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Deadlock at The Hague: a salutary crisis?

Op-ed from Greenpeace
For immediate release
4 December 2000


Deadlock at The Hague: a salutary crisis?

Saturday, 25 November 2000 will doubtless go down in history as a grim day for climate protection. But thanks to the European commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the worst was prevented. The European Union was able – for once – to resist American attempts literally to sabotage the environmental integrity of the Kyoto protocol.

Adopted three years ago, that protocol remains the only international treaty in existence to compel 38 industrialised nations to reduce "slightly" their emissions of greenhouse gases. Everyone, or almost everyone, agrees that this is no more than a small step towards protecting our climate. But rather than implementing this accord, some countries have been – and still are – desperately trying to limit even its modest scope and invent all kinds of get-outs, in the process ignoring what is at stake in climate change. The United States, backed by its Japanese, Canadian and Australian allies, is without doubt at the head of this organised chicanery. The failed negotiations in The Hague are the irrefutable proof of this.

Certainly, no agreement at The Hague was better than a bad agreement. The American and their allies claimed that the "architecture" of the Hague decisions were more important than whether or not emission reductions actually resulted. Yet their proposals on the inclusions of forests in the Kyoto Protocol would have resulted in a long term architecture which may have made it impossible to work out in reality whether emissions were reduced at all. And their proposals in the short term would have resulted in real emission increases.

For those who followed the negotiations in the early hours of that long Saturday morning, it is clear that proposals tabled during the final hours represented nothing less than an attempt by the Americans to emasculate the protocol so as to avoid having to take any real measures to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels within the US. The proposals would have led to an unavoidable increase in greenhouse gas emissions in the industrialised nations. That made them unacceptable, so - as President of the European Union - Dominique Voynet was right to reject them.

Despite the inevitable differences between some member states, the EU ultimately managed to overcome its own divisions and hold firm against US attempts at railroading a last minute agreement. The Union has, for now, upheld the environmental integrity of the Kyoto protocol.

At the conclusion of the meeting in The Hague, it is certainly possible to speak of a "crisis". But in this respect it is worth considering Chinese calligraphy, in which the symbol for "crisis" is made up of two other words: "danger" and "opportunity". So this crisis could well be a salutary one. Europe should move now to take advantage of its current determination to reach an accord with the United States which makes real progress in environmental issues without selling the already limited effectiveness of the Kyoto Protocol down the river. Without any doubt, now is the time to reopen negotiations and reach agreement with the United States, before President Clinton hands over the reigns of power to his successor. It is also incumbent on both the EU and the US to undo the damage that was done to relations with developing countries who were cut out of key discussions amidst the chaos of that bleak Saturday in the Hague. These two moves are essential for the success of the reconvened COP6 in the New Year.

Bill Hare, Climate Policy Director, Greenpeace International


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