The United States entered INC I after receiving further conflicting evidence about the seriousness of climate change. In January a scientific report revealed concrete evidence for global warming as well as significant costs to the United States if some of the dire effects of climate change came to pass, while another demonstrated further uncertainty.135 In this context of scientific uncertainty and in preparation for the actual negotiations, the United States unveiled "America's Climate Change Strategy and Action Agenda," finally articulating what the United States was prepared to do to address climate change. The agenda focused on the no-regrets policy, and lacked emission reduction targets for carbon dioxide. The plan actually would allow U.S. carbon dioxide emissions to increase through the year 2000—eerily reminiscent of early EU ozone stances.136 The plan met with skepticism at home and abroad, given that many other Northern states had already committed to carbon dioxide emission caps or reductions.137 One congressperson was especially outraged at the lack of U.S. initiative and harangued Robert Reinstein, chief U.S. negotiator:
This plan is a joke. It is a national embarrassment. I would think you would be embarrassed. I am sure you are. Once you are out of the administration you will write a book and confess it.138
Even given the criticism and skepticism, the action agenda did frame U.S. negotiating behavior at INC I and from the agenda the United States derived five principles for the negotiations:
1. Comprehensive approach addressing all sources of the problem and sinks that ameliorate the problem (i.e., forests absorb carbon dioxide).139
2. Move forward with economically justified actions (no-regrets policy).
3. Pursue further research to increase scientific certainty.
4. "We must recognize the special situation of developing countries and take a number of steps to encourage their participation . . ."
5. Whatever response is chosen, it must be a global response.140
However, though the United States was in line with the international community on the need for universal participation—102 nations attended and the provisional agenda states that "the INC should be open to all States Members of the UN"141—the gap between the U.S. position and the rest of the North and South meant little substantive progress at INC I. The meeting did produce a tentative agreement to "focus future negotiations on 'appropriate commitments' to reduce carbon dioxide and to provide financial aid to developing nations that forgo use of the most polluting fuels."142 However, Reinstein reported to Congress that most of the progress was procedural—the setting up of working groups and other organizational matters.143
The debate at INC I, in that substantive matters were discussed at all, surrounded the related issues of emissions reductions and South-North concerns. As noted, the United States was adamantly opposed to binding emission reductions, disappointing both Northern and Southern states. The Northern states, especially those within the EU, focused on the urgency of the issue and hoped to begin taking actions immediately. They and the South also foresaw actions taking place on two tracks, as had occurred in the ozone agreements. The North would go first, and the South would follow. The U.S. refusal to accept binding measures upset the Europeans and, combined with U.S. calls for a global response, raised suspicions in the South. Southern states worried that the United States was planning to force the South to take actions concurrently to the North, hindering their development to solve what they saw as a North-caused problem. One Indian official argued that "the developing world should not bear this responsibility [curbing carbon dioxide emissions]," and that developing states should bear "no legal obligation."144
Again, the two-track approach (North takes the first steps, and is followed by the South) emerged as a consequence of universal participation in the ozone depletion negotiations. It was an early "carrot" the North provided to entice the South to join the efforts aimed at addressing ozone depletion. In climate change, the United States hinted that it wished to alter this consequence of universal participation. The United States began to frame universal participation as requiring universal commitment, a strategy enabled by its understanding of climate change as a universal problem.
Development assistance was the second contentious item on the agenda. Daniel Reifsnyder recalled that this issue came to the fore because India and the other Southern nations viewed the climate change problem in development terms, while the United States wanted to discuss it as an environmental problem.145 India proposed that "industrialized countries agree upfront to provide funding commitments . . ."146 The United States, hoping to keep the focus on environmental issues, opposed the proposal. The compromise reached at INC I was that both environment and development would be discussed.147
The rise of South-North issues, and especially funding, was not unanticipated in the United States. As Sue Biniaz (Legal Advisor, OES
Bureau, U.S. State Department) recalled, "[The United States] would have preferred to avoid the whole funding issue, but it wasn't possible to get the developing countries in."148 The United States saw assistance to developing countries to help implement their obligations as the cost of doing business149—the natural consequence of universal participation. The notion of universal participation is directly responsible for the linkage of development and environment in these negotiations. Without the prior understanding of climate change as requiring universal participation, the South did not have the leverage to force the linkage—the South may not have even been at the negotiations at all.
Despite the lack of substantive progress and the contentious debates at INC I, Jean Ripert, the chair of the meeting, was optimistic noting that all delegates agreed that the stabilization of greenhouse gas emissions should be the first step toward reductions; that measures were required to enable developing countries to become full partners in the negotiating process; and that those countries would need additional money and technology to reduce carbon dioxide emissions as they develop their economies.150
Though no negotiating text was formulated, and little substantive progress was made, INC I set the terms of debate and the stage for the following INC sessions.
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