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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Talking Rules

Air Date: Week of June 19, 1998

Our host Steve Curwood has been on assignment in Bonn, Germany, covering the latest round of negotiations on the Kyoto Protocol. That's the international agreement designed to combat global warming. The pact requires the industrialized nations of the world to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases by about five percent over the next decade or so. But, negotiators have not finalized the rules for implementing the accord, and some prickly issues have yet to be resolved. In Bonn, some observers say the United States is trying to use the rule- making process to soften the impact of the Kyoto agreement. Here's Steve's report.

Transcript

KNOY: Our host, Steve Curwood, has been on assignment in Bonn, Germany, covering the latest rounds of negotiations on the Kyoto Protocol. That's the international agreement designed to combat global warming. The pact requires the industrialized nations of the world to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases by about 5% over the next decade or so. But negotiators have not finalized the rules for implementing the accord, and some prickly issues have yet to be resolved. In Bonn some observers say the United States is trying to use the rulemaking process to soften the impact of the Kyoto agreement. Here's Steve's report.

(Milling in the background)

CURWOOD: Fear, money, and power. Those big 3 factors appear to be driving the 10 days of climate change talks here in Bonn, and they no doubt will come into play in November, when the process of putting the Kyoto agreement into action continues at a high-level conference in Buenos Aires. Fears about the price tag for fighting global warming seem to be behind the US call for rules permitting trading schemes so Americans could buy their way out of any real cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. And fears that such trading rules would gut the treaty and give the US even more economic power have prompted strong protests by the European community and developing countries.

Each side to this conflict blames the others. Environmental activists say business is fretting too much about profit margins when the survival of life as we know it is at stake. They say trading schemes would still allow too many emissions. The poorer countries say their gap with the richer nations is already widening, and that greenhouse gas trading would give affluent countries a way to make even more money from pollution. And behind closed doors, the Europeans angrily declare the US certainly can afford to make major cuts domestically, and doesn't need unlimited rights to trade emissions credits. But Ambassador Mark Hambley, head of the US delegation in Bonn, says the rest of the world is unduly suspicious of the US request for no limits on trades.

HAMBLEY: Well, I think it's ludicrous to think any country's going to be able to do anything 100%. I think close to that, I think the nature of the problem, the aggressiveness of the targets, will demand a real effort domestically by all parties, including the United States.

CURWOOD: Power and money are also key here, and the US has plenty of both. The Kyoto Accord will only go into effect when those countries with a combined total of at least 55% of all industrialized countries' emissions ratify the agreement. In the baseline year of 1990, the US had about 35% of the industrialized world's emissions, and Russia had about 20%; so together the US and Russia can simply block any accord from going into force.

Russia's emissions have since dropped 30%, so with trading it would have plenty of emissions credits to sell. With Russia standing to profit so handsomely under the trading scheme that the US has proposed, it appears the rest of the world will have to go along if any kind of global warming protocol is to become binding. The Clinton Administration has pledged to sign the Kyoto agreement, but the key, of course, is ratification. And the US Senate's unwillingness to sign on is giving the US tremendous bargaining power, again because of that 55% rule. And here, delegates and others say the Clinton Administration has been outflanked by the fossil fuel industry.

GELBSPAN: Disinformation has basically paralyzed the American public and the press, too, in terms of the political process.

CURWOOD: So says author and climate change analyst Ross Gelbspan, who came to Bonn for the talks. Even though none of the 150 or so governments at the negotiations raises fundamental doubts about the science of climate change, says Mr. Gelbspan, many in the fossil fuel lobby have worked hard in the US to discredit the science.

GELBSPAN: They have maintained a relentless drumbeat of doubt in the public mind through a series of disinformation campaigns, which are designed to persuade the public and the press and policy makers that the issue is terminally stuck in uncertainty, which it is not.

CURWOOD: Many on Capitol Hill are holding a hard line against spending on global warming mitigation, saying the science is unproven. And the fossil fuel hard-liners have also taken advantage of fears and resentments among the developing country delegations at the climate negotiations, diplomatic officials say off the record. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and other members of the oil- producing cartel, are officially classified as developing nations despite their wealth, and are part of the developing nations caucus. Led by Saudi Arabia, these oil countries have been able to fan and finance the flames of resentment among other developing nations against the United States. It's a brilliant two-pronged strategy, the diplomats here say privately. On the one hand, major fossil fuel producers are seen as pushing the US Senate and the Clinton Administration to include, quote, "meaningful participation by developing nations in the Accord." And at the same time, big oil producer money is reportedly enticing members in the developing country caucus to stay out of the agreement. It's an impasse that could scuttle implementation of the whole Kyoto deal.

Despite these obstacles, many at the Bonn negotiations say they are still looking for progress in Buenos Aires in November. Environmental activists say the developing nations will likely sign on if they are granted emissions rights on a basis that is linked to population size rather than past pollution. such an arrangement, they say, will be profitable for both the industrialized as well as the emerging countries. What is needed, they say, is strong leadership in both camps. For Living on Earth I'm Steve Curwood, reporting from Bonn.

 

 

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