Albion Monitor /News

Gore Efforts Draw Mixed Reaction

Monitor Wire Services

"This treaty is being eaten alive...the fossil fuel industry is winning the day"
KYOTO -- Efforts by Vice President Al Gore to generate some momentum into the international climate summit on December 8 drew mixed reactions from U.S. environmentalists attending the conference.

"This treaty is being eaten alive...the fossil fuel industry is winning the day and the United States has been complicit," said John Passacantando, executive director of Ozone Action, a Washington-based advocacy group. "We need leadership. Gore's speech, though welcome, still leaves open many question regarding the integrity of the Kyoto Protocol."

In his address to high-level delegates from 150 countries last Monday, Gore signaled that the United States could make some compromises in the negotiations, but indicated that it remained committed to its original position on reducing emissions of greenhouse gases in industrialized countries.

Breaking away from the original text of his speech, the Vice President said he was "...instructing our delegation right now to show increased negotiating flexibility if a comprehensive plan can be put in place -- one with realistic targets and timetables, market mechanisms and the meaningful participation of key developing countries."

Environmental critics said that Gore sidestepped the opportunity to take a leadership role
U.S. environmental groups, however, said that while this statement raised their expectations, they were disappointed that it offered no concrete change in the U.S. position.

"We would have liked to have heard a more concrete definition of what the Vice President means by flexibility," said Greg Wetstone, legislative director of the New York-based Natural Resources Defense Council. "Gore's speech is nothing but a speech, but we hope it leads to a change in the U.S. delegation's willingness to compromise."

The last minute decision to send Gore -- author of the book 'Earth in Balance' which earned him the image of being pro- environment -- to address the conference carried some political risk for the U.S. administration. Just a few days were left in the international United Nations conference, and most of the fundamental issues remained unresolved -- particularly the extent to which industrialized countries should reduce emissions, and on what schedule. Also critical was the role of developing countries in the treaty.

While developing countries were saying they wanted to see proof of a genuine commitment from industrialized countries before making their own pledges, the United States argued that something had to be done about the greenhouse emissions from countries like China, which is expected to overtake the United States as the top polluter in coming years.

Gore said the U.S. government recognized that developing countries want to build their economies. "This is your right; It will not be denied." But the Vice President called on developing countries to accept emissions trading and other market-based programs that would have the effect of "mobilizing new investment in your countries to ensure that you have higher standards of living with modern, clean and efficient technology."

But environmental critics said that Gore sidestepped the opportunity to take a leadership role. "Vice President Gore is prepared to sacrifice any agreement which might protect the climate at Kyoto to the interests of the fossil fuel industry," said Paul Horsman, a Greenpeace campaigner. "He demonstrates no leadership in trying to solve the problem."

Chair of Scientists for Global Responsibility Dr, Phillip R Webber also reacted with skepticism to Gore's speech, telling the BBC that it was largely whitewash to appease environmentalists while keeping promises made to the oil-based industries by President Bill Clinton.

"The environment isn't something you visit in a 4-wheel drive vehicle whenever the fancy takes you," Dr. Webber said. "The Unites States is the biggest polluter of the global atmosphere and it must take significant and important steps to reduce emissions."

Other environmentalists portrayed the speech as a breakthrough.

"The speech provided the key to unlocking the global gridlock which has paralysed the negotiating process," said Fred Krupp, executive director of the Washington-based Environmental Defense Fund.

Representatives of the fossil fuel industries like the auto makers were cool to the speech. The most powerful industry lobby, the Global Climate Coalition, worried the Vice President's reference to flexibility suggested that the U.S. delegation was willing to compromise and go beyond the President Clinton's policy.

Previous Story Next Story

Comments? Send a letter to the editor.

Albion Monitor December 15, 1997 (

All Rights Reserved.

Contact for permission to reproduce.

Front Page