cynics are back home—or in Genoa.