US Proposals Rebuffed at Global Warming Negotiations: EU Officials Seek Larger Sacrifices

A live report from The Hague by CEI’s Chris Horner at the Sixth Conference of the Parties to the UN Treaty on Global Warming

A live report from The Hague by CEI’s Chris Horner at the Sixth Conference of the Parties to the UN Treaty on Global Warming


The Hague, Netherlands, November 17, 2000 – Just one month after the European Parliament effectively condemned the United States Senate for not doing something it in fact lacks the legal authority to do, European Union negotiators at COP-6 very publicly slammed a door in the face of US officials.


This fifth day of negotiating sessions, aimed at tying up the Kyoto Protocol’s numerous loose ends, has been rocked by the previous evening’s forceful and open display of EU negotiators rejecting US-proposed concessions. During this critical session, in which countries seek to develop acceptable terms for meeting their requirements to reduce emissions from energy consumption, the Americans proposed a scaled-back version of their position on what are known as “sinks.” Sinks are projects absorbing carbon dioxide (CO2), the dominant gas thought by many scientists to lead to an increase in the planet’s temperature, and therefore potential disruption of the climate. Projects can include planting trees or other land use decisions leading to increased carbon intake or storage. A pending, contentious issue is how much of a country’s targeted emission reductions can be obtained through sinks. The US has committed to reduce 600 million metric tons of CO2 annually.


The US had offered to discount their sink credit by 80 percent, thus accepting credit for only 20 percent of the estimated 288 million tons of carbon US forests and other efforts would absorb annually. Despite the dramatic nature of the offer on a matter considered a major obstacle to any progress being made here, and rumors of such movement leading the parties toward agreement, a document circulating late Thursday strongly dismissed the US proposal.


While the authors of the document remained in question due to language that was eerily similar to that circulating earlier in an environmentalist group publication, European officials subsequently made public statements affirming their rejection. For example, in an interview with the Earth Times, a publication serving as a sort of in-house organ for the proceedings, the president of the climate section of the European Commission, Jos Delbke, decried a lack of specifics in the US proposal and stated, “[I]t is minimal compared to what we thought it would be.”


These events come on the heels of the October resolution by the European Parliament calling on the US Congress “to drop their resistance to the principles agreed in Kyoto and to do justice to their responsibility to combat the green house effect.” This strong language passed despite the fact that President Clinton has yet to submit the treaty to the Senate, and therefore the Senate cannot legally either ratify or refuse to ratify it. The Senate to date has clearly not spoken favorably of the treaty, but it cannot fairly be blamed for inaction. Further, the fact that no EU countries to date have ratified the agreement struck some Americans as adding an element of hypocrisy to the resolution.


Final working group agreements faced a deadline of midnight, Friday, so as to have materials ready to present to high level diplomats who begin arriving Sunday for the more formal second week of the session. That deadline has slipped twenty fours hours, due to the acrimony. This negotiating development has also fanned the flames of rumors that President Clinton will appear in The Hague on his way back to Washington from Vietnam, in an effort to break the stalemate and add a successful negotiation to his stable of “legacy” items. Vice President Gore made such a “surprise” appearance at the December 1997 Kyoto negotiating session that bore the treaty language, and thus the name “Kyoto Protocol.”


Though how unplanned Vice President Gore’s visit really was has been hotly debated since, his trip to Kyoto to insist that US negotiators show “increased flexibility” led to a precedent, significant lessening of US demands and ultimate agreement on a framework. Observers presume Mr. Clinton would have similar goals in mind should he visit. Such a move, however, would likely doom the treaty in the Senate where just the broad principles of the Kyoto accord have faced strong criticism for what Senators see as a disproportionate burden borne by the US.


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