Global Warming Talks Collapse
A few days ago, the 3-year effort to conclude an international
treaty on global warming collapsed in a hail of accusations,
most of which were directed at the United States.
Back in 1997 in Kyoto, Japan, the nations of the world agreed on
a format (the Kyoto Protocol) by which a final treaty on cutting
emissions of carbon dioxide, the primary source of global
warming according to scientists, would eventually be worked
And the recent talks in The Hague were proceeding accordingly
until a last minute deal was ditched by the European Union; with
the primary antagonist being Germany.
The Kyoto Protocol had come up with a formula by which the
goal was to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases by 5.2%
from 1990 levels by 2012 (many reports say 2010 because the
goals were set for the period 2008 to 2012). You can tell,
immediately, that working out a formula for each nation and
trying to measure the actual amount of emissions in each case is
a nightmare. It is estimated that some 6 billion tons of carbon
dioxide are spilled into the earth''s atmosphere each year.
The United States has always been the prime target of these
global efforts because we are responsible for about 24% of the
total emissions in the world. Ergo, it was initially felt at Kyoto
that the U.S. could meet its own goals by significantly cutting
pollution at home.
Well, it doesn''t take an environmental scientist to know that if
we were forced to cut our emissions by a huge percentage, that
would hit our economy hard. And for that very good reason, the
U.S. has always been a reluctant player in the discussions.
But over the past few years, a potential solution was put on the
table. Since forests were responsible for a reduction in harmful
emissions that otherwise escaped into the atmosphere through the
process of photosynthesis, why couldn''t the developed nations
receive "emissions credits" for their "carbon sinks?" [The sinks
being forest and farmlands that absorbed the carbon dioxide.]
Scientists were in agreement that the existence, and creation, of
carbon sinks was part of the equation for a successful long-term
solution. And the poor countries could receive billions of dollars
to help them adapt to climate change themselves.
That''s the background. So at The Hague conference (officially
labeled the U.N. Conference on Climate Control), the U.S.
teamed up with Australia, Canada, and Japan to present its case
for gaining significant carbon credits. For its part, Japan offered
an example of how the whole process would work when they
bought the "rights" to fell old growth forests in Tasmania where
they would plant 7,500 acres of eucalyptus trees (perfect for
soaking up gases). Japan would then pay Tasmania $5 million
and in turn would receive 130,000 tons of carbon credits, which
it could then use to offset its own emissions targets.
In a similar fashion, the U.S. wants to buy credits from Russia
and other former Soviet bloc nations whose economies have been
stumbling. [The weaker the economy, the smaller the
emissions.] If America is to meet its targets for 2012, this is the
only way it could accomplish that. Thanks to our long-running
economic boom, in order to meet its Kyoto quota, the U.S. would
have to curtail pollutants from power plants and autos by 35%
from projected 2008 levels. You can see how without credits the
U.S. economy would essentially grind to a halt if we were to
And so, on the last day of the conference, negotiators from the
U.S. and Britain worked all night to achieve what appeared to be
a doable compromise, a combination of credits and actual
emission cuts within the Kyoto guidelines. Both nations
physically shook hands on the deal. Then the European Union
bagged it. Germany was the most outspoken in saying that there
was a strong sense that the U.S. and its partners were trying to
get something for nothing. The Germans and the French, in
particular, had a large Green Party component to their
delegations. The Greens want to cut emissions at the source, not
just sop them up after the fact.
The issue is no longer whether or not global warming is a real
threat. Even the biggest skeptics are coming around to the
feeling that we face a catastrophic situation over the next century
if greenhouse gases aren''t curbed. And leading Republicans in
the U.S. Senate, like Idaho''s Larry Craig and Nebraska''s Chuck
Haigel (both attendees of The Hague conference) want to see the
U.S. remain engaged. All the more reason for the
disappointment at the disheartening conclusion to the affair.
[In case you''re wondering, any final treaty would have to be
approved by two-thirds of the U.S. Senate for it to become law.]
U.S. environmental groups were actually dismayed that the E.U.
balked at an agreement. The president of the National
Environmental Trust said, "This was Europe''s best chance to
achieve a strong climate treaty, and they decided to pass it up.
This window of opportunity may not come again."
One of the main concerns, of course, had been that if George
Bush were to become president, he wouldn''t have the same
desire to achieve a lasting treaty on global warming as the
environmentally correct Al Gore. But as one fellow said (whose
name escapes me or I''d give him credit), maybe we would have a
Nixon situation with a Bush presidency, meaning it was Nixon,
after all, who passed more environmental legislation than any
president in the 20th century. It''s called pragmatism.
Two final notes: In doing the research for this piece, I saw three
different figures for the number of nations attending The Hague
conference; 150, 170, and 180. No wonder the parties failed to
reach an agreement! No one knew who was there! Additionally,
the American negotiator at the conference was hit three times
during the talks. Yes, environmental activists hurled raspberry,
chocolate, and cream pies at him.
*Next week...a look at Mexico and its new president Vicente
William Drozdiak / Washington Post
Lee Bowman / Scripps Howard
Arthur Max / AP
Andrew Revkin / New York Times
Nick Nuttall / London Times
John-Thor Dahlburg / L.A. Times