BONN, GERMANY – The Kyoto Protocol, launched amid champagne and
celebration in 1997, may have struck an iceberg before it ever left
port. Cracks in the hull of the global warming agreement that first
appeared in Buenos Aires in 1998, appear to be widening here in Bonn, as
the delegates begin their second week of
The issues on which differences appear to be widening, range from
budgets to emissions trading schemes, and reach as deep as the
definition of what a forest might be.
A key feature of the Protocol is the transfer of technology from
developed countries to developing countries. The U.S., Canada, and
Australia argue forcefully for a market-based approach through the
so-called Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). China and the G-77 nations
(group of 77 developing nations) say that “technology transfer [can] not
be undertaken under the market process,” and that transfer should not be
made on commercial terms.
In Kyoto, the delegates agreed that the Protocol would be legally
binding on developed nations, but failed to agree on what “legally
binding” means. There is no agreement in Bonn. Japan wants “predictable
consequences” for non-compliance. Canada prefers a series of “procedural
steps leading to compliance.” The U.S. wants to differentiate between
binding, and non-binding articles in the Protocol, but Iran and China
insist that the entire Protocol is binding. The Climate Action Network
(a coalition of environmental organizations) is campaigning for an
“independent” group of experts to enforce compliance, funded by fines
levied against offenders. New Zealand argues that a group of experts
does not have the authority or capacity to enforce the Protocol, and
that this function should be performed by a special group of delegates.
This issue is one of several that threaten to sink the Protocol.
A growing controversy is arising from the elusive definition of “land
use change and forestry.” The U.S. has proposed that cropland and
grassland be included in the definition. The special contact group,
assigned that task of reaching consensus, decided only to postpone
discussion until a flow-chart could be developed. At the second meeting,
three flow-charts appeared, and the allotted two hours was spent
debating the flow-charts, with no progress toward a definition of what
is to be considered a forest.
The budget has also sprung a leak. Expenditures are outstripping
receipts, and the delegates are revisiting their enthusiasm for
bureaucracy-building. In Kyoto, Executive Secretary Michael Zammit
Cutajar, was instructed to “gear up” to implement the Protocol. He did.
The delegates were presented with a proposed 50 percent budget increase
and a 59 percent increase in staff. The delegates demanded that a new
budget be prepared with an increase in the range of five to seven
Even deeper divisions surround the issues of emissions trading and
eventual ratification. The Clinton administration has based its economic
impact analysis on its vision of what an emissions trading scheme might
be. The scheme does not exist, and given the level of disagreement among
the delegates, it may never exist. The U.S. wants a market-based program
which would result in emissions reduction credits for projects
constructed in developing countries by private industry. Strong
opposition has been raised by the European Union, China, and others who
say America would be able to achieve too much of its reduction
requirement outside its borders, and not have to suffer from energy
reductions at home. They insist that emissions reduction credits be
earned primarily by curtailing domestic energy use.
With the administration’s vision of an emissions trading scheme in
place, their estimate of cost to the American economy is $15 to $23 per
ton of emissions, which means an annual cost of only about $300 per year
per family. Without the scheme in place, independent economists estimate
the costs to be as much as ten times higher than the administration’s
estimates, in the range of $300 per ton of emissions, or $3,000 per year
All of this dissension may be moot, anyway. There is growing acceptance
of the notion that the Protocol will never go into force. It cannot go
into force without the ratification of the United States. The U.S.
Senate has unanimously adopted a Resolution that says the Protocol will
not be ratified until it is amended, and it cannot be amended until it
goes into force.
There are reasons, however, why the delegates continue to plunge
forward, reaching agreement where they can, postponing discussion when
they must, and avoiding the more controversial issues whenever possible.
Scrapping the agreement and starting over again would not only be an
admission of failure and an enormous waste of money, but it would be
nearly impossible to rekindle the enthusiasm for a legally binding
treaty that existed when the Protocol negotiations began seven years
Unfolding science has continually challenged the basic assumptions which
originally motivated the negotiations. The deep divisions revealed by
these negotiations will not disappear with a new start. The global
warming infrastructure is now a multi-billion dollar enterprise that
threatened, should the Protocol be abandoned. Despite the arguments in
favor of abandoning the project, it is not likely to happen. A
“negotiated” outcome acceptable to the major players is much more
likely. Side agreements that do not require ratification may provide a
way for the
negotiators to continue their careers whether or not the Protocol is
While the Protocol, as it was first presented, may be faltering on the
sea of international diplomacy, there are indications that life boats
are being prepared to save face, bureaucracies, and selected
bureaucrats. Whether or not human activity may or may not cause global
warming is a question that no longer seems to be on the agenda.