TCS Daily

In Bonn, Victory for U.S. Resolve In a Climate Reeking of Deja Vu

By James K. Glassman - July 21, 2001 12:00 AM

BONN, Germany, July 21 - For those of us who attended part one of the COP-6 conference, held last November in the Hague, part two here in this former German capital is, as Yogi Berra put it, déjà vu all over again.

The difference this time is that the American delegation - half as large as it was in the Netherlands - isn't negotiating. President Bush rejected the Kyoto Protocol as "fatally flawed" in March, and his representative here, Undersecretary of State Paula Dobriansky, has said, loud and clear, that the U.S. "will not ratify" the treaty and will not offer new proposals. By displaying clear resolve, the Americans have made a deep impression here - one highly beneficial to U.S. foreign policy and to the world economy as well.

That's a change, but most of the other events in this city on the Rhine that the spy novelist John Le Carre called, in the title of one of his books, "A Small Town in Germany," have had a depressing quality of repetition....

At the Hague, the Europeans who control the Kyoto process stonewalled the Americans on the key issue of meeting targets for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions through "alternative mechanisms." Here in Bonn, they are stonewalling the Japanese, Australians, and, especially, the Canadians, who want the same thing. At the Hague, Jan Pronk, the Dutch environmental minister who chairs COP-6 (short for the Sixth Conference of the Parties to the Framework Convention on Climate Change, the general agreement reached in 1992), talked continually about an imminent deal on the vexing issues raised by the vagueness of the Kyoto Protocol. But he offered no specifics, and the delegates soon tired of his frothy promises. It is the same here in Bonn.

At the Hague, environmentalists in silly costumes engaged in publicity-generating projects like erecting sandbag dikes and parading in penguin suits. In Bonn, they wear polar-bear suits and Bush masks and have constructed a large ball of ice that is supposed melt by the end of the conference - though it's been awfully chilly here. At both sites, journalists, desperate for a story, interview every loopy environmentalist they can find. I can't count the number of boring stories I have read about frizzy-haired Jennifer Morgan of the World Wide Fund for Nature, who rides her bike (!) all over Washington.

But there's a difference: In the Hague, there were more demonstrators; in Bonn, global-warming skeptics, including a contingent of two dozen American students, have turned out - and are being heard.

So why is this conference being held at all? It should not have been, but its backers, I believe, miscalculated. The Bonn meeting was called promptly after the collapse last fall of the Hague negotiations. It was set for May 2001, but the Bush administration asked for a postponement until July. COP-7, the next of the annual meetings, had already been set for Marrakech in late October.

The main work of COP-6 was to add specific details to the treaty signed in Kyoto in December 1997 but ratified, at that point, by no industrialized country. The"legally-binding commitment" made in Kyoto called for "industrialized countries to reduce their combined greenhouse gas emissions by at least 5 percent compared to 1990 levels by the period 2008-2012."

The 34 industrialized "Annex I" countries were assigned different reduction targets: for the U.S., 7 percent below 1990 levels; for the European Community, 8 percent; Japan and Canada, 6 percent. More than 100 other countries - including China, the world's number-two emitter (after the U.S.) of the primary greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, to India, number-five - were excluded from the restrictions.

The protocol made it clear that Annex I countries could "participate in emissions trading for the pruposes of fulfilling their commitments" to reduce gases. In other words, a nation could pay another nation for reducing CO2. It also allowed reductions of CO2 through sinks - that is, forests and farmland sucking gases out of the atmosphere - to count against a country's emissions-reduction target. And it permitted "clean development mechanisms" to count as well. A CDM is a project - like the replacement of an emissions-heavy power plant with a cleaner one - that is financed by an Annex I country to help a developing country.

But Kyoto did not clarify any of these alternatives, and enviro-purists don't like them. They want nations to achieve their reductions by cutting emissions, not through exploiting what some call "loopholes." In addition, most of the non-governmental organizations - mainly environmentalists - are "adamantly against" allowing nuclear power (the cleanest fuel of all, in terms of greenhouse gases) as a CDM, according to an article in today's Conference News Daily.

Again, this is the same debate that took place at the Hague, but with Canada, Japan and Australia pushing for sinks since the U.S. has dropped out.

The strategic error made by Europeans who want Kyoto to be enacted is simple: They should have made concessions to the U.S. on alternative mechanisms back at the Hague. They were, after all, dealing with lame-duck Clinton representatives, a more pliable group than those would soon be working for George Bush. Instead, the talks broke down, Bush took office, and then in March mustered the courage to reject Kyoto.

The U.S. accounts for 36.1 percent of 1990 emissions by Annex I countries, and, to be enacted, Kyoto requires ratification by countries accounting for 55 percent of Annex I emissions. That means that nations accounting for just 9 percent of emissions can kill the treaty: Japan at 8.5 percent plus Canada at 3.3 percent would easily do the trick.

So, now, the Europeans desperately need Japan and Canada - and Japan and Canada know it. Concessions are even more important than they were in 1990, and rumors have swirled here about a special deal for Japan.

The tactical error the Europeans made was calling the Hague meeting - especially without some kind of deal with Japan and Canada in sight. They should have proceeded to Marrakech.

Instead, they proceeded to Bonn, this bourgeois city of 300,000, distinguished first as Ludwig von Beethoven's birthplace in 1770 and then as capital of West Germany in 1945. With reunification in 1990, more cosmopolitan Berlin became Germany's capital again. Bonn seems especially small, even claustrophobic, this week as the same delegates debate the same issues and arrive, it now seems inevitable, at the same non-conclusion. Even if the Europeans do make a deal with the Japanese and the Canadians, the victory will be a hollow one. Everyone here knows that American support for Kyoto is essential.

For the Bush Administration, Bonn has served an important purpose. By not wavering, Paula Dobriansky has shown that the U.S. means what it says - not just on climate-change but on other current and prospective international issues. The U.S. has also proven what should have been obvious from the start - without the Americans, the rest of the world simply cannot go it alone.

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