Kyoto Earth Summit Information Center:
Gore's Attendance at Summit Signals Accord May be Near, Despite Highly-Publicized Disputes
Kyoto, Japan - President Clinton's announcement yesterday that Vice President Albert Gore will attend the talks in Kyoto may signal that the negotiations are going much more smoothly behind the scenes than they are in public.
US and European Union (EU) negotiators argued over the targets and timetables for reducing greenhouse gas emissions during the opening day of the UN-sponsored global warming conference. The US/EU dispute stems not only from the fact that the US supports more modest emission reduction targets than the Europeans, but from the fact that US negotiators fear that the Europeans are attempting to broker a deal that will give them a distinct economic advantage over the US. Specifically, the EU's plan:
Calls for reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 15% below 1990 levels by 2010 while the US plan would simply stabilize these emissions at 1990 levels by 2012.
Calls for treating the European Union as a single nation under any agreement
that is signed thereby allowing it to shift the burdens of greenhouse emissions
controls to its member states that can most easily meet the targets and
giving it economic advantage over the US and other nations.
Calls for the treaty to include controls on only three greenhouse gases while the US plan would include controls on six such gases.
Notwithstanding the highly-publicized nature of the US/EU rift, observers here believe the dispute may be little more than shadow-boxing, a public display put on for the benefit of domestic constituencies with little real substance. The White House, it is believed, wouldn't risk sending the Vice President to the conference if it thought he was going to be embarrassed by its outcome.
The Clinton Administration's rhetoric appears to be playing to the United States Senate, which passed a resolution this past year sponsored by Senators Chuck Hagel (R-NE) and Robert Byrd (D-WV) calling on the President to withhold US support for any treaty that significantly harms the U.S. economy and/or does not include emission cut commitments from developing nations. While US negotiators have been insistent that any agreement include such commitments, they have not specified what kind of commitments by the developing nations would be needed to satisfy the US, suggesting that this is not a high priority In the end, observers believe a treaty will be signed with a token commitment by developing nations, possibly paid for by the US and other nations.
As the conference got underway, there was a sense of foreboding among participants on both sides of the philosophical divide. Environmentalists have become convinced that the Clinton Administration so wants to sign something at the conference that it will agree to a watered-down treaty that will be largely worthless. The recent resignation of Timothy Wirth, the Assistant Secretary of State for Global Affairs who did much of the preparatory work for the US leading up to the conference, has environmentalists particularly alarmed. Reportedly, Wirth decided to seek employment with media mogul Ted Turner after he became convinced that the Administration planned to capitulate to those seeking a more moderate US position in the talks.
Meanwhile, those who believe the science doesn't justify the economic burdens greenhouse gas emission reductions would impose are worried that even if a scaled back treaty would bode poorly as it could give governments a foot-in-the-door to impose more extensive restrictions down the road.
-EPA Watch Editor Dr. Bonner Cohen, on-site in Kyoto, provided the information for this report