U.S. Stands Firm at Climate Change Talks

Published February 1, 2005

At the tenth Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which took place in Buenos Aires, Argentina, during December, U.S. representatives took the initiative in presenting the Bush administration’s view on the best way to research and address global warming concerns. The message overshadowed efforts by activist groups and European bureaucrats who sought to criticize America’s stance on global warming.

Activists Target America

“America is the primary target,” reported Henry Lamb, executive vice president of the Environmental Conservation Organization. “The United States and Australia are the only developed nations that have not ratified the Protocol, and are, therefore, targets for the wrath and ridicule of the rest of the world.

“Most of the delegates, however, care little about global warming,” Lamb continued. “They care about the wealth the Protocol is designed to transfer to them.”

The meeting began with a dispute over Item 8 of the agenda, which focused, among other things, on disaster reduction. The United States objected to the item as irrelevant to Kyoto, and a heated debate ensued. The item is believed to have been placed on the agenda at the behest of non-government organizations wishing to test whether the U.S. can be sued over damages arising from climate-linked disasters.

French Ecology Minister Serge Lepeltier said, “I am convinced that we are going to bring the United States into Kyoto, even if it doesn’t want to.”

U.S. Funds New Technology

With countries lining up to attack the U.S. position on Kyoto, American representatives defended their position. White House science advisor John Marburger told the December 5 Washington Post, “The U.S. position is maybe the only rational position, to identify and promulgate application of new technologies. To do anything meaningful requires a dramatic cessation or reduction of economic activity. It’s simply not practical at the present time.”

“U.S. negotiators publicly minced no words about joining Kyoto or anything resembling its ‘targets and timetables’ of energy rationing,” said Competitive Enterprise Institute Senior Fellow Chris Horner, who attended the meetings.

American representative Dr. Harlan Watson, who had been described as “irresponsible to the point of being criminal” in a December 6 article in the German magazine Der Spiegel, delivered a major address to the conference in his capacity as the State Department’s senior climate negotiator and special representative and alternate head of the U.S. delegation.

In his address he said, “The United States has chosen a different path [instead of the Kyoto Protocol], and I want to make it clear that we are taking substantial actions to address climate change. The United States remains committed to the Framework Convention, and we are doing much to contribute to its objective.”

Watson went on to outline the three-pronged U.S. approach to climate change, which includes “slowing the growth of greenhouse gas emissions by reducing U.S. greenhouse gas intensity (emissions per dollar of output); laying groundwork for current and future action through major investments in science, technology, and institutions; and cooperating internationally with other nations to develop an efficient and effective global response.”

International Partnerships Established

Watson also drew attention to America’s international efforts to foster partnerships aimed at addressing climate change without suppressing energy use. “Bilaterally, we have partnerships with 14 countries and regional organizations, and are working with them on over 200 projects in the areas of climate change research and science, climate observation systems, clean and advanced energy technologies, and policy approaches to reducing GHG emissions,” he said. “We also continue to assist many developing country efforts to build the scientific and technological capacity needed to address climate change.”

Argentina’s environment minister, Ginés Gonzalez Garcia, opened the conference in Buenos Aires. According to the December 7 BBC report, “His country had already experienced major changes. High rainfall, violent storms, and increased levels of disease were all blamed on climate change, he said.”

Garcia went on to suggest that developing nations should be given “material assistance” (i.e. foreign aid) to lessen the impacts of climate change already occurring.

The G77 group of developing countries, together with China, issued a statement on December 6 in which they declared they do not want to discuss new commitments under Kyoto, because of the special and differentiated responsibilities of rich and poor countries. The stated justification for these nations’ unwillingness to take on new commitments is that wealthy countries have not yet fulfilled their Framework Convention on Climate Change (precursor to the Kyoto Protocol) obligations, rather than these nations’ own poverty.

Iain Murray ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, where he specializes in the debate over climate change and the use and abuse of science in the political process. Myron Ebell ([email protected]) oversees global warming and international environmental work at CEI and chairs the Cooler Heads Coalition, a subgroup of the National Consumers Coalition that focuses on climate-change issues.