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US backdown on post-Kyoto agreement

December 10th, 2005

Today’s papers report contradictory assessments of the latest climate talks in Montreal. The NY TImes reports that the US Administration has backed down on attempts to stop negotiations for the setting of new targets for the post-Kyoto period. The US was apparently left out on a limb by China and Australia, its main allies in attempts to stop any real action, neither of which were prepared to join the US and Saudi Arabia in walking out of the talks. The result is likely to be a slight softening of language in the final agreement, but determined attempts to sabotage the process have failed.

It’s noteworthy that, despite a lot of speculation that Tony Blair was preparing the ground for a capitulation to the Bush Administration, nothing of the kind actually happened, and the US stance was repeatedly and vigorously attacked by nearly all the participants in the conference, including British delegates.

On the other hand, Australia’s environment minister was reported in today’s SMH as saying that the Kyoto protocol was almost dead

A number of [countries] are saying ‘Look, we made a mistake. We don’t think that it’s worth opening up a new negotiation about a future commitment when the commitments we have today are looking so unreasonable’,

The only support I can find for Campbell’s statement in the NYT report is the observation that the agreement on negotations does not include a specific date for ending talks, reflecting the difficulties in meeting existing targets.

An alternative interpretation is that Campbell’s statement is designed to give him cover with the domestic anti-Kyoto lobby for his break with the US position at the talks, which undoubtedly contributed to the American backdown. If so, good for him – he’s been about as good a minister as possible, given the Howard government’s generally bad position.

Overall, the outcome of these talks was about the best that could be hoped for. Undoubtedly, the accumulation of evidence over the past couple of years, to the point where no-one who is both well-informed and honest can deny the reality of human-caused global warming, has contributed to this outcome, despite the obvious reluctance of governments everywhere to do anything painful.

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  1. Joe
    December 10th, 2005 at 21:22 | #1

    There are some interesting articles in this week’s Business Week Online at http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/toc/05_50/B39630550carbon.htm

  2. Andrew
    December 10th, 2005 at 23:13 | #2

    It’s been lovely to watch Alan Wood in The Australian, having taken a stridently global-warming ‘skeptic’ position, being slowly abandoned by all his allies. He is sounding more and more like a isolated loon.

    It’s also interesting that his criticism of the science seems to be mostly based on the notion that Western capitalism can’t afford to do anything about it. What a delightfully post-modern notion for a crusty economic dry to latch onto — that the climatic scientists of the world should construct a scientific truth that suits the prevailing economic and political circumstances.

  3. rog
    December 11th, 2005 at 09:16 | #3

    The agreements may be hailed as ‘historic’ but if they are non binding are no real value (note article, same author);

    http://www.iht.com/articles/2005/12/09/news/climate.php

  4. December 11th, 2005 at 11:03 | #4

    The problem is that as we did not ratify Kyoto we are still not really a part of this. The Howard government should go the extra mile and ratify.

  5. December 11th, 2005 at 13:09 | #5

    Ender, why should we ratify something, that is clearly dead in the water?

  6. jquiggin
    December 11th, 2005 at 15:52 | #6

    Rog, it appears that the article you’ve cited predates the US backdown.

    WbW, reread the post and respond to it.

  7. Andrew Reynolds
    December 11th, 2005 at 16:04 | #7

    PrQ,
    As you know I am a sceptic on this entire process, but it is fascinating to watch the politics go on. I’m sure a book by one of the major participants int the years to come will be a fascinating read. FWIW, it will also be interesting to see how Bush, and more importantly his successors, reacts to this process. I think the US delegation probably went to the limit of their instructions and several different interpretations will come out soon.
    Thinking about it, I believe the political implications will be more important than the actual document that comes out. This represents a major step for the White House – a recognition that they can only go out on a limb if there is some support. In the absence of that, no matter what the merits of the case, they have to move.

  8. jquiggin
    December 11th, 2005 at 18:02 | #8

    It’s notable, by the way, that McCain is at this point both the most likely Republican candidate and (with Hagel) the only prominent Rep to back Kyoto.

  9. Andrew Reynolds
    December 11th, 2005 at 19:21 | #9

    PrQ,
    The big challenge will still be getting it through the Houses of Congress. I would not hold my breath for that to happen any time soon.

  10. Terje Petersen
    December 11th, 2005 at 21:54 | #10

    It seems to me that the single most major barrier to the USA signing the Kyoto protocil (or anything similar) is currently a system called democracy. And for all its failings the Americans seem pretty wedded to that system.

  11. jquiggin
    December 11th, 2005 at 22:21 | #11

    Terje, you might explain this statement a bit further in the light of poll evidence suggesting that a majority of Americans support ratification of Kyoto.

    AR, I assume you mean the House of Representatives. Clearly, nothing much will happen until the Republicans lose their solid majority there. I don’t see this as unlikely by 2008.

  12. Terje Petersen
    December 11th, 2005 at 23:33 | #12

    John,

    In 1997 the US Senate voted unanimously 95-0 against Kyoto. Hence I think democracy was a factor.

    I would be surprised if you really equate democracy with opinion polls? If so then perhaps you might agree that we should have a referendum every two months to decide our rate of taxation. Or perhaps a referendum every two months to decide which racial groups we want to be extra nasty towards.

    Note that in my post above I was carful to say that democracy is “CURRENTLY” the barrier. Of course that may change in time.

    Regards,
    Terje.

    P.S. Even if Al Gore was president I doubt whether the US would have ratified Kyoto yet.

  13. rog
    December 12th, 2005 at 07:01 | #13

    John, those polls predate the election win (by a solid majority) of GWB.

  14. rog
    December 12th, 2005 at 07:14 | #14

    This is a more recent poll of 812 households;

    http://www.pipa.org/OnlineReports/ClimateChange/ClimateChange05_Jul05/ClimateChange05_Jul05_rpt.pdf

    It does show that by large the public opinion is ill informed; eg a full 43% believe that Bush currently supports US participation in the Kyoto treaty (he does not).

  15. jquiggin
    December 12th, 2005 at 07:18 | #15

    Terje, this talking point is out of date. The McCain-Lieberman Environmental Stewardship Bill was defeated 55-43. So it will only take six votes to switch and the argument will go the other way. In any case, an argument based on congressional votes only proves that the US will never ratify Kyoto – until it does . That’s democracy for you.

    Rog, despite Bush’s re-election, most Americans think he’s doing a lousy job on the environment. Check the March 2005 poll on this.

  16. December 12th, 2005 at 10:43 | #16

    The question does arise, though – what’s it going to take to get the US to actually start doing something about their greenhouse emissions? A grand bargain where Europe agrees to gradually dismantle agricultural subsidies in return for the US doing something about greenhouse?

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