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
The Environmental Defense Fund's page on global warming.
Sierra Club's page on global warming
Global Change, a database of articles on climate change.
And, the Online NewsHour asks:
Overall, are you surprised by what came out of Kyoto, or does the agreement agree with your predictions? Do you think this treaty will be effective, especially in light of the up-hill ratification battle it faces in the Senate?
Prof. David Downie of Columbia University replies:
I am not surprised. Three weeks ago, in my graduate seminar, I predicted a 5 to 7 percent cut from 1990 levels. However, it is far too early to judge the effectiveness of the treaty. Issue-areas in international environmental politics are shaped by three dominant structures: the level and acceptance of scientific consensus regarding the threat; the pattern of economic interests among the major actors; and the impact that existing institutions have on future decisions. Therefore, the true test of this agreement will be on how it impacts these three "structures." If it provides more opportunities for serious scientific research, if it attracts public attention to this research, if it provides the opportunity for more international negotiations on the basis of new scientific evidence, if it lowers transaction costs associated with attempts to reach new agreements, if it signals to some industries that they should attempt to become more efficient and competitive in their use of energy, if it begins to attract more support, and if its targets are met by the majority of developed nations, then it will be a success. The next two years will be crucial in determining if these developments can occur and if they can occur in time to prevent even more rapid increases in greenhouse gas emissions.
Prof. Charles Weiss of Georgetown University replies:
I am an optimist. I think that environmental issues and environmental treaties have a momentum all their own. Given time, the public gradually absorbs and gets used to the scientific facts. Research and experimentation give rise to improved policies and improved technology. Policies that once seemed radical and dangerous come to be viewed as obvious and necessary. Business discovers that the needed adjustments are not as costly and difficult as it had feared, and may even constitute a business opportunity. Countries, businesses and individuals start to compete with each other to show how environmentally conscious they have become. And a new generation grows up for whom it is natural to live in harmony with the environment.
So I think the Kyoto agreement will come to be viewed as a watershed whether or not it is ratified by Congress. The simple fact that a binding agreement was reached at Kyoto that requires advanced countries to make serious cuts in greenhouse gas emissions is a major step forward. Given the diplomatic situation at the start of the conference, there was no particular reason to expect this outcome.
In any case, environmental treaties normally take at least two years from adoption to ratification. This allows plenty of time for public discussion, and we can expect lots of lobbying on all sides of the issue. The public will make up its mind, and will let their representatives know what they think.
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