AIRING IT OUT
December 8, 1997
In a continuing series on the Kyoto Conference in Japan, the NewsHour takes a look at the geopolitics of the global warming debate. Margaret Warner talks with Ambassador Hugo Paemen, head of the European Commission Delegation to the United States, about the rift between the U.S. and the E.U. on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
December 12, 1997:
An Online NewsHour forum on the global warming conference going on in Kyoto, Japan.
December 5, 1997:
A business leader questions the science behind global warming.
December 4, 1997:
A look at the the science and politics of global warming.
November 10, 1997:
An Online NewsHour forum on the U.S. plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
October 22, 1997:
A discussion of President Clinton's plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
June 25, 1997:
President Clinton is backing the EPA's push for tougher air quality standards, but critics say they're too costly.
February 18, 1997:
The federal Environmental Protection Agency has proposed new clean air standardsthat have been criticized by some industry, state and local officials.
March 6, 1997:
The fastest rise in temperature for perhaps ten thousand years is having a dramatic effect on the brittle ecosystem of Antarctica.
January 4, 1996
British meteorologists report that the Earth's surface temperature was higher than the average in 1995.
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of science and the environment.
EPA's global warming Web site
Global Climate Information Project
Environmental Defense Fund
Sierra Club's Web site on global warming
Global Change, a database of articles on climate change
MARGARET WARNER: Last week, we heard opposing views on the science of global warming. Tonight, we turn to the geopolitics of the debate. A major stumbling block at the Kyoto global warming conference is a rift between the United States and its European allies, with the European Union wanting more ambitious reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Vice President Al Gore made an appearance at the Kyoto conference today to try to break the impasse. Here with us now is Amb. Hugo Paemen, head of the European Commission Delegation to the United States. Welcome, Mr. Ambassador. Explain for us the major difference between the U.S. and the European views and what to do about global warming.
The E.U.'s position.
HUGO PAEMEN, Ambassador, European Union: Well, the difference at this conference is that we would like to do more. We would like to have significant reductions of these emissions. And we want to go back to what we had committed ourselves to in 1992, where we said that our goal at that time was to reduce the emissions to the level of Ď90 in the year 2000. Now, we would--
MARGARET WARNER: The year 1990 in the year 2000.
HUGO PAEMEN: Thatís right, yes. And now we would do something more. We would in the year 2010 at least have a reduction of 15 percent because we havenít lived up to the commitments of Rio, the conference, in 1992. We think that if the evidence of the scientific community is right, and we have more and more indications that they are right, thereís a difference between how much it will be and so on, but clearly the overall assessment is that the phenomenon is there. If thatís true, I think we have to be serious about it. And we should go into serious reductions, and our feeling is that the population is ready to do this. It is in Europe, and from what I read in the opinion polls here in the United States, public opinion is ready to do it in the United States.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, is there really--and if there is, explain what the difference is between the U.S. and European view--that is, the Europeans would like to reduce 15 percent below the 1990 levels.
HUGO PAEMEN: Thatís right.
MARGARET WARNER: The U.S. is saying roll back to the 1990 levels. In the big scheme of things that doesnít sound like a lot.
HUGO PAEMEN: Well, thatís 15 percent. Thatís quite a lot. And the essential thing is that we have to go into a process where we reduce compared to what it was before.
MARGARET WARNER: But, as you know, the United States is saying because of our faster economic growth, frankly compared to Europe, for us to even roll back to 1990 levels would amount--we heard Vice President Gore say it--it would amount to essentially a 33 percent reduction--that is not really a weak position at all.
Amb. Paemen: "Itís not only good for the climate, for the health of our children and our grandchildren, I think itís good business also."
HUGO PAEMEN: Well, that is true. It is because that between 1992 and now the emissions have grown quite considerably in the United States. So thatís why a major effort for the United States is necessary, we think. But there is another consideration. We hear every day reports that the United States economy is going so well. And in fact, the European economy is not bad either. If we donít do it now, now that we can do it, now that our economy is in good shape, weíll not do it in five or ten years from now, and perhaps our economy will not allow it. And when the situation will have deteriorated perhaps, there is a second element. We are the developed countries. We are technologically advanced. We can show the way. We can concentrate on how technologically you can do to reduce the emissions, so we should show the way to the rest of the world. And then it can become good business. If we have the technology, we can sell it to the rest of the world. So itís not only good for the climate, for the health of our children and our grandchildren, I think itís good business also.
MARGARET WARNER: Let me ask you about one other point of contention between the U.S. and the Europeans on this. The U.S. administration says you will also have an advantage because 1990 is the benchmark here. That was the year, for instance, that Germany had just absorbed East Germany with all those polluting factories. A lot of those have been shut down so that you had a sort of, I think, carbon dioxide emissions were cut 50 percent in East Germany; that you had sort of this advantage of having it artificially inflated, and now itís gone down. How do you react to that?
HUGO PAEMEN: Well, I think we should go beyond that. It is now at a time to come to an agreement because this conference has to be a success. It would be a shame if it was not. And we should not go into this conference by trying to get out of it by doing the least effort. Itís quite amazing how now apparently people are negotiating down the effort, instead of negotiating up. The problem is on the other side, and we should try how we can solve the problems, and not by ratcheting down the efforts we do, by, rather, increasing our efforts. So letís forget about who did what in the year 1992. Letís try to do the best effort possible. And I hope this will be done this week in Kyoto.
MARGARET WARNER: When you talked about ratcheting down, were you referring to the U.S. proposal for letting different countries have different levels?
HUGO PAEMEN: No. I was thinking of the quite interesting phenomenon that this is a conference to do away or at least to reduce--letís hope substantially--emissions. And now everybody is trying to get the best deal in the sense of doing the least effort possible. This is quite amazing.
MARGARET WARNER: Explain to our viewers why political leaders in Europe are able to make these kinds of promises about reducing emissions--let me ask it this way--can they do it without triggering the kind of backlash that, in fact, you do still see in this country from industry, from labor, from even many political conservatives? Is the political climate an acceptance of this just greater in Europe?
The role of special interest groups.
HUGO PAEMEN: Probably, yes. I think that also the pressure of the special interest groups is perhaps not as well organized in Europe as it is here.
MARGARET WARNER: And other reasons why the pressure might be less in Europe, or why there may be a more receptive political climate?
HUGO PAEMEN: Well, perhaps that the environment education in Europe has made more progress than in the United States. In other areas you have more advances, you know. You accept, for instance, much better biotechnology in your day to day life, which Europe is these days very reluctant to, but it happens, yes, I think that on this global warming issue perhaps Europe has a little advance there. But we have to come together.
MARGARET WARNER: Would you say Europeans have a different attitude about energy use, energy consumption, than Americans? Iím just talking now not about the political leadership, but just everyday people.
HUGO PAEMEN: I think so. I think so also we have, as you may probably know, we have higher taxes on energy. Thatís acceptable in Europe. Itís, I think, still very difficult in the United States to introduce a tax on energy. I think we were--we are more vulnerable in terms of energy use. I think probably there is more awareness in Europe, yes, that energy is very expensive; itís a very rare resource; and we have to be careful about it.
MARGARET WARNER: Now how did you interpret what Vice President Gore said today at Kyoto when he talked about--he basically promised greater negotiating flexibility on the part of the U.S..
HUGO PAEMEN: Well, we welcomed it very much, and I think that everybody has now to show some flexibility, because, as I said, this conference cannot be a failure. So by the end of this week we have to come together in one way or another. We very much hope that United States will be in a position to reduce at least a little bit from the 1990 level and probably we will have to be a little bit less ambitious, or perhaps do it ourselves, without asking from the others to do exactly the same effort for the reasons you mentioned. Perhaps the situation is somewhat different in Europe, and again, we should not ratchet down but ratchet up.
MARGARET WARNER: And what if there is no deal?
Amb. Paemen: "Oh, there will be a deal; Iím absolutely sure."
HUGO PAEMEN: Oh, there will be a deal; Iím absolutely sure. And, again, as the President said, this is only a beginning. In any case global warming is to be with us for quite a while. Itís not this conference that is going to save the situation, so the effort will have to continue.
MARGARET WARNER: And finally, how do the Europeans feel about the U.S. insistence that the poorer developing countries also have to make some sort of commitment here?
HUGO PAEMEN: Well, I think it is a good idea, and it is fair and normal that we ask the developing countries to be on board, but, on the other hand, we are the great polluters--the United States in the first instance but also we in Europe. And these days, as I said, our economy allows it to do it. Our technology allows it to do it. The developing countries, probably itís true, in the year 2010, 2015, will be--probably if they go on as they do now--the great polluters, but itís probably not fair to say, well, because of the fact that you will be a big polluter, you have to do an effort today. Letís first do the effort ourselves.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Well, thank you, Mr. Ambassador, very much.
HUGO PAEMEN: Youíre welcome.