The economic crisis and nuclear standoff in Asia are thwarting the administration's efforts to get China, India and other developing nations to join the global warming treaty, a top U.S. official said yesterday.
"For sure, it's had a retarding effect" on the administration's goal of getting Third World participation in the binding cuts in greenhouse gases called for in the treaty, said Stuart E. Eizenstat, under secretary of state and the chief U.S. negotiator who drafted the treaty in Kyoto, Japan, last year. He spoke before the Center for National Policy.
A conference starting in Buenos Aires next week to hash out details of the treaty will not produce "spectacular diplomatic breakthroughs as we accomplished in Kyoto," he said, but the United States hopes to "consolidate our gains" and "shape the tools" for achieving the treaty's emissions cuts in the future.
The treaty has little chance of passing the Senate unless the administration gets major Third World nations like China, India, Mexico and Brazil to agree to binding emissions cuts like the ones imposed on the United States, Japan, European countries and other developed nations.
"We have no intention of submitting the treaty for ratification until we get the participation of developing nations," Mr. Eizenstat said, but he admitted that the global economic crisis and the Asian nuclear standoff have made that difficult task nearly impossible for now.
The economic sanctions the United States imposed on India and Pakistan after their nuclear tests this summer "had a severe and negative impact on our ability to influence them for climate change," he said, though the freeze in relations may thaw if they sign a nuclear nonproliferation treaty.
Meanwhile, Asian "tiger" countries like South Korea - which earlier had shown some willingness to accept binding emissions cuts - have been overwhelmed by the Asian financial crisis and are focused on trying to pull their economies out of recession, he said.
The bleak outlook for getting developing countries on board is the main reason environmentalists and Clinton officials say they don't expect President Clinton to submit the treaty for ratification before he leaves office.
Mr. Eizenstat said the administration has been most aggressive in trying to get the most highly industrialized developing countries like South Korea and Mexico to eventually make commitments to cut emissions.
"We not only have pressed hard bilaterally for their participation, but have achieved the backing of other countries to urge them" to make commitments as well, he said, suggesting that it may become a requirement for joining the club of industrialized nations, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Poor but populous countries like China and India have shown no willingness to cut emissions, he said, but some "middle-income" developing countries like Brazil and Argentina may be willing to make significant contributions.
Environmentalists say Brazil may offer to push cleaner fuels like ethanol and curb the destruction of the Amazon rain forest, which absorbs a lot of the carbon released into the atmosphere.
Some environmentalists fear that if the United States pushes developing countries too hard, and host nation Argentina moves to add voluntary Third World participation to the agenda in Buenos Aires, the talks could deteriorate into North-South name calling.
"A row could blow up," Michael Zammit Cutajar, the U.N. administrator of the treaty, said earlier this week.
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