Climate Talks Open Amid Uncertainty

Monday 7/16

Horner Dispatch on the Bonn Climate Negotiations


U.S. Sends Team to Negotiate “Dead” Treaty


Bonn — The first of three days of closed-door negotiations over the specific meaning of general terms of the Kyoto Protocol, or “global warming treaty,” began here today leading up to four days of ministerial discussions.  Those high level meetings start Thursday, at which time non-governmental organizations such as the anti-treaty Cooler Heads Coalition, and pro-Kyoto Greenpeace, will be allowed entry.  Treaty proponents hold out faint hope for any significant resolution of outstanding matters, the most pressing being the future of U.S. participation, which could dictate the fate of the Treaty itself.


The U.S. position in Bonn and for the future remains a puzzle.  They sent a delegation to this round of talks at which the document on the table remains the Kyoto Protocol, despite President Bush having rhetorically asserted U.S. withdrawal from the treaty.  President Bush has to date curiously refused to rescind the U.S. signature from the document or pursue the sure defeat of a Senate vote, thus effecting no policy change de jure from the previous administration.


The State Department offered statements last week intended to clarify matters, asserting that the delegation has only the limited negotiating purposes of protecting U.S sovereignty and avoiding terms that could cost the U.S. money.  Given that a country can only be so bound by a treaty if it is a party to the agreement – which the U.S. claims it is not and will not be in the future – this statement further confuses matters and, intentionally or not, sends the mixed signal that the U.S. remains open to be co-opted “back into” the treaty it has never left.


This reality notwithstanding, the U.S. delegation’s unspoken objective is clear:  maintain for now the stance of those countries to date professing allegiance to President Bush’s express desire to restart negotiations toward an agreement requiring a) more moderate actions, b) by more than just the 38 “developed” countries required by Kyoto to reduce energy use emissions.


Similarly, the principal goal of treaty proponents is to cobble special concessions to such countries, peeling them off and thus ensuring the existing document comes into effect even if without the U.S.  Possessing the world’s second-largest economy Japan remains the critical target of treaty proponents, principally European Union (“EU”) countries, as necessary for the treaty to go into effect against any party until 55 countries ratify it, representing at least 55% of the covered emissions of the 38 countries restricted under Kyoto’s terms.


It is difficult to envision achieving that number, barring U.S. participation, without the Japanese who account for about 9% of the covered emissions.  That country’s new Prime Minister has made clear he will continue attempting to convince the U.S. to pursue ratification until further lobbying appears fruitless.  What Japan would do should the U.S. remain steadfast against the current construct is therefore the question on all negotiators’ minds.


This ad hoc session was called immediately upon the closure of the Sixth Conference of the Parties (“COP-6”), in The Hague last November.  That event occurred after the U.S. election but prior to its resolution, and was extended in a desperate attempt to forge an agreement on details prior to a possible administration less friendly to the theory of catastrophic man-made global warming.  COP-6 ultimately failed when the EU would not budge from its demand to restrict use of mechanisms such as trading in emissions and credit for land use and forestry practices sucking greenhouse gases from the atmosphere (“sinks”).  Such restrictions, which are not found in the text of the agreement, became suddenly necessary conditions when it appeared the U.S. could in fact meet a great portion of its required “cuts” through wealth transfers and other mechanisms, as opposed to lifestyle change.


Governor George W. Bush ran for President in part against the Kyoto Protocol as fatally flawed.  He created a stir this spring when he announced he was sticking to the campaign promise to walk away from the deal signed by the Clinton Administration in December 1998.  President Clinton refused to send the treaty to the Senate, where it stood no chance of obtaining the 67 (two-thirds) votes necessary for ratification.  No country among President Bush’s European critics, indeed no “developed” country outside Romania, has seen fit to ratify the agreement, despite nearly four years to do so and their harsh criticism of the U.S. for also failing to seek ratification.


Expectations remain low for the “progress” called for today by President of the Conference, Jan Pronk of the Netherlands.  Still, confusion remains in part because although the Bush Administration has rhetorically declared Kyoto “dead,” it has also refused to undertake the two most recognized dispositive steps that could satisfy the requirement of international law for withdrawal from a signed-but-not-ratified agreement – Senate rejection or rescinding its signature.  Further, the parties likely remember all too well how the U.S. delegation admittedly offered up more during last year’s failed discussions in The Hague than was contemplated in Kyoto, specifically as regards limiting the use of trading and sinks, in the failed attempt to lock in a deal.


All of this has set a tone of significant doubt for the week’s talks, about the Administration’s resolve to scrap the current document.  The result is to the stepped up pressure on the U.S.’s allies to accept special considerations and effectively isolate the U.S. into acquiescence.