Striking a New Deal on Climate Change

RICHARD E. BENEDICK

Striking a New Deal on Climate Change

The Bonn accord has given the United States the leverage to rewrite its short-term obligations and to lead the way to a long-term energy revolution.

Eight months after the international community’s startling failure in The Hague to agree on how to implement the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on climate change, some 180 national delegations, along with thousands of nongovernmental (NGO) and media representatives, somewhat gloomily reassembled in Bonn in the summer of 2001. Their goal was to revive the nearly defunct draft treaty–with the United States demurring but not interfering. The embattled protocol, with its politically skewed emissions targets (too strong for many industrialized economies in the short term, yet meaningless for mitigating climate change in the long run) was still relevant mainly because, in the words of conference president Jan Pronk of the Netherlands, “it’s the only game in town.”

To the surprise of most observers, the tedium of procedural maneuvers and bickering over voluminous papers yielded to high drama. Marathon negotiations at the ministerial level, led by Pronk, saw massive concessions by the European Union (EU) to Russia, Japan, Canada, and Australia, whose participation was now, without the involvement of the United States, essential. After two all-night sessions midway through the conference and a final “all or nothing” ultimatum by Pronk, all governments except the onlooking United States reached an unexpected “political agreement.” This concise but comprehensive 14-page document, cutting through hundreds of pages of still-disputed text, was intended to provide authoritative political guidance to working-level diplomats, who could now focus in the final four days of the conference on refining technical points. The delegates made further progress, but differences emerged on several key issues and time ran out.