Posturing Over Kyoto

Horner Op-Ed in The Washington Times

Horner Op-Ed in The Washington Times

Bonn — Last November's knock-down, drag-out debates extended beyond the U.S. courts wrestling with the outcome of a U.S. presidential election. A continent away from last fall's electoral contest, and with the prospect of an anti-treaty president palpably in the air, a U.N. negotiating session on the "global warming treaty" ground to an equally acrimonious halt in The Hague. Global warming was one of few matters on which the election offered a stark contrast. Both outcomes would impact which ideology would dominate the world's largest consumer of energy – and thus greatest emitter of energy use emissions, or "greenhouse gases." Today the results of both contests meet face to face.

Negotiators gather again this week and next in Germany, resuming attempts to agree upon specifics of the general terms of this Kyoto Protocol. The Clinton-Gore administration has yielded to Bush-Cheney, and last year's high-tension affair gives way to an atmosphere far more subdued. True, street theatre – both pro-Kyoto and that of the counter-protesters from the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT) – is not expected in earnest until Wednesday. Still the mood in the conference hall, while not wake-like, is certainly more sober than that of previous conferences.

One factor has not changed, however, that being the defiant attitude of the European Union toward the United States. The EU consists of 15 countries rhetorically in die-hard support of Kyoto yet who, despite having a "bubble" system and other factors making compliance with Kyoto easier than for the United States, have uniformly refused to attempt ratifying the agreement. This also despite having had nearly four years to do so, while aggressively denouncing the Americans for the same inaction.

Yet what little seeps from closed-door sessions these first two days, coupled with EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom's timely rant in a German paper, leave the unmistakable message that the EU is spoiling for a fight. "Why?" remains to be seen. Is their aim as alleged, to forge some accord, U.S. involvement-be-damned? Alternatively, as CFACT's Craig Rucker posits, is it merely to preserve the United States-as-bad-guy dynamic and again "save from themselves." Contradictory clues as to which is real are found in the EU's actions leading up to the Bonn sessions.

The Hague talks collapsed upon EU insistence that specific greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions not remain the key objective. Instead the focus was how any developed country – particularly the United States – achieves reductions. Would countries be given credit for land use practices actually pulling GHGs from the atmosphere ("sinks"), and paying other countries such as Russia whose economic downturn left them emission credits to sell? Or, must most reductions come through actual lifestyle changes, that is, in all probability dramatic energy use reductions, by the end of this decade? The Kyoto language offers no hint at any possible limitations, let alone those demanded at The Hague. Yet EU countries resisted allowing significant U.S. reliance on these measures as somehow violating the spirit of the accord. The United States, in admitting it had already offered more than was even contemplated in Kyoto, realized the EU simply would not accept the terms of our surrender.

Still, as prospects for crucial Japanese participation recently faded, the chairman of this Conference of the Parties (COP) offered countries with sufficiently dense populations (read: Japan) the right under Kyoto to precisely such significant use. Ratifying EU behavior at The Hague, the message was clear, if not widely reported: this is about lifestyle. Then, when it appeared possible to actually isolate the United States and pressure us into a deal (multinational corporations have made clear to the White House that if the treaty goes into effect, the United States has to be on board), EU officials also rumbled about possible sweetheart deals available to other countries willing to break with the United States, it almost looked like the EU wanted some "Kyoto" to survive.

Then, on Monday EU Minister Wallstrom greeted arriving delegations with a piece in the German and English editions of Frankfurter Allgemeine, "Germany's Daily Newspaper." There she alleged that the United States was less than truthful in dismissing Kyoto on the grounds it exempts major trade competitors from reductions. It does, and she knows the word games she's playing. Further, she claimed Kyoto would likely benefit business, and implicitly participating economies. This is a farcical assertion recently disowned by even Clinton-Gore treaty architects. She congratulated herself with the delusion that "the Kyoto Protocol is the only [option for putting together an effective international framework]."

EU arrogance here can be summed up as: Only they can channel the sole solution, to a theory that they refuse to entertain might not be a problem, which is exacerbated by the United States refusing to live the more spartan EU lifestyle. The hubris would be breathtaking, were it not what we have come to expect. Kyoto is a wreck, and the EU knows it, yet despite their doomsaying they reject alternatives as failing to put a sufficient hurt on sinful prosperity. The EU just might be left with their pride instead of an agreement requiring a ratification vote. And that may be just what they want.

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