- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 25, 2001

The Bush administration had every reason to believe that the Bonn negotiations on the Kyoto protocol would be harmless. After all, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi had proclaimed, "presently I do not have the intention of proceeding without the cooperation of the United States," after meeting with President Bush at Camp David earlier this month. And Mr. Bush had called the treaty "fatally flawed."

It was so quiet that even the violent protesters had gone south to Genoa, Italy. All that ruffled Bonn's placid surface were faint burbles of conversations between the European Union (EU) and the Japanese delegation. It was too quiet.

Suddenly, a gavel cracked. A deal had been struck. Fax machines began chattering at high speed. Japan had taken the bait of several EU concessions. Japan's environmental minister, Yoriko Kawaguchi, rose on the applause of her European chums and everybody talked about reeling the United States back into the just-resurrected Kyoto framework. In Tokyo, Mr. Koizumi (who is attempting to woo independent voters for a parliamentary election on Sunday), proclaimed that Japan would make "maximum efforts" to persuade the United States to climb aboard. America had just been visited by a maverick attack.

Yet, the attack is being made by devotees of a relatively toothless treaty. Evisceration was the price Japan exacted for coming back on board with the Europeans. Under the Bonn agreement, there are no "legally binding" penalties for a given country's failure to meet its emissions reduction targets on greenhouse gasses - at Japan's insistence. Moreover, those targets have been lowered dramatically, thanks to the inclusion of emission credits for carbon sinks - areas, like cropland forests (or presumably, putting tees) that absorb carbon dioxide. In addition, countries failing to meet their emissions targets will now be able to buy emissions credits from other countries who have reduced their emissions below targeted levels. Due to its carbon sink credits, Japan's required reductions have been cut by an estimated two-thirds. Between carbon credits and emissions trading, the Bonn agreement essentially cuts the Kyoto reductions targets in half.

Even that might not be enough for EU nations to ratify. After all, Kyoto is not legally binding until 55 nations accounting for 55 percent of emissions ratify it, and to date only one of those countries, Romania, has actually done so. Despite that, European leaders have been almost unanimous in their condemnation of the United States for failing to join in what is now more than ever a largely symbolic process.

It is true that the United States failed to join in the gesture at Bonn. But as Condoleezza Rice, the president's national security adviser, pointed out, "The United States believes that this particular protocol is not in its interests." Nations are rarely willing to sign on to treaties that do otherwise, as recent continental-sized debates on EU membership and euro adoption so aptly demonstrate.

Nonetheless, European leaders remain free to adopt the newly reduced Kyoto protocols. In fact, with the United States continuing to stand firmly against the treaty, they can do so in the confidence that they will not be the victims of a maverick attack.

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