On-Site Report from Buenos Aires Global Warming Talks: November 9, 1998

One of the more interesting events during the Buenos Aires talks today was a press conference sponsored by six U.S. Congressmen opposed to the treaty. The congressmen were: Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R-MI), Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), Rep. Ron Klink (D-PA), Rep. JoAnne Emerson (R-MO) and Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA).

The Congressmen discussed both the negative economic impact of the Kyoto Protocol and the failure of treaty to require developing nations to reduce their own carbon dioxide emissions.

Rep. Ron Klink explained that his district lost 155,000 steel industry jobs, in part because the companies were forced to spend time and money complying with excessive environmental laws rather than on much-needed modernization. Klink also suggested that Hurricane Mitch resulted in a greater loss of life when it hit Central America than when it hit the U.S. mainland because wealthy nations like the U.S. can afford to build the drainage systems and other infrastructure that greatly minimizes the loss of life from such storms. He suggested that what developing nations need is more economic growth and development, not potentially crippling caps on CO2 emissions that would stunt it.

One reporter asked if congressional opposition was simply motivated by partisan politics. Rep. Joe Barton rejected this notion, saying he believes that about 75% of House Republicans and more than half of all Democrats are opposed to the treaty with similar breakdowns on the Senate side. Rep. Klink said that at least 7 of Pennsylvania1s 11 Democrat House members are opposed to the treaty. Rep. JoAnne Emerson, who sits on the Agriculture committee, said 9 out 10 Republicans and 9 out of 10 Democrats on the committee oppose the treaty. Rep. Klink also noted that Rep. John Dingell (D-MI), the Democrat with the most seniority in the House, is opposed to the treaty as is Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV). Klink said Byrd sent President Clinton a letter on November 9 asking him not to sign the treaty.

Rep. Sensenbrenner focused most of his attention on the legal issues. His chief argument was that Kyoto can only be approved if developing nations are included, but the treaty prohibits any major changes until it is ratified. By accepting this limitation on changes, Sensenbrenner says the Administration has backed itself into a corner. The Senate will not ratify the treaty as is but can only make changes if it does ratify.

Sensenbrenner also suggested that there isn’t sufficient scientific evidence that human-induced global warming is underway.

(Editor’s note: The Washington-based Ozone Action responded to this press conference with a press release branding the congressional delegation a “national embarrassment” that put on a “hideous display of ignorance, selfishness and isolationism that has soiled the proceedings of the climate negotiations.” Our view of Ozone Action’s statement: If you can’t refute the facts, try a little name calling.)


European Union Advances Double StandardDuring its daily press conference, European Union (EU) representatives restated their strong opposition to an international greenhouse gas emissions trading scheme that would allow nations to exceed their emissions limits by purchasing unused emissions credits from abroad. The Kyoto Protocol, the EU argued, only allows trading domestically, not internationally. At the same time, the EU insists that EU member countries, such as France, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom, be allowed to trade emissions credits among themselves. They are apparently oblivious to the fact that the EU is not a nation, but a group of nations.

One EU representative said she believed that the U.S. would move closer to the EU position in the coming days, citing the increasing support for emissions reduction among several American corporations.

Right after the EU press conference, however, the U.S. delegation, led by Stuart Eizenstat, restated its strong support for emissions trading. In arguing for trading, Eizenstat said that while no nation could meet its Kyoto targets without some sort of significant domestic reduction program, without emissions trading the costs of Kyoto to a typical American family would be excessive. Eizenstat stated that with a global emissions trading scheme, the cost of the Kyoto targets for an American family (within 20 years) would be about $7,000 per year. Without emissions trading, that cost would triple or quadruple that $7,000 figure. Eizenstat also said that emissions trading would benefit other countries as well, including European countries. He said that without emissions trading, the cost for Europeans would jump by 200 to 300 percent.

U.S. and European negotiators remain far apart on emissions trading, one of the key issues that has paralysed efforts in Buenos Aires to come to an agreement. Carlos Merenson, head of Argentina’s sustainable development unit, says permanent disagreements between rich and poor nations and the U.S. and Europe are paralyzing progress on COP-4 talks. “We think the negotiations have become very tense, they are going on in a conflictive atmosphere. We’ve lost the spirit that we should act in good faith toward a common goal.” Taking the Clinton Administration’s side, Merenson said the EU is too intransigent.

In other news, Stuart Eizenstat was asked if President Clinton planned to sign the treaty before the close of the conference. Eizenstat refused to give a definite answer. He did say that there was an advantage to signing it this year, claiming that signing it would solidify the long-term goals of Kyoto and thus keep it alive. Eizenstat added, though, that Clinton’s signing would not obligate the U.S. to adhere to its provisions as it conflicts with the constitutional requirement for Senate ratification.

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