Lifting the veil

The carefully-planned us strategy on climate change negotiations is slowly beginning to become transparent. In a report just published in the International Herald Tribune (iht) (December 15, 1997), a Washington Post correspondent spells out this strategy. Under pressure from the Congress which had bought the hard line of the us automobile and oil industry, the Clinton-Gore Administration had realised that it could not go to Kyoto with strong commitments. It, therefore, had a clear choice. It could either walk out of the negotiations or it could keep itself active in the negotiations even if it brokered a flawed deal. The former choice would leave it with no influence over the negotiations while the latter would help the us to maintain a key role in the negotiations.

A team was set up in the White House to work exclusively on the us position and strategy for the Kyoto negotiations. The iht report quotes Gene Sperling, head of the White House National Economic Council as saying, "It's the difference between being an international leader on climate change with considerable leverage, and being an international outlier who would have had little credibility to keep pushing the process forward." The us clearly chose to be an 'international leader'.

The first element of the strategy was to show interest in the issue, howsoever ridiculous the proposed targets might be. The iht report quotes a senior administration official claiming that this approach was able to increase us leverage on the negotiations substantially. The official points out, "A couple of months ago when a lot of countries doubted we were serious, we couldn't get people to listen to us or talk to us. By Kyoto we were able to be a broker to the agreement, so it's hard to say that showing some commitment doesn't increase your leverage." This leverage helped the us to force the European Union (eu) down to greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets acceptable to the us .

But what about the other conflict with developing countries, especially with senators, companies and trade unions shouting from tree tops that they too must be brought into the picture? Here, too, the us has developed a well-crafted strategy to keep the pressure on. Its first step was to ask for something as vague and undefined as "meaningful participation from developing countries" so that the ball would move to developing countries to say what they could do and, of course, the us could easily dismiss it as "not meaningful enough". If the us had proposed something concrete, it could have easily have got drowned in a volley of criticism. The us avoided all that. And, secondly, it made it clear to all parties concerned that the us would walk out of the Kyoto Protocol unless developing countries proposed actions that the us would consider "meaningful".

The iht report makes it clear that all this was very carefully thought through. The report says, "Another senior official said that the us strategy all along was to see what could be achieved at Kyoto, delay sending the treaty to the Senate for ratification, and attempt to corral the developing countries into the process through later negotiations. "We had in mind this two step process: Get a good agreement in Kyoto, make clear it was a partial solution and not try for ratification immediately, and then try to get agreement from the developing countries," the official said."

This strategy is now being followed to the letter. On December 8, 1997, the day the high-level ministerial segment began in Kyoto, vice-president Al Gore said in a press conference, "Well, we've said from the beginning that, in order to sign an agreement, or in order to send an agreement to the Senate, we must have meaningful participation by key developing countries. How we get that meaningful participation has been one of the principal subjects under discussion here (in Kyoto). We're still working on that." On December 11, the day on which Kyoto ended, the White House issued a press release quoting Gore again,. "And let's be clear, as we said from the very beginning, we will not submit this agreement for ratification until key developing nations participate in this effort." Indeed, the strategy is already working. Within hours after the eu and the us reached a weak compromise on emissions reductions target, the Western media ranging from cnn in the us to Financial Times (ft) in Britain were blaring away that now that the Western world had got its act together, it was now these aliens from India and China that were holding things up. The ft front-paged a report from Kyoto on December 11 headlined "China and India may delay decision on climate treaty". Very soon, in the run-up to the next Conference of Parties to be held in November 1998 in Argentina, a country supportive of the us position, we can see even eu and western environmental groups putting pressure on India and China to accept us terms because everybody knows that without us participation the Kyoto treaty is meaningless as the us is the bi