Four U.S. Senators Lobbying in KyotoBy Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, December 3, 1997; Page A35
KYOTO, Japan, Dec. 2—Four U.S. senators blitzed the global climate conference here today, meeting delegates, giving interviews and leaving no doubt why the United States took so long to come up with a position on global warming.
"We are taking national sovereignty away from every nation that signs this treaty," said Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), a staunch opponent of any agreement that would require nations to meet legally binding targets for emissions of their greenhouse gases. "Would [a binding treaty] mean a United Nations multinational bureaucracy could come in and close down an industry in the United States?"
In another room, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) said a binding agreement was needed and that he was hopeful U.S. negotiators would be able to lead the 150 nations attending the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change into such an agreement this week.
"This [Clinton] administration has shown courage in recognizing the scientific reality of global warming and presenting a real and significant plan for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions," he said. "It deserves a medal."
The senators working the conference hall 8,000 miles from Washington underscore the differences of opinion that divide the United States and the rest of the world on the question of how man-made emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases are affecting the global environment and what to do about it.
Environmentalists echo Lieberman's assertion that science has demonstrated that a variety of gases produced by the burning of fossil fuels that power the world's economies are having a potentially devastating effect on the Earth. They hope that the diverse countries of the world can find enough common ground to agree on a plan to safeguard the environment without destroying economies.
Industrial concerns, and nations that depend on coal, oil and other fossil fuels for their economic survival, think the environmentalists sound like Chicken Little and that they are recklessly seeking to cripple economies from Washington to Prague to Sydney to Beijing. This is the view of Hagel, who said today: "If we are going to risk economic growth and economic development in the United States, then this is one senator who will not vote for that risk."
After opening remarks yesterday that staked out the disparate positions of the European Union, Japan, the United States and the world's developing nations, delegates settled down today to discuss nitty-gritty details behind closed doors. In briefings this evening, several said they were more optimistic after a day of private talking and little public posturing, although no one reported any breakthroughs.
With huge differences on the table -- including whether developing nations should be held to the same standards as industrialized countries and whether different countries should be held to different targets for emissions cuts -- even those who disagree on global warming agreed on the immensity of the task ahead.
"It's mind-boggling," Hagel said. "What we are asking countries to do in the next eight days is just unbelievable." Said Lieberman: "It's easy to become a pessimist here."
The United States, the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases, has been essentially isolated at the conference. Environmentalists and the European Union, which has proposed the most extensive emissions cuts, say the United States is too weak on the issue and has a responsibility to propose far deeper cuts. The United States has proposed cutting emissions to 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012; the EU has proposed a 15 percent further cut by 2010.
Representatives of industry and countries such as Australia, which wants to increase its greenhouse-gas emissions significantly, say the U.S. position is, in fact, too restrictive. Hoping to boost the chances of an agreement, President Clinton is sending Vice President Gore here next Monday.
Hagel and Lieberman were joined in Kyoto today by Sen. John H. Chafee (R-R.I.) and Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.). Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) and Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) are to arrive later this week as part of a bipartisan observers' group chosen by Senate leaders. Any treaty the United States signs would have to be approved by the Senate.
Although not here to represent the U.S. position, the senators discussed the sticking points with delegates from China, Russia, Israel and Japan. In a meeting with Chinese delegates this morning, Lieberman was confronted with what many here say is the issue that most threatens to keep the conference from reaching any agreement -- whether developing countries, such as China, will be included in any accord.
"The question might break the whole process," said Jorgen Henningsen, an EU official.
Lieberman said he told the head of the Chinese delegation that China, the world's second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, needs to be "part of the solution" agreed to in Kyoto.
"There was a tense moment," Lieberman said. "Then he said, `Perhaps you want our people to remain poor, but we cannot accept that.' "
China and other developing countries, including South Korea, Mexico and others with relatively large economies, say the industrialized nations must take the first steps to reduce global warming. They say the industrial nations are responsible for most of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and they argue that developing nations deserve the same chance to build their economies, without being forced into economy-crimping emissions cuts.
The United States has argued that any plan to fight global warming that does not include emissions cuts by developing nations is wasted effort; within a generation, projections show that China will be the largest emitter of greenhouse gases.
Here in Kyoto, the United States has shown some flexibility on the issue, suggesting for the first time that developing nations might not have to be held to the same standards as industrial countries.
The United States has proposed a system under which developing countries could obtain new energy-efficient technologies cheaply. Assistant Secretary of State Melinda Kimble, who is leading the U.S. delegation this week, said a developing nation that needed a new power plant would be given financial incentives to build an energy-efficient one.
Through a U.S.-backed system of emissions-credit trading, that nation would then be able to sell credits for the amount of emissions it reduced by using the cleaner technology.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company