December 30, 1997 - From the December, 1997 issue

Under Secretary of State Eizenstat on New Kyoto Climate Protocol

On December 10, the United Nations' 4th Framework Conference on Climate Control closed in Kyoto, Japan with a potentially world-changing agreement to cut air pollution on a global scale. As part of our ongoing coverage of key environmental issues, TPR is pleased to present the following excerpt of the comments made by U.S. Under Secretary of State Stuart Eizenstat, the Chief U.S. delegate to the summit, in a press conference following the announcement of the accord.


“We mustn’t let the climate change problem become a divisive, North-South problem. This is genuinely a problem of global proportions… which requires global solutions.”

Eizenstat

… Today we reached a historic agreement, a historic first step, in the Kyoto Protocol… a truly global effort to address climate change…

The Kyoto Protocol harnesses the forces of the global market­place to protect the environment by spurring investment in economic growth worldwide and will also provide a level playing field for American business. In so doing we have achieved nearly all the elements of the President's policy framework, emphasizing market-based mechanisms rather than central government direction or heavy taxes. 

Together with other industrialized nations, we reached a strong, comprehensive agreement stimulated by the dramatic and very difficult EU-US­Japan agreement, (which was) struck after three days of almost round-the-clock negotiations. And [it was] even more striking because of the disparate natures of our economies and the very different ways in which we use energy. 

This historic agreement, which also included Australia and Canada, Russia, New Zealand, and other industrial nations, will achieve far greater reductions in greenhouse gases than most thought possible when our delegations arrived 10 days ago. By establishing this framework, industrial nations have demonstrated leadership in forging a legally-binding, lasting effort against this threat. 

… This is one of those rare instances in which governments identify a problem before it becomes a crisis, before our publics are clamoring for action… We agreed to move well beyond our proposal to reduce emissions to 1990 levels by the years 2008 to 2012. In fact, we've committed to reduce our emissions by 7 percent by 2010, below 1990 levels, while the EU and Japan have reduced theirs by 8 and 6 percent, respectively. 

We also forged an important consensus among industrial nations, for market-based mechanisms, such as international emissions trading. [W]e believe this framework [of rules and mechanisms covering these new institutions] can be filled out by next year's conference.

We also agreed to cover all six greenhouse gases, a key U.S. goal, given the dramatic increases in new synthetic gases. Several industrialized nations agreed also, in concept, to form an umbrella for trading of the new emissions rights which will be created, which will consist of the U.S., Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Australia and Russia, and will be open to all countries who wish to work together to establish an emissions trading group. 

We also had hoped to reach agreement on a series of ways to ensure the meaningful participation of developing countries. This is perhaps the single disappointment and regret…

We were also unable to establish a mechanism that would have allowed developing nations to volunteer to take on binding targets because of the opposition of some developing countries… In fact, we made an important down payment in developing country participation in solving the global climate problem by establishing a Clean Development Mechanism for credit,… harnessing private investment in clean energy technologies for credit back to industrial users…

We mustn't let the climate change problem become a divisive, North South problem. This is genuinely a problem of global proportions. It is genuinely a problem which requires global solutions. 

Question

… Congressman Sensenbrenner said that [the Chinese]… claimed that they would not enter the protocol or make any even voluntary commitments for the next 50 years. I'm wondering if you have any actual evidence in your discussions, particularly with the Chinese, Indians, Brazilians, or Mexicans, who the Congressman focused on, whether they would be willing to make any kind of commitments in the real world…? The second real world question is, as you know, greenhouse gas emissions went up four-point-five percent last year. Would you expect that in the next two, three, four years, in the real world, greenhouse gas emissions will rise, given the fact that the cap and the trading doesn’t really kick in until—or might not kick in—until 2008? 

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The only thing the President has really talked about is…  tax credits, a little R&D, which obviously will take time, also. Could we really look forward to rising CO2 emissions in the next few years?

Eizenstat

First, with respect to China, we sent literally a half dozen missions to China this year alone to discuss… the trading system and joint implementation program (two proposed methods of reducing greenhouse gas emissions through government and private industry initiatives) that we developed. And we're disappointed that they were not supportive… They were very strong opponents of the market-based mechanisms. I think that for many ways, this was an eye-opener…

From the perspective of the developing countries, they see the developed world as having created the problem, and they see themselves as being in the early stages of an industrialization that the developed world has been in for 100 years… the developed countries have now come to a consensus on the need for action… I'm optimistic, however, that [the developing countries are] not going to take, frankly, as long as it took the industrial countries to come together. The reason being that the problem now is so evident, the science too compelling, the public attention so clear, and as shown by the Clean Development Mechanism, an increasing number of developing countries recognize that it's in their economic—not just their environmental—interests to be energy-efficient and environmentally sound. That this is the best way [to ensure] sustainable development… 

Question

I would like to follow up on the question that my colleague from Nature asked about the trading. Chairman Estrada said in his press briefing, trading [does not go into] operation until COP-4 [the fourth Conference of Parties to the current climate change treaty], but if countries want to test it, they can do. And in reaction, Commissioner Beauregard said the EU would strongly oppose any trading before COP-4. Has there been any promise by the United States not to trade before COP-4 or ask the other way around, are there any plans to trade before COP-4?

Eizenstat

Well, first I certainly would not want to disagree with Chairman Estrada, who has been our leader for three days. Second, the trading system clearly needs to be fleshed out and cannot start simply tomorrow. There is a good deal of work to be done, and our goal is to have it done by the Buenos Aires conference next year… remember that this trading system only involves industrial countries… It is a means—not the only means, but a critical means—of being able to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the most cost-effective way, and will lead to more reduction of greenhouse gases than would otherwise occur… We have found [that to be true] in two instances [in the United States]—the removal of lead from gasoline, and most dramatically, SO2 (sulfur dioxide, a key ingredient in acid rain) in our ozone removal program. Unbelievably dramatic reductions… I think that the reductions in the ozone program are on a factor of 50% from what had been expected, with even more SO2 taken out of the system. So, what we’re doing is globalizing it. And interestingly, in the SO2 program, there’s a future market that’s been created in these trading rights… 

Question

… The United States went a long way in the last three days from stabilization to 7% [reduction in emissions] and had been strong on stabilization before. So, I wonder if you can tell us where did that decision originate? And on what basis was that position changed? What’s changed between last week and this week that we can go from zero to seven?

Eizenstat

First, the Vice President at the President’s direction came, as he said in his speech, with the direction and instruction to me and our team to have greater flexibility. Second, in the development of the negotiations with the EU and the US, several different factors, including so-called sinks, came into play… —things like forests that absorb carbon—and contributed several points to the reduction. This is a very new and very exciting concept because it can encourage countries to take mitigating strategies—reforestation and the like—that will help every bit as much as other means to reduce greenhouse gases. We estimate that from levels of emissions that would otherwise have occurred between 1990 and the year 2010, the President’s original proposal represented about 30% reduction. The reduction here is around a 32% reduction or so, 33% reduction. And it’s the combination of those reductions as well as the sinks and other means that enable us to do that… 

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