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

Kyoto Concessions

Air Date: Week of

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(Theme music intro)

CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, it's Living on Earth.

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CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.

The chairman of the U.N. climate change negotiations, Jan Pronk, comes to the United States with a new plan to press on, despite the Bush administration's rejection of the Kyoto Protocol.

PRONK: Kyoto is the only game in town, to quote Mrs. Whitman. Kyoto is alive. I quote myself.

CURWOOD: Also, accepting personal responsibility for climate change. Not everyone is thrilled at the prospect.

GLASS: How much of a do-gooder are we expected to be? Like, I'm supposed to take into account, like, my contribution to the greenhouse effect in addition to everything else? I just -- I just don't know if I can take it. And I think most people feel that way, too.

CURWOOD: It's this American's emissions, the pollution portfolio of Ira
Glass. And on Alaska's north slope, oil workers sound the alarm over drilling practices. That and more on Living on Earth, right after this.

(NPR News follows)

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CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. The politics of the international climate change negotiations change almost daily, it seems. For example, in this past week the equivalent of the Japanese
Senate joined many European nations by passing a resolution that calls for the rapid ratification of the Kyoto protocol. At the same time, Jan
Pronk, chair of the current round of climate negotiations, came to Washington and New York to propose a compromise. That deal would give the U.S. just about everything the Clinton administration had asked for, just before negotiations broke down last year in the Hague.

PRONK: Kyoto is the only game in town, to quote Mrs. Whitman. Kyoto is alive. I quote myself.

CURWOOD: Kyoto may still be alive, but only because now Europe, Japan, and Russia say they are not willing to give up in the face of the Bush administration's rejection of the agreement, and will press ahead. Mr. Pronk noted that more than a decade has already been invested in the global warming talks.

PRONK: We should not insist on starting over if you want to change something, because you still think there are loopholes and mistakes. The rational attitude is not to step aside. The rational attitude if you want to change something is to negotiate, to come with proposals, and to listen to counter-proposals, in order to solve loopholes and to get agreement.

CURWOOD: Mr. Pronk's proposed compromise seems to now have the backing of the European governments who had rejected similar language at the Hague. Alden Meyer, director of government relations with the Union of Concerned Scientists, was briefed on the proposal by Mr. Pronk. Mr. Meyer says that first of all, even though the Bush administration is now saying no to Kyoto, Mr. Pronk wants to make sure that Kyoto doesn't say no to the U.S.

MEYER: Well, he's chairman of the whole process, so of course he's not going to close the door on the United States coming back into this game, either in July at the next session or further on down the road, although
I think he probably is feeling fairly pessimistic on that front, having met with some of the folks in the Bush administration and not gotten much of anything specific from them. He's put forward a revised negotiating paper as a basis for consultations with other countries, which attempts to meet some of the concerns of countries like Canada and Japan on issues like use of emissions trading and use of offsets for forests and other so-called carbon sinks in the process. And I think he will continue to refine that paper as we move toward July.

CURWOOD: How different is the plan that's being put forward by the chairman, Mr. Pronk, compared to the final negotiating position in the Hague last November when talks broke down?

MEYER: There are a lot of similarities to it. It's gone in a few additional directions. He has made explicit one of the points the U.S. was lobbying for, which was inclusion of the ability to do investments in so-called carbon sink or reforestation projects in developing countries, in return for credit against your domestic agreements. That's something the Europeans have long opposed, and the U.S., Canada, and other industrial countries have favored. That is now back in. He has also done a little bit of tweaking in the compliance regime, the sort of consequences of what happens if you don't meet your targets, to give that a little more teeth, to address some concerns that were raised in the Hague. But by and large it's going along the same track that he had in the Hague. He's also tried to clarify exactly how technology transfer and financial assistance for developing countries in adapting to the impacts of climate change would work, because we're already starting to see the effects of global warming around the world. And these countries that don't have a lot of resources to adapt to the impact on their coastlines or public health or agricultural infrastructure are asking for resources and technology to meet some of those needs. And that's something that has to be part of the package deal if you're going to get the developing countries to sign off.

CURWOOD: Now, look, I know that you're not a bookie in Las Vegas. You're an environmental advocate. But what do you think are the odds that, come the end of this next meeting of the climate change convention in Bonn, that there will be an agreement that a majority of the world will sign onto?

MEYER: If you'd asked me that right after the breakdown in negotiations last November in the Hague, I would have said pretty slim, because there were such fundamental disagreements among the parties there. But in a curious way, the clumsy nature with which the Bush administration has renounced Kyoto has created a unifying effect among other countries, and it has angered their constituencies, their press, their politicians. They feel that this is a unilateral announcement, and no country has the right to sit on the sidelines. And in a funny kind of way, I think the U.S. has improved the chances for agreement among the rest of the world in July in Bonn, by the way in which it's handled this whole process. So, it's hard to put odds on it. Is it 50-50? Maybe. We may not even know at this meeting. It may take until the next meeting in October in
Morocco until we have better signals. But the political leaders from
Europe and Japan have made a public commitment that they want the Kyoto
Protocol to take legal effect by the tenth anniversary of the Rio Earth
Summit, which will be celebrated with a world leaders conference in
Johannesburg, South Africa in September of 2002. And that means they have to start moving the ratification process forward in their legislatures and parliaments by the end of this year or early next year if they're going to meet that goal.

CURWOOD: Alden Meyer is director of government relations for the Union of Concerned Scientists. Thank you, sir, for taking this time with us.

MEYER: Glad to be with you, Steve.

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