Universal Participation and the Development of US Stalling Strategies

Before the formal negotiations convened in 1991, the consequences of the U.S. understanding of climate change as a requiring a universal response were clearly evident. However, the question remains: Did the United States internalize universal participation, especially given their recalcitrant stance and implicit threat to not participate in the climate change regimes? The short answer remains yes. The universal participation requirement was the understanding of climate change that served to shape/enable U.S. strategic behavior.

In the late 1980s, the United States began molding a strategy designed to prevent binding emission targets, and the United States fomented debate with both other Northern states (especially the EU) and the South along three lines:

• The United States stonewalled any calls for binding emission reductions. The United States stood virtually alone among Northern states through most of the FCCC negotiations in its stance against binding targets.

• U.S. refusal to consider binding emissions raised suspicions in the South that the North-first principle enshrined in the governance of ozone depletion was at risk. This suspicion was enhanced by U.S. hinting that a global response entailed universal commitments (i.e., that the South should take on responsibilities as well), not just universal participation in the negotiations. The United States began to frame universal participation as meaning shared responsibility, in contrast to the North-first understanding inherited from ozone depletion. This hinting was a foreshadowing of the transition in universal participation to come in the post-FCCC period, but it was not a full reinterpretation of universal participation. The United States actually did not want binding commitments for any states. However, this action did foster debate with Southern states fully participating and fully adhering to the North-first version of universal participation that emerged in the ozone depletion negotiations.

• The United States acknowledged the need for and principle of development assistance and then proceeded to haggle over implementation of it, driving a further wedge between the United States and the South.

Crucially, these lines of debate or stalling tactics were founded on the idea that a global response entailed universal participation. They developed over the course of three years from 1987 to 1990.

Through most of 1986-87, the United States remained silent on potential actions to address climate change while Congress and the NGO community pushed for early action. In 1988, when the calls for international political action grew stronger, the United States downplayed the need for negotiations as "premature" and instead called for further research and greater understanding of the problem.104 According to Daniel Reifsnyder, the early strategy was to focus on the IPCC, waiting for it to provide a firm scientific foundation for further discussion.105 The United States was heavily involved in the IPCC process, heading up working group three—the response strategies group.106

In 1988-89, momentum for more substantive actions and discussions grew in the international community and Tolba was again playing a large role as UNEP was a major organizer of international efforts to address climate change. He argued that the MP was the first true global environmental agreement, and that a global warming agreement was the next logical step.107 The United States resisted the pressure to begin discussing negotiations and at the IPCC's response strategies working group meeting in February 1989, Secretary of State James Baker stressed the no-regrets policy (taking actions justified on other grounds such as energy efficiency measures), rather than international negotiations.108 In May 1989 Congress reproached President Bush for sending "the US delegation to the Geneva [IPCC meeting] without instructions with regard to the development of a convention on global warming."109 Subsequently, Britain's call for negotiation at this same meeting left the United States isolated in its opposition to negotiations.110

U.S. reluctance to accept negotiations became untenable when it was revealed that OMB officials had "doctored" a NASA official's testimony to Congress to make his conclusions appear more uncertain than they in fact were.111 In the wake of this domestic debacle, the United States suffered withering criticism from all corners. Now isolated domestically and with growing international momentum for negotiations, the Bush administration acquiesced and dropped its opposition to negotiations.112 President Bush invited the response strategies working group of the IPCC to a Washington conference designed to "begin to define a flexible framework convention."113 With the last obstacle removed, the United States and the international community began the long process of preparing for negotiations.114

The preparations began at the Noordwijk meeting in November 1989. The United States continued to demonstrate its commitment to universal participation and its refusal to accept binding targets. According to a Los Angeles Times story preceding the conference, "[T]he Administration has so far indicated that it intends to move at its measured pace and emphasize the importance of getting cooperation from developing countries . . ."115

The U.S. commitment to universal participation did not measurably influence the conference—sixty-eight states (roughly one-half North and one-half South) attended without any prodding. The U.S. commitment to universal participation never influenced Southern states—they had already internalized the universal participation rule. Conversely, the U.S. refusal to discuss binding policy actions left it isolated along with Japan and the

Soviet Union.116 The U.S. strategy, designed to slow the process, was to stonewall on the emission reductions issue. The United States clung to the discourse of uncertainty at Noordwijk, refusing "to commit itself to specific target levels and dates for reduction until it has done more research on the extent of the problem and the economic consequences of reducing carbon dioxide emissions."117 This strategy was especially effective, though not environmentally friendly, given the universal context. The South was hoping to hear a North-first commitment (as had been the path in the ozone depletion negotiations), and U.S. refusal to discuss emissions reductions thus expanded a U.S./EU conflict to a U.S./World conflict.

After Noordwijk, Bush's science advisor, Allen Bromley, defended the United States against the congressional criticism of foot dragging. He argued that climate change is a very complex problem and that other countries "were pressing for commitments" while lacking "an understanding of what they are committing themselves to."118 He further noted that the Southern states sided with the Europeans because the Noordwijk proposals contained no requirements for the South (the emission reduction proposals were designed for the Northern states to take the first steps).119

Already at Noordwijk, the lines of debate were being drawn. Underlying all debate was the notion that all states (South and North) should have a stake in the negotiating process as well as the responses to the problem. However, divergence appeared in the interpretation of this understanding. The EU and most Southern states felt that Northern states should take the first actions. For the EU, actions meant binding emission targets. The United States, cloaking itself in uncertainty and faced with the perception of staggering economic consequences, stressed common responsibility and universal, though differentiated commitments.

The U.S. strategy to slow the negotiations was to stress not just universal participation, but universal commitments—further expanding the U.S./South debate. This strategy, steeped in an internalized understanding of the requirement for universal participation, held throughout the early climate change negotiations, and continued into the twenty-first century. U.S. strategy would have been different had the climate change negotiations been North-only as they were in the ozone issue. Universal participation actually enabled U.S. recalcitrance in some ways as it allowed United States delaying strategies to focus on Southern commitments. Crucially, this strategy was only available because of the universal participation norm. In the early ozone depletion negotiations, the Europeans were similarly recalcitrant, but could not use Southern participation issues as a potential delaying strategy because the social context stressed the requirement of North-only participation.

The trend of U.S. refusal to commit to reductions continued in 1990—the United States remained the crucial stumbling block to the negotiations for a convention. At the third plenary meeting of the IPCC in Feb ruary 1990, while European states pushed for fast action, the United States resisted.120 At the White House Conference on Science and Economic Research Related to Global Change, President Bush emphasized uncertainties, and the European states were not even allowed to make statements during the plenary sessions.121 In fact a U.S. talking points paper advised [U.S. delegates] that it is "not beneficial to discuss whether there is or is not warming, or how much or how little warming. In the eyes of the public we will lose this debate. A better approach is to raise the many uncertainties that need to be better understood on this issue."122

Further, at the G7 economic summit in July, the United States again blocked agreement on global warming targets, stressing, "[T]he scientific evidence is shaky on all aspects of global warming . . ."123

The summer of 1990 saw the pace of preparations accelerate and the United States consistently hold its two positions. In June, the IPCC issued its report and with it came an unprecedented level of scientific consensus. The report did not alter U.S. convictions about scientific uncertainty, however, and the Boston Globe reported that administration officials claimed that the IPCC report was "insufficient to persuade the United States . . . to take action . . ."124 The United States also came under criticism for its leadership role in policy responses working group. Then Senator Gore badgered Fredrick Bernthal (head of the U.S. delegation to the working group) and claimed that "the US sat on its hands saying very little while the Saudis and some others blasted any policy option that would have led to reductions."125 He continued,

The working group chaired by the United States is called the Response Strategies Working Group. I kind of expected that you would come up with some response strategies, but apparently you did not.126

Bernthal replied to the attack "[W]e essentially proceeded with the policy as the President outlined . . ."127 Thus the United States prepared for the SWCC by focusing on uncertainty, while still hoping to "gain the adherence of the largest number of countries possible."128

Bush's science advisor, Allen Bromley, argued that avoiding targets was the best way to assure universal participation—especially since the United States eschewed the notion of North-first action and was pushing the South to accept concurrent commitments in any convention.129 The appropriateness of universal participation enabled the United States to devise a strategy to further its goal of no binding reductions. Critically, the United States was not using universal participation to achieve its goals, rather, the universal participation requirement was fundamental to the United States' very understanding of the problem. The United States did not convince other states to participate in order to slow the negotiations—the other states were already participating. U.S. strategies were preceded by the assumption of universal participation.

At the SWCC, a policy transition in Japan left the United States and the USSR alone in resisting emission reduction targets and commitments. Clinging to its reluctant stance, the United States was able to avert calls for specific targets in the ministerial declaration produced by the conference. The United States withstood enormous pressure from the EU, Congress, and NGOs and even claimed that the Europeans were secretly relieved that the United States held out against targets.130 In the end, the United States position was very simple: "We just don't believe in targets."131 The other major issue was development assistance. The Ministerial Declaration was again long on principles, recommending "that adequate and additional financial resources should be mobilized and best available environmentally sound technologies transferred expeditiously on a fair and most favourable basis."132

Implementation of developmental aid, however, was a more contentious subject, with the North backing the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) and the South pushing for new institutional mechanisms. This debate remained viable for the duration of the climate negotiations. Southern states, fresh from their success at the June 1990 London ozone depletion negotiations, hoped to achieve separate funds for each environmental problem all with the same equitable governance as the ozone fund. The North, in contrast, hoped to keep environmental assistance centralized and within the purview of institutions where they had more control. Here was yet another strategy/debate predicated upon a prior understanding of climate change as a universal problem—without this understanding it is not clear that specific funding mechanisms would have been discussed at this stage.

Thus at the close of 1990, the international community was poised to begin the actual negotiation of a climate convention with the first convening of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) set to take place in February 1991. The U.S. position heading into these negotiations, built in the 1988-1990 period, was clear. Driven by a universal participation rule model, scientific skepticism, and fears of economic costs, the United States pressed for universal negotiations toward a universal climate convention that would not contain binding emission reduction targets or timetables.

The U.S. strategy to achieve this goal was clear as well—argue for concurrent commitments from the South, fight the North-first targets supported by the EU, and agree with the principle of development assistance while debating implementation issues. All of these strategies presupposed a prior understanding of climate change as requiring universal participation, and the universal participation norm shaped the range of strategies open to the United States. As Reinstein, the head U.S. negotiator, testified, "We must recognize the special situation of developing countries and take a number of steps to encourage their participation, not only in the negotiating process, but also in the science, the research . . ."133 He further noted that "[t]hese negotiations, and any long term response to climate change will be effective only if the largest number of nations participates."134

The debates were thus clear as the international community prepared to undertake negotiations including most of the UN membership. The South, stressing Northern responsibility for the problem, looked for the North to take the first steps and to compensate the South with new funds/technology for any action they undertook. The EU, prepared to take on binding emission targets, looked to convince the United States of the need for significant action. And the United States, following a strategy founded on economics, uncertainty, and universality, prepared to thwart both of their efforts.

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