Wait and watch

The US government is in transition. But why should the rest of the world suffer?

The US wants to delay the sequel to the failed November 2000 climate meet until the new Bush administration gets its act together. Along with Japan, Canada, New Zealand and Australia, the country has formally requested that the conference of parties to the un Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to be held in July 2001 instead of May, so that the Bush administration has time to prepare. Key US officials, including secretary of state Colin Powell, have said that the US will not be ready for the negotiations by May, because replacements for the outgoing climate negotiators are still to be announced.

And why should the entire world have to wait for the US to get its delegates in place and for those delegates to prepare for the meeting? Especially when any further delay at this crucial juncture jeopardises chances of the convention’s Kyoto Protocol coming into force? When every small delay in dealing with global warming increases the possibility of damage to smaller economies, particularly small island states, from climate change?

Rather than taking responsibility for its emissions, the superpower has focused on delaying the process by constantly naming new conditions for signing the Kyoto Protocol, driving negotiations to the least common denominator in attempts to minimise economic impacts on the US economy. Rather like Saudi Arabia, which has tried to delay adoption of emissions reduction commitments because it fears the impact of such action on their oil exports, and has now suggested continuing climate talks in November 2001. But while US non-government organisations (NGOs) have ridiculed Saudi Arabia for such suggestions, these groups seem to think "there is some basis for (the) concern" expressed by Powell and others. So does only the political situation in the US merit consideration? Why should the world make concessions for the US and not for any other country?

This is not the first time in the climate negotiations that the US government has asked for concessions to be made for internal US politics, and where US NGOs have backed their government’s demand. In fact, the rather ineffective Kyoto Protocol can be considered to be one big concession to US internal politics, and the senate’s reluctance to take any meaningful domestic action to control climate change. As a European NGO representative put it, "That is the way anti-American emotions are created. By asking the rest of the world to show understanding for some internal US mess or bureaucracy that would never have been accepted as an excuse had it been other countries than the US."