It's the most ambitious environmental treaty ever written. But
can it be salvaged - or should it be - without the US as a partner?
These are the basic questions confronting negotiators from some
180 countries this week as they gather here to finish drafting the
rules for the Kyoto Protocol. The global pact aims to cut the
output of industrial gases, which many scientists say are raising
the Earth's thermostat.
The Bush administration calls the treaty "fatally flawed," but on
Friday it pledged to spend a total of $145 million on climate
research and on technology to curb carbon-dioxide emissions. Still,
most European leaders see Kyoto as the best hope for blunting the
potentially devastating effects of growing "greenhouse gas"
emissions. They are likely to make this a key issue in Italy later
this week when President Bush arrives for another summit, the Group
of Eight meeting of leading industrial nations.
The climate-treaty summit "is taking place under extraordinary
conditions," says Kevin Baumert, a climate-change specialist at the
World Resources Institute in Washington. "The US is coming to the
meeting without any policy at all, except its opposition to the
The Protocol seeks to cut CO2 emissions worldwide by an average
of 5.2 percent below 1990 levels over a four-year period beginning
in 2008. Talks on the treaty's details collapsed last November,
after the United States and the European Union failed to agree on
how broadly a key compliance approach could be used.
Now talks are set to resume - informally today and formally on
Thursday on rules governing what most scientists see as the human
activities behind the rise in carbon dioxide.
US to fund better models
Some of the Bush administration response to the Kyoto approach
was outlined Friday in a list of initiatives emerging from Bush's
Cabinet-level advisory group on climate change. These include a $120
million effort by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration
to study key aspects of climate change and to spur improvements in
climate models, which are used to predict global warming trends.
The intent is to reduce uncertainties a National Academy of Science
panel pinpointed for the administration in a recent review.
For example, the panel noted that it is unclear how efficiently
the oceans and land-based ecosystems soak up atmospheric carbon
dioxide. NASA is slated to spend some $50 million over the next
three years on remote-sensing research that should help close that
In addition, the White House initiatives include efforts to work
with governments and nongovernment organizations to prevent the
destruction of tropical forests, and to work with energy companies
to develop technologies that could capture carbon from fossil fuels
and sequester carbon dioxide underground.
Yet these approaches are likely to do little to offset what Mr.
Baumert expects to be a chorus of "stinging criticism" of the
administration's policy here. Disappointment runs deep that the US
would walk away from a treaty it helped shape. The move has
appeared to strengthen the resolve among other countries,
especially key members of the EU, to conclude negotiations and
ratify the agreement without the US.
"We could end up with quite a comprehensive set of rules," says
Michael Grubb, professor of climate change and energy policy at
Imperial College in London. Since last fall, he says, the EU's
position has shifted "a long way" on how extensively countries
could take credit for the amount of CO2 their forests and farmlands
soak up - so-called carbon sinks. …