Climate Treaty Valiantly Holding on In Its Struggle to Remain Dead


Horner Dispatch from the Bonn Climate Negotiations


Cracks Beginning to Show in European Presentation


Bonn — At a press conference equally notable for its defensive tone and the contradictory positions espoused, the European Union’s Environment Commissioner was reduced to asserting that it would be “too simple to merely blame the EU” for the apparent stalemate in negotiations over the Kyoto “global warming treaty.”  This stalemate is in fact a continuation of the most recent negotiating session, for which the EU adeptly blamed the U.S.  Such protests seem a far cry from then, and the swaggering EU which blew into town mere days ago asserting that the Kyoto Protocol would soon gain the support of the necessary parties, and go into effect without American participation.


Japan is the subject of most EU wooing, with their emission totals critical to achieving the 55% of covered emissions required for the treaty to go into effect.  Upon satisfying that condition, and ratification by 55 countries, Kyoto would require energy use emission reductions compared to 1990 emissions, by 38 countries including the U.S.  34 countries to date have ratified Kyoto, though only one of those actually has reduction requirements.


The Japanese have received offers of increasingly special treatment, including lowering their emission reduction requirement by half, and the ability to use methods to achieve that total which are denied the United States.  Despite this, Japan is seemingly holding fast.  It appears that some Germans are wishfully reading into the cryptic Japanese position, that they will continue seeking to gain U.S. buy-in of Kyoto until it appears futile to persist further.  They give no indication of their future plans, only describing the present plan.  Other countries adhering to the U.S. position of demanding changes so significant so as actually require a new treaty are Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.


The EU departed the failed talks last November in The Hague, the “Sixth Conference of the Parties,” (COP-6), without blame for a stalemate that many observers believed fell clearly at their feet.  There, they insisted Kyoto’s credit for practices that draw greenhouse gases from the atmosphere (“sinks”), and trading in emissions between countries, were strictly limited.  The treaty language itself indicates no such limits, and Clinton-Gore administration negotiators insisted they had only agreed to Kyoto subject to their ability to meet their requirements in great part through these mechanisms.


This dramatically shifted the focus of the Kyoto treaty from reductions in emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to actual sacrifices made by covered countries, particularly the U.S.  Thus, whether because the EU countries were adamant about modifying the provisions in such way, or because this confirmed that there never was any meeting of the minds, talks ended with no solution in sight.  This week’s session is actually a special meeting called immediately upon the collapse in The Hague.  The next annual meeting is a mere three months away in Marrakech, Morocco. 


Today’s rhetoric by EU officials, however, belied the previous about-face and focus on how particular countries behave.  Instead, they stressed in response to a question regarding compliance assurance that the overriding key to Kyoto is indeed GHG concentrations, and total human emissions.  One reporter appeared to call them on how this does not square with their refusal to allow significant U.S. trading or use of sinks, but the questioned official was not about to be trapped.


The EU’s contradictions on sinks were only the most glaring of today’s inconsistencies.  The deal offered Japan, should they agree to ratify the treaty without the U.S., would allow trading in emission credits and use of sinks to achieve their requirement, though U.S. use of such mechanisms remains unacceptable.  The rationale is that Japan’s population is densely concentrated in a few major centers.  U.S. unworthiness of similar conditions derives from having allowed its population to develop with larger plots of land, yielding larger homes, which ultimately are filled with more people.  This in turn requires larger cars, greater consumption of resources, etc.  That this standard of living is now expressly deemed an unacceptable condition for certain conditions ratifies what organizations such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the Cooler Heads Coalition has said for years:  Kyoto is about population and lifestyle, employing energy use emissions as the bootstrap.


EU officials stressed the importance of all nations participating, justifying their pressure and isolation tactics to ultimately draw in the U.S.  Yet the next moment they insist that no reasonable country can expect the developing world to participate in any meaningful way.  This despite these countries being far less efficient than developed nations, and therefore having more “low hanging fruit” of possible emission reductions.  The EU warned that Kyoto is urgently necessary, and Environment Minister Margot Wallstrom claims it is the “only” way to proceed.  Yet they laughed at a reporter’s inquiry today as to whether EU countries would make up some or all of a void left by the U.S,. of $400 million in climate-related foreign aid to developed countries.


Throughout the questioning EU officials were adamant that Kyoto is critical, but also that the EU won’t bend to get the largest player involved.  They will only seek to pressure and isolate the U.S. to come to their terms.  The more the EU speaks, the less they appear driven by environmental concerns.