Kyoto Earth Summit Information Center:
Kyoto, Japan - Environmentalists are seething over the Clinton Administration's negotiating position in Kyoto and this could jeopardize Vice President Albert Gore's standing within environmental movement.
"The United States is advocating one of the weakest positions of any developed nation and is perceived by many to be bullying other countries into signing off on an inferior agreement," reports the Sierra Club.
"The only good thing about the Administration's plan is that it would cover six pollutants, rather than just three proposed by the European Union," decries John Passacantando of Ozone Action, one of thousands of environmentalists here in Kyoto.
Not even Vice President Albert Gore, the leading contender for the Democrat presidential nod in 2000 who will look to the environmental movement for vital grassroots support has been spared criticism: "Gore's background raised hope for some that the U.S. might be willing to strengthen it's position and do more to protect the environment and future generations," says the Sierra Club. "Gore, however, seemed to pour cold water on that wish by stating: 'We are perfectly prepared to walk away from an agreement that we don't think will work.'"
Much to the consternation of these environmental groups, the U.S. delegation has reportedly accepted the concept of "differentiated" greenhouse gas emission targets. "Differentiated" targets mean that each country would have different targets for emissions based on their individual economic circumstances. Australia, for example, may be permitted to increase its emissions somewhat due to the fact that so much of its economy rests on coal.
Nevertheless, there is a growing awareness among conference participants -- including environmentalists -- that it is going to be next to impossible to reach the sweeping legally binding emissions reduction treaty originally envisioned. Many are blaming the Clinton Administration. The Administration's insistence that developing countries make commitments to reduce or limit their own greenhouse gas emissions is considered the key roadblock to a treaty. Try as they may, U.S. negotiators and other parties interested in concluding a Kyoto protocol have not been able to find a formula that would satisfy both the developing countries and the U.S. Senate, which has insisted on concessions from these countries. Thus, there is an increasingly pessimistic mood among those promoting the goals of the conference. Even the prospect of Vice President Albert Gore and Maurice Strong, heir apparent to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, arriving here on Monday has not lifted the pall that has descended over the gathering in Kyoto. People are already talking about the next round of negotiations scheduled for Buenos Aires in November 1998 as the next opportunity to make "progress."
A group of free market activists attending the Kyoto conference found that recycling may not be such a bad idea after all. After the environmental organization Friends of the Earth presented the Global Climate Coalition (GCC) with the "Scorched Earth Award" -- a bowl of burnt soil to represent the environmentalists' allegation that the GCC advocates burning up the earth -- the activists couldn't stand the idea that the award would soon be destined for a landfill. So they recycled it. Replacing the soil with Japanese Yen coins to symbolize the costs of the global warming treaty, they gave the award back to Friends of the Earth as the "Scorched Economy Award."
The tit-for-tat award presentations then precipitated a spontaneous debate between advocates of the treaty led by Friends of the Earth and critics of it led by David Rothbard of the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow and Fred Smith of the Competitive Enterprise Institute. The debate, which lasted roughly 20 minutes, took place in the Kyoto Convention Center's media center and attracted the immediate attention of many of the reporters present. Some 50-60 journalists surrounded the debaters enjoying the spontaneous debate of economic and scientific issues contrasted sharply with the official Kyoto proceedings. The debate was so popular, in fact, that a repeat performance is planned for next Tuesday.