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

Taking Heat on Climate Change

Air Date: Week of


CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

BUSH: The idea that, somehow, we're supposed to get enormous amounts of natural gas on line immediately in order to be able to conform to a treaty that our own Senate sent a very overwhelming message against, and many other countries haven't signed makes no economic sense, makes no common sense.

CURWOOD: President George W. Bush, explaining to reporters why the U.S. is pulling back from negotiations over the Kyoto Protocol to fight global warming. The move prompted loud protests from world governments, especially Japan and EU nations. The Kyoto Treaty was high on the agenda in a recent summit in Washington between Mr. Bush and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. Michael Steiner is national security advisor to Chancellor Schroeder. I asked him how the German government feels about the U.S. retreat from the Kyoto process.

STEINER: Politicians have to realize that sometimes there are changes. This is fine and we cannot act on the basis of emotions. We have to act on the basis of interest, and not only national interest, also global interest we share all together. In the population, I think a number of people who are engaged in the area of environmental protection, they are frustrated by this move. I think the responsibility for politicians is now to find a way, how do we overcome this setback, and it is a setback. And how, in the long term, we come back to this road which will bring us to a position by which we effectively can face something where, let's say ten years ago, scientists would differ whether there is really something like global warming. Now, in 2001, I think you cannot doubt it anymore that there is a connection between these emissions and the global warming. And if you have that, you have also the responsibility to act, and you cannot say that it's economically difficult and we are in a difficult situation, so for national economic reasons, we don't want to do that.

CURWOOD: President Bush would like to see developing countries involved now in a protocol for limits on carbon dioxide and other gas emissions. How does Germany and the EU feel about bringing in developing countries right now to this process?

STEINER: The situation as we have it is the result from long discussions we had before. But I don't think that this is the main issue, and I don't think, seeing the explanations for the position taken, that this was the real issue. I think the real issue here for this decision was an economic, nationally multi-rated economic, reason. Which we have to respect as a decision. We think it is wrong. We think, in the end, the United States will have to join a common global effort to combat this global danger.

CURWOOD: So, what consideration is Germany and the European Union giving to the notion of proceeding with the ratification of Kyoto without the United States? The rules would say that you need 55 percent of industrial emissions. You could get that with the EU and Japan and Russia. You could go ahead and implement Kyoto without the United States. What sense would that make?

STEINER: Of course, there are several possibilities. They are all less good than if we could act together. Because if you have a common global problem, you have to address that in a common way. So everything what is short of that is, of course, worse. But we have to face the realities. We cannot force the United States. We cannot force Congress. And, of course, we also have to realize how the feeling is in the Congress. We have to have all the ingenuity necessary to on the one hand overcome the difficulties we have, and we have difficulties, that makes no sense to deny that. On the other hand, to preserve our goals. And the goal is that in the long term, we will have to find a basis which we all can share, a global material basis on which we can act.

CURWOOD: What happens now? This has been a long process since Kyoto. Three years. Close negotiations, talks, resume in Bonn in July. What will happen if the United States says no, we're walking away?

STEINER: I hope this will not be the case. I mean, one point is that also in the United States there is an awareness for the global responsibility, so I don't think that in middle and long term the issue is over. It might be difficult. We might have a setback this year, maybe also the next year. In the long term, I think it is unavoidable that we all face this global responsibility, which will directly affect us. Let's not fool ourselves. The idea that one country can isolate itself from this area, from this issue, and just say we take a national path there will not work. I think the policy cannot be that we say, "S o bad luck we don't have the United States on board." I think we still have to try to work together. For the sheer fact that there are so many emissions coming from the United States that we need to have them on board. We can, I mean speaking bluntly, not let the biggest country in the world off the hook totally. So, we need to find a way to have them in. The Chancellor and the President discussed that also. And I think there are ways. How this will look concretely we'll have to see in the coming weeks.

CURWOOD: How much can the United States be trusted diplomatically after this incident?

STEINER: I would want to see our societies as black boxes. There is no such thing as Germany, there is no such thing as France or Poland or the United States. You have people there. So, I think much depends here on the position the American people is taking. And I am quite sure if the popular demand for a certain position would be as strong in the United States as it is in Europe, then also the administration would feel forced to act maybe in a different way.

CURWOOD: Michael Steiner is foreign policy and security advisor to Chancellor Schroeder of Germany. I want to thank you for taking this time with us today.

STEINER: It was a pleasure. Thank you.



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