- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 9, 2001

Few issues have stirred such intense debate on both sides of the Atlantic as the recent conference on the Kyoto Protocol in Bonn. Some U.S. commentators have implied that the Bonn conference was being used to score political points against the Bush administration. Others have claimed that Europe has done nothing to fight global warming and lacks the political will to ratify and implement the protocol.
Such suspicions are unfounded. With respect to climate change, there is a deep and widespread concern throughout Europe, shared by all governments, regardless of their political orientation. They consider the challenge of climate change one of the biggest threats facing the world today and in the future. That was why we did our utmost in Bonn to reach an agreement on the Kyoto Protocol. True, the Bonn compromise may have a number of shortcomings. But the countries that have now recommitted themselves to curbing greenhouse gas emissions by 5 percent between 2008 and 2012 felt that it was better to accept a compromise permitting ratification of the protocol than not to have any agreement at all. EU member states are determined to ratify the protocol in 2002; preparations to do so are already underway.
For Germany, climate protection did not start with Kyoto. Over the last decade, my country has played a pioneering role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. For example, since 1990, carbon dioxide emissions have dropped by 15.4 percent; emissions of all six "Kyoto gases" are now 18.5 percent below 1990 levels. Some have hinted that this success in greenhouse gas reduction may have been due to a "wall-fall-profit," such as the closing of inefficient plants in eastern Germany since unification a decade ago. The reality is, of course, much more complex. Restructuring the East German industrial base and implementing modern environmental standards have been and remain extremely expensive undertakings for the German government. The success story of greenhouse gas reductions in Germany over the last 10 years is the result of close cooperation between government and industry. Last year, the two sides reached an agreement on the voluntary reduction of carbon dioxide emissions by 28 percent by 2005. German business leaders have recognized the opportunities offered by an aggressive climate protection policy. Today, German companies are world leaders in wind, solar and bioenergy technologies. More importantly, the fact that we have managed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions while maintaining economic growth demonstrates that the economy can continue to expand without higher levels of carbon dioxide-producing energy.
The Kyoto Protocol controversy between Europe and the United States is, however, a difference not in goals but in methods. The United States and Europe agree that fighting global warming is a priority, as recently reaffirmed by both the U.S. Senate and major U.S. companies. It also illustrates a more fundamental aspect of the policy debate on how best to address global issues. Confronted with the choice between doing nothing at all or accepting imperfect compromise solutions, Europe opted for the latter. This European pragmatism is based on our interpretation of international agreements as part of an ongoing process, and not as an end result. This approach also guides our policy on other international agreements the protocol to the Biological Weapons Convention, the land mine ban, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the International Criminal Court, etc. To be sure, all these agreements may have shortcomings in one way or another, but we believe there is no better alternative if we want to set internationally accepted and verifiable standards and get everyone on board. This is leadership by example. Who else could provide such political and moral leadership if not the United States and Europe together?
Such transatlantic differences should not cloud the fact that Europeans and Americans continue to agree much more often than they disagree. Together, we are the world economy's engine of growth. Together, we have built a multilateral trade system that we both want to improve. As NATO allies, we work together to preserve peace and project stability in Europe and beyond. We pursue the strategic aim of a just and stable peace for Europe, including a new relationship with Russia, which we no longer regard as an adversary but as a partner. And together, we strive for self-sustaining stability and democracy in the Balkans.
President Bush's recent reaffirmation of the principle of our Balkan engagement, "in together, out together," was a most welcome and significant message, underscoring the leadership responsibility that the U.S. government has consistently demonstrated in its commitment to Europe. When we work together in this way, on the basis of our shared values, only the sky is the limit. Without effective European-American cooperation, Mr. Milosevic would not be in The Hague today. If we lack the courage to cooperate, however, we risk undermining each other and, even worse, we risk sending the wrong signal to those who are not interested in a more just and peaceful world. Let's keep this in mind as we try to tackle our common global agenda for the 21st century.

Wolfgang Ischinger is German ambassador to the United States.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide