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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Back to Bonn: A Conversation with Senator John Kerry

Air Date: Week of May 22, 1998

President Clinton says global warming is a major threat to humanity. But he's coming under fire from diplomats abroad and from senators in his own party who say the President is not doing enough to offset climate change. Next month, diplomats meet in Bonn, Germany to continue negotiations over the reduction of greenhouse gases reached last fall in Kyoto, Japan. The Kyoto agreement set binding limits for industrialized nations, but left blank some of the details of implementation. Those details will be on the table in Bonn, and many diplomats say they'd like to see them worked out so that a major meeting planned for the fall in Buenos Aires can finish the job. Steve Curwood spoke with Senator John Kerry, a Democrat from Massachusetts, who says that won't happen unless the Clinton Administration steps up its efforts to sell the treaty abroad and at home.

Transcript

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
Next month, diplomats meet in Bonn, Germany to continue negotiations over the reduction of greenhouse gases. This will be the first meeting since the Kyoto accord was reached in Japan last year. That agreement set binding limits for industrialized nations but left blank some of the details of implementation. Those details will be on the table in Bonn, and many diplomats say they'd like to see them work out so that a major meeting planned for the fall in Buenos Aires can finish the job. Senator John Kerry, a Democrat from Massachusetts, says that won't happen unless the Clinton Administration steps up its efforts to sell the treaty at home and abroad.

KERRY: The bottom line is that very little was done to actually implement the treaty. Very little was done to try to market it either by the Bush or the Clinton Administration, and that's why we find ourselves where we are today.

CURWOOD: What would you do different if you were in charge?

KERRY: Well, I think that the first and most critical thing, I mean it's not a question of who's in charge, it's just a question of what you need to do. You've got to be able to reach out to your business community in a legitimate way with sufficient levels of economic analysis that show the impact of what you're going to do. There's been very little economic analysis shared in this process. So a lot of people feel as if they're being dragged into something blind, the consequences of which could be very damaging to their businesses. The second thing you need to do is reach out to the developing countries in a very affirmative way in order to be able to show them how even the most minimalist kinds of steps they could take, for instance, switching to unleaded gas, beginning to require emissions control systems on their automobiles. I mean, there are a whole lot of things they could engage in that are not particularly pricey, that other countries have done, where there's a proven track record, where they could become part of the solution and get great credit for doing those things. The next thing you need to do is obviously do a better job of gathering, analyzing, and marketing the science. We are still seeing people debating things that frankly shouldn't be debated, and I think the reason for that is there's been a vacuum, that there simply hasn't been a clear articulation of what the science is, and we haven't found sufficient ways to persuade people.

CURWOOD: Now, the Administration is relying on an emissions trading program, in fact, to meet the targets that are in the Kyoto accord. This is something that does not please the developing world, Senator. They say we're trying to pass on our pollution burden to them. We're just trying to buy our way out of this. How do you respond to that criticism?

KERRY: Well, the truth is that that's not what happens, though I understand that argument. And what we need to do is show them how the trading that we've done in the United States for our sulfur dioxide emissions have in fact helped states to be able to phase out certain kinds of plants on an economic schedule, have helped people to be able to implement best practices and new technologies on a schedule that made economic sense, while still improving the air quality and still moving in a positive direction.

CURWOOD: Is that possible? I mean, I think you among other people have been saying that the rest of the world is really very angry with the United States.

KERRY: They are angry. I mean, I felt that anger palpably in Kyoto. It was quite stunning, as a matter of fact, to see the degree to which a lot of these countries felt that the United States had gone to the Earth Summit in Brazil and under President Bush had made a fairly significant commitment as well as exercised a fairly strong leadership role in saying we ought to move on this issue. And in the ensuing years, obviously, not only has the United States not moved, but things have gotten worse. We're actually emitting more at a faster rate. They're very suspicious that what we're doing is really trying to restrain their growth at their expense, and that the United States wants to continue to be the world's largest energy user without accepting responsibility. I mean that's their attitude. I think, however, we negotiated a pretty responsible position with some room for improvement, and I think we need to do more in the area of technology transfer, and we need to do much more on the diplomatic front to really market what is happening.

CURWOOD: You went to Rio in 1992 as a United States Senator, right?

KERRY: Yes, I did. I was part of the delegation.

CURWOOD: And there was another United States Senator with you at the same time, Al Gore was his name.

KERRY: Ah, I see what you're trying to set up (laughs).

CURWOOD: Well, that's exactly right. Here's the question: Senator Gore was saying that climate change is one of the most environmental issues, and a number of people are saying that he seems to have stepped back from this as Vice President of the United States. In your view, is Al Gore devoting enough time and energy to this issue?

KERRY: Well, listen, I'm not, this is not the moment, time, or place to start getting into a sort of personalized kind of contest of that kind. I think the Vice President is deeply committed to these issues. He has an enormous amount of, you know, other issues on his plate. It's a big agenda, and I know that he put personal time into Kyoto and made, you know, a good effort to try to help the process move forward there. I think the Administration as a whole needs to have a clearer strategy and needs to put more focus on how we're going to move this agenda forward. I think that is a critical thing for whoever is in charge or focused on it, and I think all of us need very much to be part of that process. And I hope we're going to be able to do it.

CURWOOD: Senator John Kerry, thanks so much for taking this time with us today.

KERRY: I'm delighted to be with you. Thank you.

 

 

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