Saturday, December 10, 2005

Montreal Conference on Global Warming

This week 157 nations met in Montréal, Canada, to discuss the problem of global warming, a.k.a. climate change. Most talks centered around the problem of how best to reduce carbon emissions and to settle the next step beyond the Kyoto Protocol, which call for emission reductions between 2008 and 2012. As usual, the United States was the odd man out - by choice and not by necessity. The American representatives refused to consider even a nonbinding agreement.

The United States, which generates a quarter of the world's greenhouse gases, questioned the need to engage in even nonbinding talks on the subject. When the Europeans and Canadians proposed such talks Thursday, chief American climate negotiator Harlan Watson rejected it on the grounds that it would be tantamount to formal negotiations.
Other countries felt that it would be worth continuing talks without the United States, in the hope that a regime change in this country might lead to a more responsible attitude towards environmental policy after 2008.
"We can't have an effective global regime without the U.S., but we can move ahead with the discussion about what the regime will be with everyone else at the table, leaving a seat for the U.S. and hoping the U.S. will fill its empty seat," said Michael Zammit Cutajar, Malta's ambassador for international environmental affairs, who helped oversee the initial Kyoto negotiations. "After all, things will change in the U.S. in a few years. There will be a new constellation of forces, and maybe there will be a greater readiness to engage."
There is little hope of improvement within the next three years within the United States, because this administration has stubbornly refused to make environmental issues a priority. Indeed even the EPA nowadays often works at cross-purposes with conservationists, while the appointees at the Department of Energy seems most focused on how to make the most money for their friends in the industry as quickly as possible, with no thought for long-term ramifications.

Bill Clinton was in Montréal to stir the pot:
The last day was also marked by high drama as former president Bill Clinton showed up and urged meaningful action to combat global warming, giving a half-hour speech that the Bush administration had tried to block, according to sources close to Clinton who would not speak on the record for fear of jeopardizing the talks....

At one point Bush's deputies threatened to boycott the meetings if Clinton, who was invited by Montreal's mayor and the Canadian Sierra Club, spoke. Clinton offered not to come, said sources close to the former president, but the Canadians stood by the invitation.

Publicly, however, Paula Dobriansky, the U.S. undersecretary of state for democracy and global affairs, welcomed Clinton, saying in a statement that "public events in connection with the U.N. climate change conference, such as the one involving former President Clinton, are useful opportunities to hear a wide range of views on global climate change."

According to this report (via TPM), the Bush administration threatened not to take any action on the Kyoto Protocol if Clinton spoke. Now that's a way to scare people - threaten not to do something that you had no intention of doing anyway.

The agreements that came out of this conference included measures to include developing nations in the solutions to the global warming crisis. In particular there are incentives for countries with large tracts of rain forests to preserve as much as possible of them, in return for credits. Bringing developing nations into the dialogue is useful and necessary. But of course the main problem remains with the big polluters, that is the industrialized nations that produce most of the emissions that create a greenhouse. Chief among these is the United States, and until such time as this country takes major steps to reduce its emissions, agreements among other countries will only be partial solutions.