The Foreign Service Journal - July/August 2017
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Kinney, then a mid-level

FSO, joined the office in

1989. In August 1990, State

pulled in Robert Reinstein,

a veteran trade negotiator

from the Office of the U.S.

Trade Representative with

a strong science and energy

background, installing him

as the OES deputy assistant

secretary for environment.

The OES Bureau’s first cli-

mate negotiating team—the

trio of Reinstein, Reifsnyder

and Kinney—enlisted the support of a career lawyer in State’s

Office of the Legal Adviser, Sue Biniaz.

In June 1990, President George H.W. Bush surprised every-

one—including the State Department—by announcing that the

United States would host the first round of negotiations for a

United Nations climate agreement in February 1991. With little

time, no money and no venue, the small OES team scrambled

to pull together an event in Chantilly, Virginia, that would host

hundreds of diplomats and scientists from around the world.

From the beginning, developing country negotiators argued

that climate change was a problem caused by industrialized

nations, and that developing countries would be the primary

victims. They maintained that it would be unfair for developing

countries to forego the fossil-fuel driven lifestyles enjoyed in the

United States, Europe, Japan and other developed nations. And,

in what ultimately became history’s greatest shakedown, devel-

oping countries sought to condition their support for climate

action on receiving, technology and capacity building from devel-

oped countries.

Following 18 months of tough negotiations, Pres. Bush

signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate

Change at the June 1992 U.N. Conference on Environment and

Development (the “Earth Summit”) in Rio de Janeiro. The U.S.

Senate gave its advice and consent promptly in October 1992,

reflecting a bipartisan consensus that is virtually unheard of

today. The UNFCCC set forth the ultimate objective of stabiliz-

ing greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations in the atmosphere

so as to avoid “dangerous [manmade] interference in the

climate system.” Among many other provisions, it articulated

the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities

and respective capabilities.” In essence, this justified putting the

burden for emission reductions squarely on developed countries

(the so-called “Annex 1”


The Kyoto Protocol:

DOA in the USA

By the mid-1990s, the

realization that rising

global emissions would

blow past the convention’s

initial goal—returning

greenhouse gas emissions

to their 1990s levels by

the end of the decade—

prompted calls from the

European Union and others for stronger action. Developing

countries continued to resist emission targets for themselves,

arguing that it would be unfair to expect them to give up eco-

nomic growth and poverty reduction because of a global problem

that was not of their own making.

Faced with growing economic competition from rising powers

like China and India, many Americans feared that higher (clean)

energy costs would put the United States at a severe economic

disadvantage to rivals having no emission limits. In July 1997,

six months before the conclusion of the Kyoto negotiations,

the U.S. Senate adopted the Byrd-Hagel Resolution by a vote of

95-0, expressing Senate opposition to any agreement that would

harm the U.S. economy and that did not require emission limits

for developing countries. Developing countries did not budge,

despite the efforts of then-Vice President Al Gore in Kyoto.

Faced with the unhappy choice between blowing up a deal or

going along with it in hopes of later overcoming domestic opposi-

tion, the United States went along with UNFCCC adoption of the

Kyoto Protocol, which imposed specific GHG reduction targets

only on “Annex 1” (developed) countries to be achieved by 2008-

2012. During its final three years, the Clinton White House never

sent the Kyoto Protocol forward for Senate advice and consent.

In April 2001, President George W. Bush announced that he

would not seek the Kyoto Protocol’s ratification, effectively pull-

ing the plug on a deal that had in any case been dead on arrival in

the United States three years earlier. This move angered much of

the world, prompting blowback in other arenas. Still, Russia’s rati-

fication of the protocol in October 2004 put it into force in 2005; it

was a clever move by Vladimir Putin that was less about combat-

ing climate change and more about isolating the United States.

Despite real U.S. progress on climate and emission reductions

in the ensuing years, much of the world saw the United States as

Pres. George H.W. Bush

signed the United Nations

Framework Convention

on Climate Change at the

June 1992 U.N. Conference on

Environment and Development

(the “Earth Summit”)

in Rio de Janeiro.