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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Climate Change Update

Air Date: Week of

Steve Curwood speaks with Bill Hare, Climate Change Coordinator for Greenpeace International, on President Clinton's recent announcement of the U.S. plan for curtailing its greenhouse gas emissions.


CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Time is running out for negotiators trying to draft a new treaty to combat global warming. In December, more than 150 nations will meet in Kyoto, Japan, to ratify binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions. But the current round of preparatory talks, now underway in Bonn, Germany, is bogged down. Things are slow in part because President Bill Clinton waited until October 22nd to finally unveil the US negotiating position, a position deeply at odds with what most of the other nations proposed months ago. The US essentially wants an 8- to 12- year extension of the original voluntary targets set by the first climate change convention and signed by Mr. Clinton in 1993. It calls for emissions to be reduced to 1990 levels in 8 to 12 years. In contrast, more than 100 industrialized and developing nations, led by the European Union, want a 15% cut below the 1990 levels over the same period. Mr. Clinton has also said developing nations must meaningfully participate in any Kyoto agreement, but as given no specifics. So far, the Clinton offer has drawn praise from some environmental groups. They say the US has put something down on the negotiating table and promised to begin early action on climate change in the US. Other environmental groups say the Clinton plan doesn't go far enough to protect against climate change. And business worries that it would hurt the economy. Bill Hare has been following the climate change negotiations since before the 1992 Rio summit, first as a diplomat from Australia, and most recently for Greenpeace. Speaking from Bonn, Mr. Hare told me there's great concern that the Clinton plan has upset many of the negotiators.

HARE: I guess people are concerned for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it essentially is the most important environmental negotiation ever conducted and people know that. But it simply has to be a success, and it's quite clear that a zero percent target is not a reduction at all. It simply is exactly the same commitment that the US agreed to for the year 2000
5 years ago, and which President Clinton himself promised that his administration would meet, and which he now has abandoned.

CURWOOD: But what's different here is that the US has said that these will be binding limits. Before it was a voluntary deal. Now they're saying yes, we will commit to meet these and we will be held legally accountable. Isn't that a change? Isn't that a step forward?

HARE: That's true. And it's true, the problem that's really worrying us now is that there are so many loopholes being built into this agreement, many of which the US actually supports, which would actually, we calculate, allow emissions to increase by some 25 to 35% above 1990 levels by the year 2010. And secondarily, we do need a significant emission reduction starting earlier than 2010 in order to slow down the rate of global warming. Unless and until we get that reduction, we have not even started to deal with the problem. The actions proposed, in fact, if you wanted to be cynical about it, you could say they verge on being political window dressing. A political gloss on the fact that President Clinton is unable to bring himself to deal effectively with this issue.

CURWOOD: Now, this is a negotiating position by the United States. Do you think as a negotiating position it has effectively torpedoed these climate change talks? Or do you think an agreement is possible still?

HARE: That's a multi billion-dollar question here, is: is this the bottom line for the US or will the US move? I think the first thing you have to say is that this position has been put by the head of state, President Clinton. Therefore, we believe the only way it can be changed is by other heads of state convincing President Clinton that it's not enough, by people such as Chancellor Kohl of Germany, Prime Minister Blair from the UK, leaders from other countries who are desperate to see urgent action, particularly from developing countries. I believe that as countries reflect on this, as they reflect on the loopholes in the negotiations, which would allow emissions to increase, and I think by Kyoto we will see a hardening of attitudes, essentially in the direction of saying well, if this is all the US is putting forward, with all the loopholes, it might not be worth having at all. It might be worth continuing this negotiation for another year until the US comes back with a better position.

CURWOOD: The President and the President's people are saying that he must have done something right here. That environmentalists are criticizing him and that business is criticizing him. Environmentalists saying he's not going far enough, businesses saying he's gone too far. What's the mood there in Bonn?

HARE: Well, the mood here is interesting. I think if you look at these statements which US business interests are putting out in Washington, you would assume that they're entirely opposed to Mr. Clinton's position. But what happened in Bonn shortly after the President's announcement was that the Global Climate Coalition, the umbrella group for the oil, coal, and car companies that are supposed to action, actually held a party. They held a party to celebrate what they saw to be a victory on climate change. We knew about the party in advance, and a rather funny thing happened when the chairman of these negotiations happened to walk into the party by accident, and reported his experience, in fact his dismay, with that to a briefing to delegates and journalists here in Bonn the next day. I think that tells you exactly where US business is coming from. They are pleased with President Clinton's announcement. They know that they have succeeded. They know that the $50 million they spent over the last few years has paid off with a 10- year delay in action. And I think that's the bottom line.

CURWOOD: Bill, you've been following these negotiations for 8 years, both as a diplomat and now as an advocate with an environmental group. I want you to dust off the crystal ball, and I know that forecasting's a dangerous business. But what do you expect to happen at Kyoto?

HARE: This is a very difficult question. This is the first time in my career, and in this kind of work where I actually quite say. Quite frankly, I don't think anyone really knows, because this negotiation is going to go right down to the wire. It's going to go right down to the early hours of the 10th of December when the meeting is scheduled to conclude, before we know the outcome. I'm convinced of that. We just cannot say. Kyoto could completely fall apart. It could fall apart over the US target. It could fall apart over the US insistence of developing country action. On the other hand, we could see in the final hours of the meeting a grand deal emerge in which countries can agree that with the US moving on crucial issues, they can confidently sign a protocol that they believe will work. I think at this stage, it's just too early to say, unfortunately.

CURWOOD: I want to thank you for taking this time with us. Bill Hare directs the climate change operation for Greenpeace International. Thank you, sir.

HARE: Thank you.



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