Last week the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on global climate change, beginning a process of Senate review of the international agreement reached last December in Kyoto, Japan. There likely will be critics on the left and right, denouncing this agreement to control greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming as either too little too late, or too much too soon. But in fact, the Kyoto Protocol represents an important achievement in the best interests of the US.
In order to secure an effective agreement that is environmentally strong and economically sound, President Clinton and Vice President Gore established three major objectives. As a result of Kyoto, we achieved the first two - (1) realistic targets and timetables for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions among major industrial nations, and (2) flexible market-based mechanisms for meeting those targets. The third, participation by developing countries, will be the focus of our work in the weeks and months to come.
In achieving targets and timetables for developed nations, we took a major step toward reducing the dangerous buildup of greenhouse gases while safeguarding US prosperity and competitiveness. Kyoto's multiyear time frame will allow nations, and our own industries, greater flexibility in meeting targets. A 2008-2012 spread gives us time to phase in change gradually, use new technologies, and cushion the effect on business and workers. Targets for the key industrial powers range from 6 to 8 percent below 1990 levels of gas emissions. "Sinks" - activities like tree planting that absorb carbon dioxide - can offset emission limits.
By ensuring that countries can use market mechanisms, we gain flexibility to achieve these targets and timetables. The Kyoto Protocol enshrines a centerpiece of this US market-based approach - opportunity for companies and countries to trade emissions permits. The US has had a positive experience with permit trading in the acid rain program, reducing costs by 50 percent over what was expected.
Our third objective was to secure meaningful participation of key developing countries, a Senate concern. Global warming, after all, requires a global solution. By 2015, China will be the largest overall emitter of greenhouse gases, and by 2025 the developing world will emit more greenhouse gases in total than the developed world.
Some developing countries wrongly believe they're being asked to limit their capacity to industrialize, reduce poverty, and raise living standards. We've made clear that we support allowing developing nations to grow - but in a more environmentally sound way, using technologies not available before.
The Kyoto agreement does not meet our requirements for developing nation participation. Nevertheless, a major down payment was made in the form of a provision advanced by Brazil and backed by the US and the Alliance of Small Island States. It established a so-called "clean development mechanism" that allows companies in the developed world to enter into cooperative projects in the developing world - such as the construction of high-tech, environmentally sound industrial plants - to the benefit of both parties.
Developed nations will get emissions credits at lower costs than they could at home. Developing nations will share in those credits; have access to funds from a small share of the proceeds to help them adapt to the impact of climate change; and receive the kind of technology transfer that allows them to grow without ruining the environment.
WHILE Kyoto amounted to a historic step, it is still only a framework for action. A number of challenges lie ahead. Rules and procedures must be adopted to ensure that trading rights, joint implementation, and the clean development mechanism operate efficiently, thus encouraging private sector participation.
Most significant, we must work to secure meaningful participation of developing countries. We will put on a diplomatic full-court press to achieve this. As president said, the US should not assume binding obligations under the protocol until developing nations participate.
A premature decision to walk away from the protocol would deprive us of the opportunity to complete its unfinished business. If we fail to take reasoned action now, our children and grandchildren will pay the price later.
* Stuart E. Eizenstat is undersecretary of state for economics, business, and agricultural affairs and headed the US delegation in Kyoto.