15 May 1998

Philip E Clapp, President, National Environmental Trust

Talking to The Millennium Debate

Frustrations with the American administration and the carbon emissions?

The Clinton administration has basically reduced the Kyoto protocol, the Kyoto negotiations, to nothing more than a media opportunity. The President has broken so far every major promise he made on major emissions reductions in the United States. And now he is actually back-pedalling on getting the kinds of reductions within the US that were promised in Kyoto. If you recall, the US promised a 7% reduction below 1990 levels in Kyoto, and now the Clinton administration is talking about a trading plan, which will allow the United States to get no emissions reductions domestically and allow them to buy them all overseas.

Is this within the terms of the protocol? Are they allowed to do this?

The protocol is actually a work in progress. The Kyoto agreement actually established a framework, and it left the details, for example of a trading system, to be worked out between now and November 1998 in Buenos Aires. And in working out the trading system of course you can reverse whatever numbers you agreed to in Kyoto. If for example, as the Clinton plan would do, the United States insists that yes we will get that level of emissions but we will buy it all in Europe and Japan.

Are you and your organisation opposed to the trading system?

No. The trading system I believe is essential for eventual ratification in the United States. But consistent actually with what Mr Meacher said yesterday, the trading system should be only a supplemental means of reduction beyond the domestic reductions that every country has committed to. So the US should be making its own domestic emissions reduction, the way the UK has, and then looking for supplemental reduction through the trading system.

The priorities for the US administration

Domestically, the administration missed a major opportunity earlier this year, and one where the President had made a promise to make progress on CO2 emissions in the US electric utility industry. A major part of the UK emissions reduction that came following the Rio summit had to do with converting your electric utilities from coal to natural gas. The United States had the huge opportunity to do something now as we deregulate our electric utility industry. The President promised in October that he would make a major down payment on the Kyoto reductions in his proposal to do that. And he omitted those provisions completely from his electric utility restructuring proposal. He has broken his first major domestic promise.

He has done this primarily, frankly, because of Vice-President Gore’s bid for the Presidency in the year 2000. There is a very clear feeling in the White House that the Vice-President would be attacked very strongly for driving up gasolene prices or for causing unemployment in the coal sector of the US economy, and that this would be costly to him in the year 2000 elections. And so the White House has decided to back-pedal and pretend that it is making progress on Kyoto, while doing nothing.

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