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

Kyoto -- Yea or Nay?

Air Date: Week of

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The future of the Kyoto climate change treaty is at a crucial juncture as negotiations continue in Bonn, Germany. Host Steve Curwood discusses the treaty's chances with Ian Bowles, who served as Senior Director of Global Environmental Affairs with the Clinton Administration's National Security Council; and Hermann Ott, a climate policy analyst with the German think tank, The Wuppertal Institute. Also joining the discussion is Yuri Onodera, climate change campaign coordinator for Friends of the Earth, Japan.


[Theme return]

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth, I'm Steve Curwood speaking to you from Bonn, Germany where there's a bit of optimism, if only for the moment, here at the global warming treaty talks. Delegates say they are making meaningful progress. We'll take a look at what that means in a moment but first, some background. Nearly a decade ago, more than 150 nations including the United States ratified the UN Framework Convention to fight global warming. The Treaty called on the U.S. and other developed nations to take the lead against climate change by reducing emissions at home and helping less developed countries with money and technology to keep their emissions in check as well. But that treaty failed and emissions have kept rising, largely because there were no penalties for violations. So, the parties went to Kyoto, Japan in 1997 to try to put some teeth into the treaty which is now called the Kyoto Protocol. But efforts to work out final language have been mostly stalled since then. The protocol almost died last year in the Hague. The problem? Nations are still balking at strict limits and enforcement mechanisms. And when U.S. President George W. Bush declared this spring he was against ratifying the Kyoto Protocol it seemed all but dead. But it's not, at least right now. With me now to discuss the current negotiations are Hermann Ott, a climate policy analyst for Germany's Wuppertal Institute, Yuri Onodera, climate campaign coordinator for Friends of the Earth Japan, and Ian Bowles, former senior director of the Environment for the National Security Council for both the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush White Houses. I'd like to begin with a question I'll put to each of you: How would you define a successful outcome of these negotiations? Hermann Ott?

OTT: First of all, the best possible outcome would, of course, be if there was an agreement on the package, the full package, which is ecologically viable. Second best option, no deal in Bonn and moving forward to ratification, soon in the next year.

CURWOOD: What do you mean by that?

OTT: The Kyoto Protocol is alive. It can be ratified and it's workable. I sometimes compare it with a house. The house is ready. What we're negotiating here is the emergency exits. Right, and when it comes to those who want to live in the house, the parties that ratify, they should be able to define the design, location of those emergency exits.

CURWOOD: Ian Bowles?

BOWLES: I would define progress as sending a message back to the American government that the rest of the world wants to move forward on a treaty on climate change. Substantial progress on the rules to the Kyoto Protocol, allowing the rest of the world to set up an agreement to enforce in the coming few years.

CURWOOD: Yuri Onodera?

ONODERA: What, basically, the question is that we have to think realistically about the situation. If we can get some sort of brief idea or agreeing upon the package then we think that this a moving forward process. And also if Japan can clarify its position on whether or not it's going to ratify that would advance the agreement down without the U.S., that would be progress, as well.

CURWOOD: Now Dr. Ott, you've consulted with the German government on the issue of climate policy and the EU is pushing very hard right now on this treaty. From the EU's perspectives, what are the hurdles here, what are the principle hurdles?

OTT: The issue which made the Hague fail was sinks, that is the absorption of carbon by trees, soil, agricultural activities. And that is still major question here. How far can these absorption be accounted toward the obligations of the party. The second major issue is compliance. We have to determine whether a party failed or achieved its targets and then determine what are the consequences for that.

CURWOOD: Yuri Onodera, we're here on the third floor of the Maratine Hotel in Bonn. We're right outside the meeting place of the Japanese delegation, in fact they're rushing back and forth right now even as we speak. Japan seems to be the dealmaker or dealbreaker as these negotiations. How are they making the most of that position?

ONODERA: Well, previously we were very worried about Japan's position of too contradicting message. But since last week, last few days, the Minister Kawaguchi clarified that last conference which I think is progress that Japan sincerely negotiates and she has a mandate to fully conclude agreement of the package here so that gives her some leverage, I hope, to conclude, though Japan's position on sinks, in particular, is quite extreme.

CURWOOD: Let me be sure I understand this. So Japan is prepared to approve the deal, even though it doesn't want to say whether or not it would ratify such a deal. Am I understanding that?

ONODERA: Yes, you are correct, yes.

CURWOOD: Let me turn to you, Ian Bowles. Even though the U.S. has said it's not going to participate in this protocol, they do still have a seat at the table and some are worried that the U.S. will be obstructionist here. How do you see what's going on?

BOWLES: I'd say, overall, it's somewhat of a sad day for American diplomacy. We asked the rest of the world to delay this meeting with the idea that we'd come with specific proposals and alternatives. Those proposals and alternatives are not forthcoming but we don't really have much constructive to offer here.

CURWOOD: Now the U.S. has a lot of technical expertise that our nation has gathered over the last, what, 11 years. What's happening to that? Is that being injected into the discussions? By that I mean, just knowing certain details and a wealth of almost reference knowledge for this process.

BOWLES: I think that's largely on the sidelines. I mean American delegation to the Hague last November was 150 people. Here, the United States has about 35. Many of its experts are on the sidelines. Indeed much of the expertise that brought the Kyoto process forward came from the American government and that's not being brought to bear now.

CURWOOD: Briefly from each of you, an assessment on the quality of negotiations here. When things broke down in the Hague the mood was very pessimistic. Kyoto is dead or, certainly, in a terminal path. What do things look like now? Yuri Onodera?

ONODERA: The last four days, technical negotiations weren't showing much progress but meanwhile, I think that most important purpose, one of the most important purpose of this conference is to make a political commitment, political agreement, and in this regard, our Prime Minister on Sunday said to the tv that this conference itself isn't the place to decide. And then, there was a huge public outcry and reaction from, including European leaders directed to Mr. Koizumi. Then, he later (inaudible) Japan's strong commitment to the Protocol so that has given some momentum here beforehand. There was a very strong question about Japan's commitment to the process.

CURWOOD: Ian Bowles, you were a negotiator at the Hague. Now, you're watching. How do things look in this process?

BOWLES: I think the good news is that these issues themselves have been discussed for years. They are well understood. If there's political will to move forward, there's sufficient understanding of the issues themselves to be able to make a deal. I've seen in the past few days, some reasons for optimism, some reasons for moving more quickly to resolve issues, to identify issues for the ministers. I still fear that, uh, there will be, some of the fundamental differences between the parties that broke the Hague apart will continue. I tend to be of the view that moving forward on the rules and having progress is more important than getting all the details perfect.

CURWOOD: And the political will? How much is out there?

BOWLES: Hard to know. I think that's again where the G8 plays a role, to some degree.

To what degree can the European leaders encourage Japan, the United States, and Canada, the other G8 members, to pay some attention.

CURWOOD: Now, the G8 meeting of the industrialized nations is happening right now in Genoa as these climate negotiations are going on. Your Prime Minister, Yuri Onodera, has said to the United States that it won't come in without the United States being here, and yet, it's telling the European leaders that it wants to move forward, Japan will move forward, and ratify by the year 2002. What do you think will happen when your Prime Minister is in the same room with the European and American leaders?

ONODERA: Well, one of the concerns in the last few weeks which we have is the Prime Minister's commitment to this issue is somehow ambiguous. His strongest agenda is a structural reform and he went to the United States and he didn't criticize President Bush clearly on this issue. So, the European leaders can approach him and remind him of the importance of this issue since (inaudible) and the Prime Minister is committing so much energy on this process that we enforce the momentum within Japanese government to move forward on the leadership on the negotiation.

CURWOOD: Some people say look this can wait till Marrakesh in the fall, some kind of comprehensive deal for climate change. Hermann Ott, how much can be on hold for Marrakesh?

OTT: Well, if Bonn fails it would not be the end of the Kyoto Protocol and it would certainly not be the end of international climate policy, which is the most important. Because even if this fails, even if Marrakesh fails, this protocol can be ratified and should be ratified and enforced. International climate policy will remain an issue for the next century, for this century, and I'm very, very sure within five or six years those countries that are reluctant now, especially the United States, Canada, and Australia will be on board and will be part of the solution because the effects of climate change will be felt. And farmers and people in those countries will pressure the government and the United States since it is already being felt. Bush's, uh, ratings on environmental policy are the worst and it's part of his, let's say, plunge in rating. Dick Morris said "it's the ecology, stupid," and he geared it at George Bush, and he might actually lose elections because of that.

CURWOOD: Well, I want to thank you all for your time. Yuri Onodera is campaigns coordinator for the climate change campaign of Friends of the Earth Japan. Ian Bowles is former Senior Director for the Environment for the National Security Council in both the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush White Houses. And, Hermann Ott is a climate policy expert for Germany's Wutteral Institute and an advisor to the German government. Thank you all for joining us.

BOWLES: Thank you very much.

OTT: Thanks a lot.

ONODERA: Thank you very much.

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