Germany: Climate Treaty Salvaged in Bonn
BONN, Germany -- The world's nations, minus the United States, accepted treaty rules that for the first time would require industrialized countries to cut emissions of waste gases linked to global warming.
The agreement, reached after four pressurized days of formal talks here, paves the way for ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, which was conceived in 1995, negotiated in Japan two years later, signed by nearly 100 countries, including the United States, and rejected earlier this year by President Bush.
This morning, largely galvanized by the European Union, 178
countries consented to detailed language that moved the proposed
treaty along the path from a sketchy plan for reducing the human
impact on the atmosphere toward a binding environmental contract.
The development came after years of fighting over the treaty rules
between blocs of countries, lobbyists, and environmentalists.
Officials from the European Union exulted over the compromise.
Olivier Deleuze, the energy and sustainability secretary of
Belgium, said there were easily 10 things in the final texts that
he could criticize. "But," he said, "I prefer an imperfect
agreement that is living than a perfect agreement that doesn't
The difficulties far exceeded those surrounding other
environmental treaties, experts said, because the treaty, by
controlling carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, would limit
something released by almost every act of modern daily living.
"This is as hard as it gets," said one member of the British
delegation. "It involves everything: our energy, our mobility, our
use of the land."
Compromises were reached on a set of issues that caused the last
negotiating session, in The Hague last November, to end in an
impasse between the Clinton administration and Europe.
"The rescue operation succeeded," said Margot Wallstrom, the
environmental commissioner of the European Union. "This issue will
be around for generations to come, but this is an incredibly
important first step."
The biggest sticking point was how much bite to give the
enforcement mechanisms for penalizing countries that fail to meet
their targets. Japan held out for a fairly painless system. Europe
wanted a system that would require countries that miss targets in
the first commitment period, from 2008 to 2012, to add to the
tonnage of carbon dioxide they eliminated in the next period, with
the equivalent of penalties plus interest. Europe got its way.
The talks also clarified the design of the first global system for
buying and selling credits earned by reducing carbon dioxide
emissions. Such a system tends to focus investment in pollution
cleanups where the job can be done most effectively and cheaply.
Representatives of a bloc of more than 130 developing countries
said they were pleased with the deal -- particularly with new
commitments of more than $450 million a year from the
industrialized countries to help them adapt to climate change and
adopt technologies to avoid making the problem worse as their
And the negotiators settled on what kinds of forest and farmland
projects -- and how many -- could be used to soak up atmospheric
carbon dioxide through photosynthesis and stash away the carbon in
wood and soil.
On this point, some environmental groups gently criticized Europe
for allowing forested countries like Canada and Japan to gain large
credits toward their emissions targets essentially by "watching
trees grow," as one campaigner put it.
"It allows us to begin the long journey of confronting global
warming, the most serious environmental threat of the 21st
century," said Alden Meyer, a lobbyist for the Union of Concerned
Scientists who has been involved in climate treaty talks for more
than a decade.
As the talks ground on over the weekend and today, attempts by
Japan and Saudi Arabia, among others, to seek new concessions or
Consensus emerged after a final push by Jan Pronk, the chairman of
the talks, who essentially locked himself in a room with a cluster
By dawn dozens of delegates sprawled unconscious on every spare
cushion and couch in the meeting rooms of the Maritim Hotel.
In the end, the diverse array of countries at the table, some
grudgingly, overcame differences under strong pressure to avoid an
embarrassing deadlock over the rules that could have been the
undoing of the treaty itself.
The deal was sealed just before 11 a.m. with an auctioneer-fast
crack of Mr. Pronk's gavel. With that stroke, he found some measure
of retribution after presiding over the failed talks in the Hague.
The writing of the rules caps a six-year struggle between a group
of industries and countries that claimed mandatory emissions caps
would harm economies and environmental groups and other countries
that saw required limits as the only way to stave off potentially
disruptive climate shifts.
At the meeting, there were unusual intertwinings of interests,
with companies that build nuclear power plants eager to jump into
the climate fight because the technology produces electricity
without greenhouse gases. Japan, Canada, China, and other countries
supported getting credit toward emissions goals by substituting
nuclear for conventional power.
But the European Union, despite its wide use of nuclear power,
insisted there be no nuclear option in the global warming
Some industry lobbyists said they doubted the system for trading
carbon credits could be set up in a way that avoided cheating or
But other executives making the rounds in Bonn came from companies
that had already established carbon trading systems in anticipation
of eventual required limits.
Indeed, among the business officials at the meeting was Kedin
Kilgore, who works for Natsource, a large American energy trading
firm. His job title, he said, was "greenhouse gas broker."
To some of the participants and observers in the wearying talks
here, the achievement was a bit soured given that the United
States, the largest emitter of greenhouse gases on the planet,
chose not to be a party to the proposed treaty.
But others noted that, between them, the three dozen
industrialized countries that supported the treaty language
accounted for far more emissions than the United States.
Environmental campaigners said Europe had proved it can lead
despite its sometimes fragmented appearance.
"There's really a new force on the world stage," said Philip
Clapp, the president of the National Environmental Trust, a
lobbying group based in Washington. "If the United States will not
lead, Europe can and will."
any of the negotiators from other countries held out hope that,
eventually, the United States would rejoin the pact.
Chances of that happening in the short run are slim. During the
plenary session celebrating the accord, Paula Dobrianksy, the Under
Secretary of State for Global Affairs, congratulated the parties to
the protocol but reiterated a common theme of the Bush
administration -- that it was "not sound policy."
Even before the Kyoto treaty was negotiated, the Senate warned in
a 95 to 0 vote that it would not consent to any treaty that excused
developing countries from obligatory cuts and could harm the
economy by limiting gases released by burning fuels.
Mr. Bush embraces the same view, although he repeated his pledge
to come up with an alternative and his commitment to stabilizing
greenhouse gases, during the summit in Genoa.
In one of many floor statements made after the rules were adopted,
Japan's environment minister, Yoriko Kawaguchi, in a clear
reference to the United States, said it was important to try to
build a bridge between the Kyoto process and countries waiting on
"In order to achieve the objectives of the Kyoto Protocol, we need
to have the widest possible participation of countries," she said..
"We should try to encourage all our friends to join us in our
common effort to address global warming."
After the formal session ended this afternoon, hundreds of
officials began to prepare for a weeklong meeting to draft the fine
Many countries said that the completion of the rules meant they
could take the pact home to start the ratification effort.
Formal adoption of the agreement is scheduled to take place in
Marrakech at the end of October.
- 100 Climate Justice Initiative