Four U.S. senators blitzed the global climate conference here Tuesday, meeting delegates, giving interviews and leaving no doubt why the United States took so long to come up with a position on global warming.
“We are taking national sovereignty away from every nation that signs this treaty,” said Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., a staunch opponent of any agreement that would require nations to meet legally binding targets for emissions of their greenhouse gases. “Would (a binding treaty) mean a United Nations multi-national bureaucracy could come in and close down an industry in the United States?”
In another room, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, D-Conn., said a binding agreement was needed, and he was hopeful U.S. negotiators would lead the 150 nations attending the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change into such an agreement.
“This (Clinton) administration has shown courage in recognizing the scientific reality of global warming and presenting a real and significant plan for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions,” he said. “It deserves a medal.”
The senators working the conference hall 8,000 miles from Washington underscore the differences of opinion that divide the United States and the rest of the world, on how man-made emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases are affecting the global environment, and what to do about it.
Environmentalists echo Lieberman’s assertion that science has demonstrated that a variety of gases produced by the burning of fossil fuels that power the world’s economies are having a potentially devastating effect on the Earth. They hope the countries of the world can find enough common ground to agree on a plan to safeguard the environment without destroying economies.
Industrial concerns, and nations that depend on coal, oil and other fossil fuels for their economic survival, think the environmentalists sound like Chicken Little, and recklessly threaten to cripple economies from Washington to Prague to Sydney to Beijing.
“If we are going to risk economic growth and economic development in the United States,” Hagel said Tuesday, “then this is one senator who will not vote for that risk.”
After opening remarks Monday that staked out the disparate positions of the European Union, Japan, the United States and the world’s developing nations, delegates settled down Tuesday to discuss nitty-gritty details behind closed doors. In briefings, several said they were more optimistic after a day of private talking and little public posturing, although no one reported significant breakthroughs.
With huge differences on the table - including whether developing nations should be held to the same standards as industrialized countries, and whether different countries should be held to different targets for emissions cuts - all agreed on the enormity of the task.
“It’s mind-boggling,” Hagel said. “What we are asking countries to do in the next eight days is just unbelievable.” Said Lieberman: “It’s easy to become a pessimist here.”
The United States, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, has been essentially isolated at the conference. Environmentalists and the European Union, which has proposed the most extensive emissions cuts, say the United States is too weak on the issue and has a responsibility to propose far deeper cuts. The United States has proposed cutting emissions to the 1990 level between 2008 and 2012; the EU has proposed a 15 percent cut by 2010.
Representatives of industry, and countries such as Australia, which wants to significantly increase its greenhouse-gas emissions, say the United States has gone too far.