Analysis of the Kyoto Global Climate Conference
December 12, 1997
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in this forum:
A report from a correspondent in Japan. What reductions does the Kyoto agreement call for? Why has "global warming" become a big issue? Why were developing nations excluded from the agreement? Is there consensus amongst global leaders that global warming is for real? How should competing scientific claims about global warming be judged? Can the Kyoto Protocol be ratified by the Senate? Viewer comments.
December 11, 1997:
Two U.S. Senators discuss whether the Kyoto agreement will be ratified by the Senate.
December 10, 1997:
A member of the Clinton Administration reports on the negotiations in Kyoto.
December 9, 1997:
India's Ambassador to the U.S. explains why the developing nations should not be mandated to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
December 8, 1997:
The European Union's delegate to the U.S. talks about the rift between the EU and the U.S. at the Kyoto conference.
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 on global warming
Global Climate Information Project
Environmental Defense Fund
Environmental Defense Fund's page on global warming
Sierra Club's page on global warming
Global Change, a database of articles on climate change.
Cameron Barr, The Christian Science Monitor's Tokyo correspondent, answered these question for the Online NewsHour shortly after the global climate change conference in Kyoto broke up. He was assisted by Monitor staff writer Brad Knickerbocker.
A deal seems to have been reached that would mandate a five percent global reduction in greenhouse gases. Who is included in the deal, and how would the six percent reduction be achieved?
The deal includes 38 of the world's most developed countries, including the U.S., Japan, the EU The Europeans agreed to cut their greenhouse gas emissions by eight percent from 1990 levels over the next 15 years; the Americans by seven percent; the Japanese by six percent. Some countries, such as Australia, got away with targets slightly higher than 1990 levels because of their economic circumstances, such as high economic and population growth rates. When you total everyone's cuts, it averages a little over five percent.
How the countries will accomplish this task is a good deal less precise. For Americans, the process will mean a renewed emphasis on conserving energy; a shift from fuel sources that produce lots of carbon dioxide, such as coal and oil; and efforts to promote new technologies that can help accomplish these goals. The nuclear power industry may benefit, since reactors can produce electricity without generating greenhouse gases. That prospect makes many environmentalists cringe, but on the other hand solar energy may get a boost as well.
The bottom line is that fulfilling the Kyoto Protocal will mean rethinking any activity that generates greenhouses gases. In many communities across the U.S., people now look at their garbage as something they have to pay to have removed. In the same way, producing greenhouse gases is going to take on a built-in cost.
Many experts going into this conference had predicted that nothing meaningful would come out of these negotiations due to the broad disagreements between the U.S., the European Union and Japan, yet a tentative agreement has been drafted. How were the different positions reconciled?
It's too soon to piece together the precise give-and-take. There was a lot of political involvement: Presidents and prime ministers were working the phones in the background to help bring compromise. The diplomat responsible for drafting the protocol, Argentine Ambassador to China Raul Estrada, gets credit for mediating among the parties and releasing proposals that pressured the parties to compromise. Top U.S. negotiator Stuart Eizenstat spoke of the "eyes of the world" being upon the conference -- the diplomats and their bosses knew the public disapproval would be intense in the event of complete failure to agree.
One of the points that had to be negotiated was the number of gases regulated under these mandates. What gases are included in this deal, and why?
Carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and three halocarbons used as substitutes for ozone-damaging chlorofluorocarbons. All of these gases are blamed for the greenhouse effect.
Are developing nations included in this deal? Does their involvement meet the U.S. Senate's requirements for the treaty to be ratified?
How to encourage or pressure developing nations to begin reducing emissions was the single most contentious issue -- Kyoto made clear that the North/South divide is getting deeper. It's hard to overstate the fervor of the developing nations' refusal to submit to binding targets. For many environmentalists and officials in rich countries, cutting greenhouse gas emissions is about the future, about cleaning the atmosphere for the sake of our grandchildren and their grandchildren. For the developing nations, the issue concerns the past. The industrial states, they argue, got rich polluting the environment (often in poor countries). Now it is up to the rich countries to make the sacrifices to correct the situation, not to force poor countries to divert resources from economic development. It is a good argument, but it is also true that countries such as China and India will soon be among the world's leading greenhouse gas emitters. The Senate seems adamant that these countries get with program and the White House has already indicated that it will delay pursuing ratification until there is more "meaningful participation" from developing countries. Stay tuned, in other words.
What was the atmosphere in Kyoto like? Was it tense or congenial? How did the delegates act during the sessions? Were there pressure from lobbyists and special interests groups while negotiations were going on?
In a word, the atmosphere was sleepless. U.S. negotiators spoke of getting the "Kyoto minimum" -- 2 hours -- during the final three days. A few didn't get that. Among the developed states, the negotiations were the stuff of trade agreements, only broader. Several observers called Kyoto the most complex comprehensive international negotiation ever conducted. Probably that prize goes to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the precursor to the World Trade Organization, but Kyoto comes close: 160 nations grappling with complicated scientific issues that potentially affects all sorts of economic activity.
Between the developed and developing nations, the talks were more tense, as noted above. This was a standoff on principle, and that always makes compromise more elusive. It's a little unclear (to me, anyway) how much access lobbyists and interest groups had to the official delegations. Certainly they made themselves available to the press -- there was a whole lot of spinning going on.