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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Climate Change Talks

Air Date: Week of November 25, 2005

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Nations already signed on to the Kyoto Protocol would like the upcoming round of climate talks in Montreal to lead to new cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. But the world’s largest carbon polluter -- the United States -- has a different agenda. Living on Earth’s Jeff Young reports from Washington.

Transcript

CURWOOD: Climate negotiators from around the world are heading to Canada for a key round of talks on how to halt global warming. The meeting in Montreal could set the course for the next set of reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Industrialized nations who have already agreed to cut emissions want major developing countries like China, Brazil and India to sign on to mandatory limits under the next phase of the Kyoto Protocol. But without participation by the world’s largest carbon polluter – the United States – hopes for getting the big developing countries aboard are slim. Living on Earth’s Jeff Young reports from Washington.

YOUNG: The first international agreement to reduce greenhouse gases, the Kyoto Protocol, just took effect this year. But the countries involved are already looking ahead to their next step – agreements on further cuts beyond the year 2012. Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists says it’s important that the process start now.

MEYER: Do we implement the Kyoto Protocol and then go beyond it? Do we set the kind of binding emissions reductions that we know, from the science, are going to be needed to really get a handle on this problem in the next several decades? Or do basically we stop dead in our tracks? That’s really the stakes for the Montreal negotiations.

YOUNG: Meyer says part of the challenge is to find a fair way to include the booming economies of China, India and Brazil, which will soon join the developed nations as the world’s major carbon emitters. That alone would be hard enough. But there’s also the matter of that other major economy not yet in Kyoto – the United States.

MEYER: It’s clear the Bush administration would like to try to strangle the Kyoto protocol in its crib and prevent a conversation from even starting.

YOUNG: The Bush administration remains hostile to any legally binding cap on carbon emissions and works to block other countries from taking them on. Debbie Reed worked with the White House climate change task force in the Clinton administration. She’s now with the National Environmental Trust, a Washington advocacy group. In the U.S. the Bush administration argues that it can’t be part of any pact like Kyoto until developing countries like China and India take part. But Reed says there’s a different message abroad.

REED: At the negotiations what they have said even publicly is – to India and China – is that you should not make commitments because it will harm your economy. So they play this duplicitous game.

YOUNG: The Administration’s climate negotiators in the State Department declined repeated requests for comment. State department officials recently told a Senate committee about the administration’s approach to climate change. It focuses on voluntary reductions in emissions and sharing technology with developing countries.

The emphasis is on emerging technology that could capture the carbon from coal burning power plants. In Congress, a few still question the scientific evidence of global warming. Oklahoma Republican Senator James Inhofe says he’d like to see the Montreal talks bring a thorough review of the international scientific panel on climate change.

INHOFE: The more I have delved into the issue, the more convinced I am that science is being co-opted by those who care more about peddling fear of doom and gloom to further their own broad agendas than they do about scientific integrity.

YOUNG: But Inhofe’s view is now at the fringe of Senate opinion. This summer, 54 senators voted for a resolution recognizing the science of climate change and calling for some form of mandatory carbon cuts. And a growing number of Senators says it’s time for the US to get back into international climate negotiations.

BIDEN: Everyone here today knows the international climate change negotiations are broken.

YOUNG: Delaware’s Joe Biden is the ranking Democrat on the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee. He and committee chair, Republican Richard Lugar of Indiana, introduced a resolution this month calling for the US to negotiate a fair international commitment on climate change. Lugar says it’s a message to the rest of the world that not everyone in the US government agrees with the Bush administration’s stance.

LUGAR: Because it commits us to influence at least not only our countrymen but others outside this country who might wonder, is anybody listening, does anybody care? And we’re saying, we do.

YOUNG: Lugar and Biden spoke at an event sponsored by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, a Washington think tank that thinks it has a possible path for engaging countries like China and India. The Pew Center spent nearly two years talking with industry and government representatives from 20 nations and came up with a sort of mix and match plan of energy policies for different countries and emissions targets for different industries.

The Pew Center’s Eileen Claussen says the plan is flexible enough to at least bring developing nations into talks. As for the US, Claussen talks about waiting for the next elections and the next occupant of the White House.

CLAUSSEN: No matter which party ends up there I think we’re going to have a slightly more constructive attitude on this. And if some of the groundwork has been done and some of the thinking has progressed, and we have some involvement, I think we might have something ready to go by the time 2012 comes around. I mean, I don’t know any other way to do it.

YOUNG: Claussen and others will take their long-term strategies to the Montreal talks, an event where the stakes may be high but the expectations are not. For Living on Earth, I’m Jeff Young in Washington.

 

 

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