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Issue #8 * The Daily Bulletin * December 10, 1997

Clinton Administration Set to Defy Senate on Climate Treaty

Kyoto, Japan (12:01 AM, December 11 Kyoto time) - At this writing, Clinton Administration negotiators are just hours away from accepting a global warming treaty that would not in any meaningful way apply to developing nations, therefore defying the expressed wishes of the U.S. Senate. Earlier this year, the Senate passed a resolution sponsored by Senators Chuck Hagel (R-NE) and Robert Byrd (D-WV) by 95-0 calling on the President to reject any treaty that does not require developing nations to make the same kind of greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions that would be required of the United States.

The treaty now under consideration would require GHG emission reductions of approximately five percent below 1990 levels by 2010, a significantly more ambitious target than the Clinton Administration's public position that emissions be reduced to 1990 levels. Another key provision is that a new umbrella group consisting of the U.S., Canada, Australia, Russia and other countries would be established to allow these nations to collectively meet emission targets under an emissions trading scheme. In practical terms, this means that Russia would reap huge benefits under the treaty. Its modernization since the collapse of the Soviet Empire means that the country has already achieved emission reductions far below those proposed here and it therefore has GHG emission credits to spare. Once it exceeds its own GHG limits, the U.S. would buy credits from Russia and provide technological aid to improve Russian industry efficiency further to make even more Russian emissions credits available for purchase. The umbrella provision was modelled after the European Union's so-called "bubble" proposal, which would allow the EU to be treated as a single nation, thereby allowing it to shift the burdens of greenhouse emissions controls to its member states that can most easily meet the targets.

Some observers here believe that the Clinton Administration will use Russia's participation in the umbrella group as evidence that lesser industrialized countries can become "meaningful" participants in the Kyoto process. Russia, which neither fits the definition of an industrialized nation nor that of a developing one, would therefore be used as a kind of surrogate for the developing world.

Another key provision of the accord is a "green development mechanism." The mechanism appears to be little more than a tool for transferring technology and other forms of largesse to developing nations. Under the mechanism, the G-77 developing countries would be permitted to opt-in to the legally-binding restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions that industrialized countries are imposing on themselves, but they would not be required to do so. As enticement to opt-in, developing nations would offer a plethora of financial incentives.

Undersecretary of State Stuart Eisenstat, the U.S.'s chief negotiator here, said that the green development mechanism satisfied the U.S. Senate's demand that developing nations become "meaningful" participants in the Kyoto process. But since the mechanism includes no binding commitments, it clearly would not meet the requirements set by the Senate.

Senator John Kerry (D-MA) and Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) have urged President Clinton to sign the treaty, but they suggested he delay sending it to the Senate for ratification.

Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) said that both he and Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) "are strongly opposed" to the delay approach recommended by Senators Kerry and Lieberman, saying that "It would simply be dishonest for the Administration to negotiate and sign a treaty with the express intent of withholding it from the Senate."

In letter to Senator Hagel yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott wrote: "I laid out five criteria the Senate will use to judge any climate change treaty: No erosion of American sovereignty; no hidden taxes; no loss of American jobs; no disadvantages to American business; and no special advantages to polluters in the third world. The treaty under discussion appears to fail on all five counts."

Prospects for public support of the treaty are not good either. Yesterday, Richard Trumka, Secretary-General of the AFL-CIO, warned, "An agreement that shifts production and jobs out of the industrialized world to the developing world without environmental benefit is a trade treaty, not an environmental treaty."

 

Top Five Lessons of Kyoto

5. Environmental activists and negotiators can keep a straight face when they simultaneously argue for sharp restrictions on fossil fuel use while burning vast quantities of fuel themselves. A person travelling from New York to attend the Kyoto meeting, for example, is responsible for burning a minimum of 200 gallons of jet fuel to attend the conference.

4. World government leaders can keep a straight face when they simultaneously argue that the emissions reductions will have negligible economic effects while signing agreements exempting developing nations on economic grounds.

3. Treaties shouldn't be finalized to accommodate someone's flight schedule. A very difficult, complicated treaty is being rushed to completion -- creating a bad treaty -- because of self-imposed deadlines and flight schedules.

2. The Clinton Administration does indeed believe that the U.S. Senate and the America people are gullible. Giving developing nations the option of joining in emission reductions targets is not the same thing as committing to these targets.

1. One can win a war and lose the peace. The United States won the Cold War, but it is Russia that will reap the benefits in peacetime as they stand to get a windfall from selling emission permits to the U.S., some made possible by the U.S.'s generous contribution to Russia of technological aid.


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