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

Climate Change I: U.S. Dawdles

Air Date: Week of

Host Steve Curwood talks with Alden Meyer, director of government affairs for the Union of Concerned Scientists, about next week’s climate change talks in Bonn, Germany. The current plan is to finalize the Kyoto Protocol by the end of 2000; but many countries are concerned that, by taking its time ratifying the protocol, the United States is putting the treaty in jeopardy.


CURWOOD: Representatives of the world's nations are gathering in Bonn, Germany, for more negotiations on a treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, known as the Kyoto Protocol. No dramatic breakthroughs are predicted as preparations are underway for a final approval of the protocol in the Netherlands next year. But some observers say the United States is putting that deadline in jeopardy. As the world's biggest emitter of carbon gases, they complain, the U.S. is also the biggest procrastinator in implementing and ratifying the accord to combat climate change. Alden Meyer is director of government relations with the Union of Concerned Scientists. He says frustration with the U.S. has been simmering since the negotiations in Kyoto two years ago.

MEYER: The U.S. got largely what it wanted out of Kyoto in terms of the so-called flexibility mechanisms, emissions trading, and other things, to allow us to do a lot of our emissions reductions overseas. The concern that the Europeans and a number of developing countries have is, they don't see signs of progress in the United States itself in terms of coming to grips with our emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases here. They don't see that we're doing the heavy lifting at home. And they're concerned in the wake of the rejection of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty whether we are a reliable negotiating partner and actually will be able to deliver the goods if they give us what we want in these end-game negotiations.

CURWOOD: Are we dragging our feet here in the U.S.? Are we not doing what we should be doing?

MEYER: I think it's clear that we're not doing anywhere near what we need to do in terms of actions at home to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Things like increasing fuel economy standards for automobiles, encouraging a shift to renewable energy and energy efficiency in the power sector, etc. We've done very little since not only Kyoto, but the Rio Earth Summit back in 1992, where we signed the original treaty on climate change that obligates us to try to return our emissions to 1990 levels. We're currently at least ten or eleven percent above that.

CURWOOD: Is it possible that the rest of the world might get so frustrated with the U.S. they just go ahead and come up with a new Kyoto Protocol themselves, and not include us in it?

MEYER: Well, a number of countries are taking action on their own, even before Kyoto goes into effect. But it would be very difficult to politically or economically, I think, for most of these countries, to go ahead and ratify Kyoto and commit themselves to be bound by it, without knowing the U.S. was also going to be a partner in that enterprise. The issues of industrial competitiveness and trade are just too large, I think, for countries in Europe or Japan to make that kind of commitment.

CURWOOD: The Kyoto Protocol really calls for goals to be hit by about the year 2010 or so. So for it to work, it needs to go into effect in the next couple of years, let's say. Is it realistic to think that the protocol will be ratified by enough countries to go into effect on schedule for it to be meaningful?

MEYER: Well, I think clearly you can get an agreement on the details from Kyoto by this meeting the end of next year, if there is the political will there. The real question, I think, is, Can you build the political support in legislatures, particularly in the United States Senate, to allow ratification of the treaty within the next couple of years? It would take a lot of changes in the current position of a lot of senators to see that coming about. But there are indications the public is getting more concerned about this issue. Earth Day next year is going to be focusing on global warming and energy issues. It will be an issue in the presidential debates and campaigns. So, I think there is a chance that you could see a shift in domestic political pressures on the Senate on this. And combined with the successful completion of negotiations internationally, that could set the groundwork for ratification of the treaty here in the U.S.

CURWOOD: Alden Meyer is director of government relations at the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington, DC. Alden, thanks for joining us.

MEYER: Thanks, Steve. Good to be with you.



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