In their joint message on climate change negotiations released Nov. 13, President Barack Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama pledged "to reduce our own emissions by 80% by 2050 and endorse a global goal of reducing emissions by 50% by that year." The acceptance of disproportionate economic burdens is in accordance with the goals set last summer by the G-7 industrialized countries. It is a response to demands at the United Nations that such sacrifices are necessary to move negotiations forward in the face of disinterest and intransigence in the rest of the world.
At the opening of the U.N. climate conference in Barcelona on Nov. 2, Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), concentrated his attacks on the Western nations who have been backing the march to a new climate treaty rather than the developing countries who have been blocking a truly global agreement. De Boer complained, "The targets of industrialized countries that are presently on the table are clearly not ambitious enough."
He also criticized the American and European governments for not making "precise financial contributions" to the developing countries to buy their participation in the climate treaty negotiating process. He said developed countries would need to provide at least $10 billion to enable developing countries to immediately actualize low-emission growth and adaptation strategies. Implementing those strategies may require $150 billion annually in transfers from the developed to the developing countries, according to the European Union.
The U.N. establishment has to concentrate its attacks on the Western states because the developing states, led by China, India, South Africa, and Brazil, have made it clear they will not be parties to a treaty that places any limits on their economic growth. China's official Xinhua news agency reported that at Barcelona, "The opinion of the Chinese delegation was widely shared by representatives from developing countries and least developed countries such as Benin, Lesotho, Zambia, and Solomon Islands at the closing session." Ibrahim Mirghani Ibrahim of Sudan spoke on behalf of the Group of 77 Third World states, declaring, "The Group will strongly stand against all attempts by developed countries to reach an agreement which would in any way result in superseding the Kyoto Protocol or making it redundant." The Kyoto Protocol is "the only instrument we have for developed countries to take the lead in cutting their increasing emissions," he said, as it places no obligations on the developing world to do anything. The Times of India reported Nov. 6 that even Western attempts to merely include a "shared vision" statement in the treaty "would destroy the firewall between the higher level of commitments of the rich countries and the conditional obligations of the rest" and was thus opposed by India, China, and the Group of 77.
This means that the developed countries of America, Japan, and the European nations will have to carry the entire burden of reducing energy use and industrial production to meet the targets set by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). In Barcelona, fifty African nations walked out of negotiations, supposedly to protest the refusal of the "rich nations" to cut their emissions by 40% below 1990 levels by 2020 -- the highest figure suggested by the IPCC. But what the Africans really wanted was a pledge of substantial financial aid from the West under the guise of paying for environmental programs.
The Barcelona gathering was the last full U.N. conference before the Copenhagen meeting (Dec. 7-18) to draw up a new international treaty to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which will expire in 2012. The UNFCCC press release issued Nov. 6 at the close of the conference admitted that little progress has been made on any of the outstanding issues. Janos Pasztor, Director of the U.N. Secretary-General's Climate Change Support Team, has called on the United States to show "leadership" by imposing unilateral limitations on itself before the Copenhagen conference. In an October 26 press conference, Pasztor cited U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's comment that "we cannot afford another period where the United States stands on the sidelines." This was a reference to the U.S.'s refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol because it did not apply to the developing countries. The same asymmetrical structure defines the pending Copenhagen treaty.
It should be remembered that prior to the Kyoto negotiation in 1997, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution (S. Res. 98) by a vote of 95-0 saying that the U.S. should not sign any agreement that fails to apply to the developing countries as well as the industrialized world. An unequal agreement "would result in serious harm to the economy of the United States" by giving the nations free of U.N. restrictions a competitive edge in production and trade. Neither the Bill Clinton nor the George W. Bush administrations implemented the Kyoto program.
The aim of the U.N. bureaucracy and its leftist allies in the U.S. is to get Congress on board early, before the terms of the Copenhagen treaty are formally determined and it becomes clear to the public that the framework will be no different from Kyoto. According to Pasztor, "The Secretary-General said he was encouraged by the spirit of compromise shown in the bipartisan initiative announced by United States Senators John Kerry and Lindsey Graham. United States negotiators must be empowered in Copenhagen." These two senators authored an op-ed in the New York Times on Oct. 10 in which they claimed to be on the road to sixty Senate votes for climate legislation.
Sen. Graham is thought to be a stalking horse for Sen. John McCain, who proposed a cap-and-trade system during his 2008 presidential campaign. To win Graham's support for Kerry's bill (S. 1733), the op-ed endorsed the expansion of nuclear power and domestic oil drilling in pursuit of energy independence. The face-saving kicker for Kerry is that any drilling would have to be "conducted in an environmentally sensitive manner," which means that nothing will likely be done when the decisions are in the hands of green regulators, officials, and judges.
Yet there is a silver lining that Secretary-General Ban may have missed. The op-ed stated that "we cannot sacrifice another job to competitors overseas. ... There is no reason we should surrender our marketplace to countries that do not accept environmental standards. For this reason, we should consider a border tax on items produced in countries that avoid these standards." The climate bill passed in the House last June (H.R. 2454) includes provisions for such a tariff.
At the U.N., Pasztor had responded to another question at his October 26 press conference by arguing there was need for "movement on a domestic bill. Even if that had not yet been completed, United States negotiators needed to know what was likely to come before President Barack Obama." Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy at the left-wing Union of Concerned Scientists, said at Barcelona, "Uncertainty about what the United States can bring to the Copenhagen summit hangs over these negotiations."
Todd Stern, Special State Department Envoy for Climate Change, testified before a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on the Copenhagen event on Nov. 4. His post is new, created by the Obama administration. In regard to the "large developing countries," he conceded that "we can't get an international deal done unless they are willing to agree in an international context" and "the negotiations have still too often foundered as a result of the developed/developing country divide." He acknowledged that "we cannot expect developing countries -- or indeed any country -- to commit to actions that they cannot plausibly achieve or to make promises that are antithetical to their need to fight poverty and build a better life for their citizens."
Yet Stern wanted Congress to move ahead with unilateral-cap-and trade regulations that would lower American living standards anyway, claiming, "Nothing the United States can do is more important for the international negotiation process than passing robust, comprehensive clean energy legislation as soon as possible." Kerry's bill was passed out of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on Nov. 5.
President Obama and Democratic Congressional leaders, perhaps with a handful of Republican moderates, seem poised to make the Copenhagen negotiations a suicide pact for the Western industrialized nations. In a complete reversal of the bipartisan policy of twelve years ago, they would lock America into impossibly severe restrictions on economic activity while the non-Western nations, who reject the climate paranoia that grips Western liberalism, move ahead with their own interests. The result will be a change in the balance of wealth and power in the world that will dwarf any change in the climate.
William R. Hawkins is a consultant specializing in international economic and national security issues.