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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Changing Tone on Climate Change

Air Date: Week of

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CURWOOD: The Kyoto Accord to combat global warming may be down, but it's not out, thanks to recent statements from the Bush administration. You may recall that talks broke down a few months ago, after the U.S. couldn't agree with the Europeans and developing nations on implementation details. During the campaign, President Bush expressed doubts about the science behind global warming, and called the Kyoto Protocol unfair to U.S. interests. But that changed at a recent meeting in Italy of the environment ministers of the eight major industrialized nations. U.S. EPA chief Christine Todd Whitman declared the Bush administration would like to move the Kyoto process forward. Joining me is Jennifer Morgan, the director of the World Wildlife Fund's Climate Change Campaign. Jennifer, you were at the session in Italy. What exactly did Ms. Whitman say?

MORGAN: Well, Administrator Whitman sent a very clear and welcome signal that the Bush administration considers climate change to be one of the greatest environmental challenges we all face, and also stated that they are looking at a domestic plan to limit carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, and that they're reviewing their position on the Kyoto Protocol. So, she neither accepted nor rejected Kyoto Protocol at this time.

CURWOOD: Ms. Whitman did sign a statement, along with the other G8 environment ministers, regarding reduction of emissions. What exactly was that statement?

MORGAN: Administrator Whitman signed a statement that said that all of the G8 partners were going to strive to conclude the Kyoto Protocol negotiations this summer in Bonn. That they would put in new domestic measures to reduce emissions. And also, that they would continue negotiations on these rules of the Kyoto Protocol, the emissions trading rules and other mechanisms that are included in the Kyoto Protocol.

CURWOOD: How big a deal is it, do you think, her signing this statement?

MORGAN: The fact that President Bush, who merely a year ago was doubting the science of climate change, has now embraced the science, and is looking at mandatory caps on power plants, I think that's a welcome change, and, honestly, was a bit of a surprise to some of the environment ministers from Europe. Obviously, WWF will be looking at what the levels of those cuts might be. And once again, of course, the devil is in the details to see how serious President Bush is about tackling this problem.

CURWOOD: This is a breakaway from the Clinton and Gore administration, if I understand this correctly.

MORGAN: President Clinton and Vice President Gore were certainly committed and understood the great threat that climate change poses. But they did not implement any really serious policies in either the utility or the power sector, or in the automobile sector.

CURWOOD: What's your perspective as to why these negotiations over this agreement got stuck just before Christmas in the Hague, and how Administrator Whitman's statements might unstick that process or might not?

MORGAN: I think that the agreement and the negotiations got stuck partially because it's an immensely complex agreement. And a two-week time period wasn't enough time to do it. But it also, I believe, got stuck because the United States and some of its allies came in asking for some fairly significant loopholes to open up the agreement, and weaken the emission reduction targets. And the Europeans and the developing countries rejected that approach. Now, Ms. Whitman, I think, has indicated a new commitment to reduce emissions in the United States, something that, you know, would say that President Clinton and Vice President Gore didn't provide clear signals onto the rest of the world. And that, perhaps, will show some good faith in negotiations when the Bush team comes to the table.

CURWOOD: What kind of pressure do you think the Bush administration got in advance of this meeting? I'm thinking in particular that Tony Blair visited with President Bush shortly before Administrator Whitman went to Italy and these discussions took place.

MORGAN: To my knowledge, Blair did raise this issue with President Bush, and other foreign ministers from around the world, from Japan, from the United Kingdom, and from Germany, raised this issue with Powell when they met with him, to say this is a very serious foreign policy issue for us, and you need to take that into account, that your key trading and foreign policy allies really want the Kyoto Protocol to be the basis for tackling climate change.

CURWOOD: Now, the next attempt to reach agreement on the Kyoto Protocol will happen in Bonn at the end of this July. But there are talks, I guess it will take place leading up to that, some informal talks among some of the principal countries involved here. What's your take on how ready the Bush administration will be for those negotiations?

MORGAN: Well, I think that this meeting in Italy was the first step. Now, what needs to happen fairly rapidly is, the Bush administration needs to do the review by these April ministerial meetings in New York, because as I said, these are immensely complex negotiations, and their partners are ready to get going. So, we would urge them to, you know, roll up their sleeves and engage with their partners by April.

CURWOOD: Jennifer Morgan runs the Climate Change Campaign for the World Wildlife Fund. Thanks for taking this time with us today.

MORGAN: Sure. Thank you.

CURWOOD: Just ahead, we open up the mailbag for your comments about our program. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

Now this environmental health update with Diane Toomey.



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