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President Barack Obama delivers remarks during COP21, United Nations Climate Change Conference, in Le Bourget, outside Paris, on Nov. 30, 2015. Source: Voice of America.

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The Clinton White House and Climate Change: The Struggle to Restore U.S. Leadership

Early U.S. Optimism Frustrated by Disputes over Greenhouse Gas Goals, Role of Developed and Developing Countries, Other Enduring Challenges

High-Level Documents Track Internal Debates and Public Disappointments, Prefiguring the Road to Paris 2015

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book #537

Edited by Robert A. Wampler, PhD

December 11, 2015

For more information contact: Robert A. Wampler, 202/994-7000 or wampler@gwu.edu

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Washington, D.C., December 11, 2015 – The Clinton administration came to office in 1993 determined to restore the United States as the preeminent global protector of the environment, but saw its hopes for a major climate treaty run aground on a series of international and domestic political and procedural setbacks, according to a selection of declassified and previously unpublished records posted today by the nongovernmental National Security Archive, based at The George Washington University (www.nsarchive.org).

President Bill Clinton's aims and experiences, as reflected in the documents, provide an illuminating backdrop for President Barack Obama's high-profile foray onto the same difficult turf at the Paris climate summit these past two weeks. The National Security Archive obtained the documents in this posting under the Freedom of Information Act. This is the second in a series of web compilations on United States policy toward climate change. The first compilation covered the Reagan and Bush 41 presidencies and appeared on December 2, 2015.

The records in today's posting string together a sobering narrative that opens with American officials sharing optimistic visions of recapturing for the United States a leading role on climate matters, following what the Clinton White House saw as an abdication of leadership by the George H.W. Bush administration. Over the course of Clinton's presidency, a laundry list of differences arose among key international constituencies. Questions ranged from how ambitious the targets for greenhouse gas (GHG) emission cuts should be, to the respective obligations of developing and developed countries, especially the roles of China and India. Battles with Congress over priorities and possible effects on the American economy and productivity further agitated the waters. Even before the landmark Kyoto talks of 1997, the administration found itself obliged to give up many of its "most cherished ideas" and to look instead for "fallback" options across the board, according to the documents.

This declassified snapshot of the Clinton record suggests a number of parallels with the Obama experience. The comparisons help provide a deeper understanding of the underlying issues that continue to challenge U.S. presidents – and other world leaders – in an area most nations agree is a vital priority but where consensus on solutions to the most contentious issues remains elusive. 

This Presidential Review Directive from early in the Clinton administration discusses the policy options for the U.S. in pursuing a climate change treaty. Document 1.

The Clinton White House and Climate Change: The Struggle to Restore U.S. Leadership

By Robert A. Wampler

Last week, the National Security Archive posted documents that illustrated how Republican Party views on climate change have transformed since the era of Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. Today, the Archive is posting documents from the Clinton presidency whose theme is not change, but a sense of déjà vu. These documents demonstrate that, in many ways, the challenges facing President Obama in his effort to reassert U.S. leadership at the ongoing climate conference in Paris remain remarkably, and for some dismayingly, similar to those the Clinton White House confronted nearly two decades ago as it also sought to reassert American leadership in reaching a climate treaty at Kyoto in 1997.

The similarities are marked, including the fact that the Clinton White House, like Obama's, entered office wanting to reclaim the high ground in climate change talks that it felt had been abandoned by the respective previous Republican administration, in both cases led by a member of the Bush family. [See also the documents found here for an earlier posting on the Clinton administration and Kyoto] Another similarity is the fashion in which diplomatic pressures in the talks and political constraints at home have clamped down on Washington's room to maneuver in the talks.

A look at the key issues confronting the delegations in Paris[1] reveals many points of congruence between the Clinton and Obama circumstances. Major issues in Paris this week that are echoed in the documents below from the 1990s include the degree to which the provisions of any agreement would be legally binding on the parties; whether an agreement should seek to establish a longer-term schedule for reductions; whether and how to differentiate the proposed reductions in GHG emissions and the means of implementing them among nations depending on different circumstances, especially in terms of developed vs. developing nations; what should be the agreed means for implementing the treaties and what tools should be available to provide financial or technological assistance; and how should the agreement deal with the historical role of developing countries in creating the current situation, as well as the projected role by developing nations in contributing to GHG build-up?

As the documents below show, the Clinton White House confronted a complex and often frustrating array of positions on these issues as it engaged with the other parties working on a climate change treaty. Early in the administration, the National Security Council assessed the policy issues and options surrounding climate change, and set out the case for seeking a treaty that would impose "firm and binding" targets for GHG emission cuts [Document 1]. Between 1993 and 1996 the administration worked to develop its preferred text for a new climate change protocol [Documents 2-4] in both UN and bilateral meetings, particularly with Japan, the host of the upcoming Kyoto conference. In early 1997, the Clinton White House submitted the text of its draft protocol for discussion at the UN [Document 5] and throughout the rest of the year fought to have its key features embodied in the final draft protocol to be discussed and adopted at Kyoto.

The U.S. found that there were a number of key sticking points on which viewpoints varied significantly. On such issue was the concept of differentiation, noted above. Another was the use of tools for greater flexibility in securing individual nation targets such as emissions trading or joint implementation to allow countries to secure credit for GHG reductions secured in other countries as the result of projects financed or directed by companies in the home country. One critical issue was whether to press for a clear pathway by which developing countries would take on GHG emission cuts in the future. Finally, there were differences with U.S. allies over what constituted "realistic" targets for developed countries (with some nations such as Germany seen as pressing for "unrealistic" goals that the European Union would meet in part by taking advantage of lower overall emissions resulting from German reunification). [On these and related points, and the U.S,. position, see documents 6-14]

President Clinton's Remarks on Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change (1997)

It was on the issue of how and when developing countries should participate by taking on firm and binding targets that the Clinton White House found itself most severely whipsawed between international and domestic policies in the negotiations. Ultimately, the Kyoto Protocol itself would founder on this question in the U.S. As the documents show, other countries strongly resisted the U.S. effort to have developing countries addressed in some specific fashion in the Kyoto agreement, arguing that this went beyond the mandate for the protocol talks agreed to at the first Conference of Parties to the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Berlin in 1995. [See, for example, Documents 8, 10, 11, 12.] A key contentious issue then and now was the role that the largest developing world emitters, China and India, should play.[2] On the one hand, Tokyo in particular was concerned about the impact of China's industrialization on Japan; as one Ministry of Foreign Affairs official put it, Japanese politicians would "raise a stink: if Japan accepts strict GHG cuts while Chinese industrialization sends pollution and acid rain over Japan. [See Document 4] On the other hand, China felt the U.S. proposals regarding developing countries went too far, and that priority should be given to reducing the developed world's GHG emissions.

Meanwhile, the Clinton White House was growing increasingly concerned in 1997 that even as many of the parties to the climate talks believed the U.S. position on developing countries went too far, at home criticism was mounting that the proposed treaty would not go far enough in establishing targets for the developing world. This is seen as early as March 1997; as one document notes, the U.S. push for joint implementation to provide credits for countries supporting projects in other nations that reduced GHG emissions was potentially critical for securing Congressional support for the protocol. The complex interplay of international and domestic politics on the developing world issue, as well as the question of how to measure each nation's GHG emissions and its compliance with any targeted cuts, is discussed in detail in Document 15 [see description below]. At home, some officials in the Clinton White House argued the issue "seems to have been created as a red herring to derail" the talks, as industry lobbies opposed to any treaty "have parlayed their message on developing countries into Congressional objections, full-page newspaper advertisements, and international consternation." The main thrust of these criticisms was that, barring significant commitments by developing nations to rein in their GHG emissions, any cuts accepted by the U.S. would result in a significant, negative impact on American competitiveness. In Congress, the opposition coalesced around a sense of the Senate resolution, drafted by Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV), with over 60 co-sponsors, which declared that if the new protocol did not include developing countries, the Senate would not approve the agreement.

In light of these challenges, by the summer and fall of 1997 the U.S. was apparently resigned to the likelihood the Kyoto protocol would not include developing countries as Washington wanted. The last two documents posted here [Documents 15 and 16] lay out possible fall-back positions and strategies for trying to square the circle of competing diplomatic and domestic political pressures to secure an agreement that could meet Congressional demands, including U.S. commitments that convinced the other parties Washington was serious about tackling climate change, and providing sufficient sweeteners to the developing world in the way of financial assistance to move them towards accepting binding commitments in the near future. While the U.S. needed to convince its negotiating partners it was ready to "walk away" from any agreement that did not address the future role of developing countries, politically such a step would create a fierce political backlash at home and abroad, since Clinton, Gore and other administration leaders had repeatedly called for success at Kyoto. At the end of the day, the developing countries issue, particularly with respect to China and India, would be the Achilles heel for the Kyoto Protocol in the U.S. The Clinton administration would not even submit the protocol to Congress for ratification, knowing it was doomed. Whether any agreement coming out of Paris is facing the same fate (as Republican leaders in Congress have already promised to sabotage the Paris summit[3]) will be seen in the new year 2016.

This document reveals how international and domestic political crosswinds scuttled the Clinton White House hopes for Kyoto. Document 16.

The Documents

Document 1: PRD-12/Global Climate Change. Policy Decision Paper; ca. February, 1993.

Source: Department of State FOIA

This Presidential Review Directive is the earliest comprehensive review of policy options and goals regarding global climate change undertaken by the Clinton White House. Set in the context of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change agreed in June 1992, the memorandum lays out the case for the U.S. to pursue an agreement that would establish firm and binding targets for stabilizing and reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, primarily CO2, which the previous Bush administration had refused to support. The basic challenge is clearly stated: "In short, the question is not so much whether the climate will change as a result of increased greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, but how much, how fast and with what effect for specific regions?" Merely to stabilize concentrations of GHG in the atmosphere would require dramatic reductions on the order of 60% in current GHG emissions.

To address this issue, the U.S. central goal was to reduce global emissions of GHG, which would require U.S. global leadership to set firm commitments for reducing GHG, pushing OECD partners and others to ratify and "aggressively" implement the 1992 convention, assisting developing countries in limiting their emissions, and promoting the development of new technologies. The paper goes on to assess the key policy options facing the U.S. in pursuing these goals with respect to the scope of the GHG reductions, how to achieve (and measure) them, and the timeframe for implementing them. The policy choices would have different consequences for the U.S. economy, achieving international agreement and determining how developing nations would be brought into the agreement. All of these would prove to be significant problems throughout subsequent efforts to secure a climate change treaty.

Document 2: Cable, US Mission Geneva 5650 to Secretary of State, July 31, 1996, Subject: Conference of Parties (COP-2), Framework Convention on Climate Change, Geneva, July 1996 (Unclassified)

Source: Department of State FOIA

This cable provides a detailed report on the proceedings of the Second Conference of Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Agreement, which met in Geneva. Much of the meeting was devoted to wrangling over rules of procedure, the convention's funding mechanisms, debates over agendas, how to acknowledge the second assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the work of ad hoc groups established to assist participating countries in implementing the Framework Agreement. These groups – The Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA), the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI); and the Ad Hoc Group on the Berlin Mandate (AGBM) – often served as the forums for initial maneuvering on larger issues.

For the U.S., the meeting's key accomplishment was the Ministerial Declaration, which was largely shaped by U.S. thinking. Deputy Secretary of State Timothy Wirth detailed the U.S. position on a climate change agreement, calling for one that set a "realistic, verifiable and binding medium-term target," met through "maximum national flexibility" as to means. In summary, the U.S. delegation felt the meeting had been a success in terms of advancing U.S. goals for an agreement. There was opposition to the U.S. position among some nations, especially on setting firm targets, and from the "industry naysayers" represented by NGOs such as Global Climate Coalition which lobbied sympathetic delegations, such as those from Russia and OPEC. Perhaps the hopes and concerns were best summed up in a statement by the UK environment minister who, alluding to their meeting in the main hall of the former League of Nations, hoped "that the world would do better with climate in the 1990s than it did for peace in the 1930s…"

Document 3: Cable, US Embassy Tokyo 10346 to Secretary of State, November 9, 1996, Subject: Climate Change: MITI Calls for Differentiation and Developing Country Involvement (Confidential)

Source: Department of State FOIA

This cable reports on a meeting between Assistant Secretary of State Eileen Clausen and MITI Director General Yasuhiro Inagawa to discuss their governments' positions on a new climate change agreement. As the discussion reveals, there were both agreements and differences on two key points: how the Annex I (i.e. industrialized) nations should meet their GHG reduction targets, and what role developing countries should play in securing these reductions. Inagawa outlined three key principles that guided MITI's views on climate change: a future agreement must focus not just on the medium term (i.e. until 2010) but also on tackling long-term climate change; since each country's CO2 emissions are based on a variety of factors, any future regime should call for reductions on a differentiated basis; and any effective regime must involve developing countries. Claussen replied that the U.S. agreed with the need to take a long-term perspective and to eventually involve developing countries, but disagreed on differentiation, believing it would be impossible to reach agreement on this point. Instead, the U.S. felt a new agreement should set a unified target for the Annex I members while giving each maximum flexibility in achieving this target. In this connection both governments had concerns about the European Union idea of a "EU bubble," which would set an overall target for the EU but let the individual members meet this goal through differentiated efforts. Inagawa also said MITI had reservations regarding the U.S. idea of an emissions trading regime as part of the mechanism whereby nations might meet their reduction goal.

Document 4: Cable, US Embassy Tokyo 11155 to Secretary of State, December 6, 1996, Subject: Climate Change: GOJ Preparations for AGBM-5 Meeting (Confidential)

Source: Department of State FOIA

Japan's continuing concerns about the U.S. proposal for an emissions trading regime and securing developing country participation in a future climate change protocol are the focus of this cable. Based on conversations with Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOF) officials, MITI remained skeptical about the trading regime. MOFO was willing to keep an open mind while awaiting a clear U.S. explanation of how such a regime would work – details that were essential if the U.S. and Japan were to cooperate on forging an international consensus on the issue. Tokyo also continued to focus on how the ensure that the next COP meeting in Kyoto would secure momentum to bring developing countries into binding agreements. To this end Japan was pushing a two-track GHG reduction proposal which would give nations a choice between per capital and flat rate targets, which Tokyo felt would be more attractive to developing countries by giving some room for their emissions to increase as their economies grew. In this regard, MOFA was particularly concerned about the impact of China's industrialization on Japan. As MOFA official Masami Tamura put it, "Japanese politicians would raise a stink if Japan is seen to be implementing a strict CO2 reduction program at the same time as China industrializes and sends pollution, acid raid, etc. over Japan."

Document 5: Cable, Secretary of State 18963 to IPCC Collective, January 31, 1997. Subject: Climate Change: U.S. Proposal for a Protocol (Unclassified)

Source: Department of State FOIA

This cable provides the opening salvo in the Clinton administration's efforts to guide the negotiation of a new international protocol to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The protocol, to be approved in Kyoto at the end of the year, would secure commitments to curb and reduce GHG emissions. Building upon presentations the U.S. had made in July and December 1996, it became an essential reference point for subsequent negotiations discussed in the following documents. The draft proposal was to be submitted as a basis for discussion at the upcoming Bonn talks [see document 8 below]. The basic points included binding targets for GHG emissions from developed countries in the medium-term; steps designed to enhance individual countries' flexibility in reaching these targets; and steps to advance the goal of bringing developing countries into the agreement. One key characteristic of the U.S. proposal was that it focused on establishing the concepts and framework for implementing the points outlined above, including such devices as emissions budgets and procedures for reporting on national compliance, but did not propose specific numbers for the commitments each developed country should make to reduce its GHG emissions. Important elements of the U.S. plan that would prove to be controversial centered on the steps to promote eventual developing country participation, and the elaboration of tools such as joint implementation and emissions trading to provide flexibility in meeting national emissions targets.

Document 6: Cable, US Embassy Tokyo 1020 to Secretary of State, February 5, 1997, Subject: Climate Change: GOJ Largely Supportive of USG Protocol Proposal (Unclassified)

Source: Department of State FOIA

Moving towards the Kyoto meeting, Washington and Tokyo continued to share major concerns about how to reach consensus on the new climate change protocol. This cable reports on briefings provided by the key Japanese government agencies involved in developing Tokyo's position on the new agreement. While Japan was still working towards a consensus among MOFA, the Environmental Agency and MITI on all the issues raised by the U.S. proposed protocol, in general Tokyo believed it could work with the U.S. proposal. However, a number of important issues contained the potential for disagreement with the United States.

The Environmental Agency had reservations about the U.S. proposal for joint implementation without including developing country emissions goals. Joint implementation would allow a country to obtain credits towards its emissions reduction targets through joint programs in other countries to reduce emissions. The EA was also concerned about the American proposal to allow a country to "borrow" credit for future reductions to apply to an earlier one, though it could accept the idea of "banking" credit for use in the future. EA continued to have concerns about differentiation and emissions trading (as noted earlier in Document 4). The agency also was now concerned that pressing developing countries to accept firm targets at Kyoto could derail the negotiations as well as open up the question of how developed countries would commit to financial support in meeting these goals. MITI continued to have doubts as well about the concept of emissions trading but was keeping an open mind on the issue, while MOFA was ready to find common ground with the U.S. so the two countries could move forward together in the negotiations. 

Document 7: Cable, U.S. Embassy Beijing 5483 to Secretary of State, February 19, 1997, Subject: A Cool Chinese Response to U.S. Proposal for a Climate Change Protocol (Unclassified)

Source: Department of State FOIA

This cable underscores the problem discussed in Documents 3, 4 and 6 above: the role of developing nations, particularly China, in efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions. A discussion with a Chinese Foreign Affairs official makes clear that Beijing thought the U.S. proposals for a new climate change protocol went too far in calling on developing countries to reduce their emissions. While China was still formulating its position on climate change, it did stand with the G-77 group of developing countries, and argued that the developed countries must first resolve their differences, noting that the European Union was calling for immediate mandatory emissions limits while the U.S. was reluctant to see limits imposed too soon. The Foreign Affairs official stressed that the developed countries must carry out the commitments they made under the 1994 Framework Agreement and the follow-on 1995 Berlin conference. The 1992 UN Framework Agreement was just that in China's view: a framework within which each country sought a solution to its own pollution and emissions problems according to its own conditions. For developing countries, one crucial condition was the need for economic development, which would rule out emissions reductions for the time being.

Document 8: Memorandum: Key Outcomes from the Bonn Climate Change Talks, March 3-7, 1997, ca. March 1997 (no classification)

Source: Department of State FOIA

In spring 1995, the parties to the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change met at the first Conference of Parties (COP), where they agreed to the Berlin Mandate, under which the developed countries agreed to accept legally binding commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Developing countries were exempted from binding obligations under the mandate. Since 1995, there had been regular meetings of the Ad Hoc Group on the Berlin Mandate (AGBM) to elaborate these commitments into the framework for a new climate change treaty. At the 6th session of the AGBM, held in Bonn on March 3-7, 1997, the U.S. secured what it felt was important progress in keeping its proposed new climate protocol "on the table," as all of the U.S. protocol provisions were included in the negotiating text. Berlin had provided the U.S. with its first opportunity to explain fully to all the parties its proposal, which "received favorable reviews . . . for being the most well-developed . . . and comprehensive text on the table, combining reasonable commitments, flexibility and strong compliance provisions."

The U.S. also used the meeting to pursue commitments from developing nations through a variety of means, including involvement in joint implementation programs, "no regrets" policies, a process for more advanced nations to "opt in" voluntarily to binding commitments later (also known as "evolution"), and a mandate for all nations to have legally binding commitments by 2005. The U.S. also continued to press hard for maximum flexibility in the national means for meeting its emission cuts, including emissions trading, joint implementation, and budgeting, i.e. banking current cuts to apply in the future, and borrowing from planned cuts to meet current targets. Summing up the American approach, "We are serious about taking the lead in addressing emissions – but we are equally serious that all nations must be part of the solution."

Document 9: Memorandum: Approach to Estrada (aka "Estrategy") March 18, 1997 (no classification)

Source: Department of State FOIA

This document provides a fascinating look into how personality issues sometimes played into the complex and interrelated policy process surrounding a new climate change agreement. Ambassador Raul A. Estrada-Oyuela was a career Argentine diplomat who was closely involved with climate change negotiations during the 1990s and beyond. He chaired the AGBM which was tasked with negotiating the climate change protocol to be agreed to at Kyoto, and so was a critical player from the U.S. perspective. At the recent Bonn AGBM meeting in Bonn, Estrada had taken a line that "fully protected U.S. Interests." Looking ahead, the U.S. now wanted to work with him as the AGBM tried to complete the task of drafting the new agreement during the final two meetings in August and October. This lengthy memorandum details the U.S. game plan for pursuing its desired points in the final text with respect to issues such as joint implementation, evolving developing country commitments, differentiation, emissions reduction targets and phasing, and emissions trading. In addition to the maneuvering and trade-offs that surrounded these international talks, a new factor was emerging: the role of U.S. domestic politics in the eventual success of any new agreement. This was one of the reasons the U.S. was pressing for joint implementation for credit, which "may be a crucial element in winning Congressional support for the protocol." It is also interesting to note that the U.S. was already considering an end game whereby last-minute opposition from parties such as OPEC to a Kyoto agreement might be finessed by having the chair of the Kyoto meeting declare the protocol adopted in response to a motion, possibly by the U.S., and hoping the ensuing acclamation would drown out the voices raised against agreement. If elected to chair the Kyoto meeting, Estrada had already hinted he was open to such a tactic: "Above all, Estrada is a showman with a zest for drama, and it is likely he would thrill to such a challenge, were he to chair the final COP session."

Document 10: Memorandum: Denver Summit: Developing Countries and Climate Change (Draft), ca. April 1997 (no classification)

Source: Department of State FOIA

As President Obama had (before the November 2015 Paris terrorist bombings dominated the subsequent economic summit in Turkey), the Clinton administration hoped to use the Denver Economic Summit on June 19-22, 1997, to advance its goals for the new climate change treaty and build consensus among the industrialized nations as negotiations on the draft protocol entered the final stages. This and the following documents lay out the specific U.S. objectives for the Denver summit, as well as for the UN Special Session held the following week to reaffirm the goals of the 1992 Rio environmental conference. This memorandum discusses the U.S. position on the contentious question of the role developing countries should play in addressing climate change. For the U.S., a crucial disagreement centered on how to interpret the 1995 Berlin Mandate: developing nations argued it meant they would not be asked to take on new commitments, while the U.S., pointed to mandate language calling for the parties to both reaffirm and advance the implementation of commitments taken under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. For the U.S., these were not empty words but "a roadmap for continued diligence to combat global warming…" In taking this position, the U.S. was at odds with the European Union and other nations that feared pushing developing countries to make a commitment at that moment could derail the negotiations. Against this, the U.S. in its proposed protocol called on developing nations to take a number of specific steps that would lay the basis for their eventual commitment to reduce targets, including implementing and reporting on "no regrets" measures and submitting an annual inventory of GHG emissions. These steps were deemed critical by the U.S. if the Kyoto agreement was to serve as the first step towards a more comprehensive, long-term approach to addressing climate change.

Document 11: Memorandum: Climate Change: U.S. Goals for the Denver Summit of the Eight, ca. April 1997 (no classification)

Source: Department of State FOIA

This position paper provides the basic points of the U.S. proposed climate change protocol, summarizes the course of the negotiations in 1997, and assesses the positions of the other key industrialized G-8 powers. The U.S. goal was for a Kyoto agreement that incorporated "realistic, legally binding commitments to reduce emissions;" maximum flexibility as to the methods to meet these commitments at the lowest cost, i.e., emissions trading and joint implementation; and global participation, including developing countries in the next step after Kyoto. The U.S. draft protocol introduced in January 1997 laid out a comprehensive design, but did not provide specific numbers for the reduction targets. At the March Bonn AGBM meeting (see documents 4 and 8 above) the U.S. proposal was incorporated into a negotiating text that included a number of key concepts, including binding emissions "budgets" for developed countries over a multi-year period; a focus on medium-term rather than unrealistic short term goals; maximum flexibility as to implementation, as noted above; and specific actions by developing nations that will enable them to take on binding commitments in the future.

The U.S, proposal did meet opposition at the March meeting, with the EU skeptical over the flexibility mechanisms and developing countries arguing any discussion of commitments by them fell outside the Berlin Mandate. While the EU agreed there was a role for developing countries in the future, they feared pressing this issue now could undermine the negotiations. As noted in previous documents, the U.S. felt some action needed to be taken to lay the basis for eventual developing country commitments, not just to secure global action but also to meet competitiveness concerns if developing countries were not included. Regarding developed country commitments, the EU, while presenting a unified "green" (but in the view of the U.S., unrealistic) position, was in fact divided. The EU proposed to meet the aggressive targets by sharing - the so-called EU "Bubble" - the emissions reductions windfall Germany enjoyed through reunification with the former East Germany. The UK had called for a common, single-year target for all developed countries, while France had supported differentiated commitments tied to national per capita emissions, a position that the host nation Japan had endorsed. Japan had also expressed concerns over pressing the developing countries issue, but to guarantee a successful meeting, was thought to be willing to compromise.

Document 12: Memorandum: G7/P8 Environment Ministers' Meeting – Climate Change, ca. May 1997 (no classification)

Source: Department of State FOIA

This document restates many of the points in the preceding paper, while providing new arguments to bolster the U.S. case for developing nation participation. The paper notes that an increasing percentage of greenhouse gas emissions were now coming from the developing world, with China already the second largest emitter and India the fifth. Within fifteen years, it was projected that developing countries would be creating most of the GHG emissions, so any realistic plan must include them. Acknowledging that it was politically impossible and economically unrealistic to secure developing country commitments to reduction goals at Kyoto, the U.S. continued to argue it was essential to agree on specific, concrete steps these countries could take, in line with the Berlin Mandate that would provide the basis for taking on reduction commitments in the future.

Another factor hindering near-term action was the "current state of deployment of existing climate-friendly technology and the pact of advancement and innovation in these technologies." To address this need, the U.S. wanted the industrialized nations to commit to increased public funding for technology development, initiation of public-private partnerships in key sectors where emissions and opportunities were the greatest, such as the U.S. Program for a New Generation of Vehicles, and increased efforts to promote technology transfer.

Document 13: Memorandum for the President from Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. ca. June 1997, Subject: The Denver Summit of the Eight, June 20-22 (with cover memorandum, Peter Tarnoff to the Secretary of State, June 13, 1997, Subject: The Denver Summit of the Eight), (Confidential/NODIS)

Source: Department of State FOIA

The next two documents reveal the careful balancing act the U.S. was carrying out in seeking to use the Denver summit to advance consensus among the industrialized nations on the need to address target change, but at the same time to hedge against "unrealistic" expectations on the part of U.S. allies. Here Albright lays out for President Clinton the key issues to be addressed at the upcoming Denver economic summit. She reveals how the U.S. hoped to use the meeting to strengthen consensus on climate change and other environmental issues, but without getting into specifics prematurely. As Albright stresses, "The Denver Summit is a high-visibility opportunity for you to demonstrate how the United States and its core democratic partners are harnessing forces of change and globalization in ways that are of direct and tangible advantage to our citizens." Environmental issues were but one key item in the agenda, which included bringing Russia into the discussions, supporting democracy around the globe, and addressing Africa's economic, political and security challenges.

Regarding environmental issues, Albright cautioned Clinton that he "will need to manage expectations," especially those of German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who wanted to use his trip to the summit and the ensuing UN General Assembly Special Session on Environment and Development in New York to "showcase" his global environmental leadership to the German people. To this end, Kohl had asked to lead the summit discussion on environmental issues and was expected to push for "deliverables" on climate change and other issues. The U.S. shared Kohl's priorities, but differed on tactics and "modalities." For example, Germany and the European Union were pressing for the "unrealistic" goal of reducing GHG emissions by 15% from 1990 levels by 2020. In response, Albright advised, Clinton should urge Kohl and the EU to leave the details to the UN climate talks while the summit leaders supported "meaningful but realistic reduction targets."

Document 14: Memorandum, Peter Tarnoff to Secretary of State Albright, June 16, 1997, Subject: Scope Paper, (Confidential/NODIS)

Source: Department of State FOIA

This memo addresses many of the same points as the previous document, with some new nuances. Tarnoff tells Albright that the environment "may be one of the more contentious topics" at the summit. The leaders of most of the Eight would attend the UN Special Assembly on environmental issues, and some were expected to demand deliverables that the U.S. and other nations were not willing to provide. Tarnoff echoes Albright's memorandum to Clinton in warning that the Germans and the EU will "press hard" on climate change, an international convention on protecting forests, and creating a new World Environmental Organization. Tarnoff advises Albright to push back against these pressures, reiterating the advice to Clinton on "realistic" climate change goals, avoiding a forest convention that would be largely meaningless, and pushing for reform of the existing UN Environmental Program instead of creating a new organization.

Document 15: Memorandum, Developing Country Paper (Draft 7/15/97), (with cover memorandum, Rafe Pomerance to Distribution List, July 15, 1997, Subject: Principals' Meeting: Developing Country Paper), (both Non-classified)

Source: Department of State FOIA

This memorandum prepared for an inter-agency Principals' meeting discusses the U.S. position on what would prove to be a major point of contention both internationally and in U.S. domestic politics in the long history of climate change negotiations: how and when developing countries should take on obligations to cut their GHG emissions. As the paper details, measuring relative contributions to GHG emissions was a complex undertaking that involved weighing the historical contribution of developed countries to GHG concentrations with the anticipated contribution of developing countries. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (1992) had set up differentiated levels of commitments for developed and developing nations, calling for developed nations to take the lead in addressing climate change with the goal of reducing emissions to 1990 levels, while developing nations were not asked to take on similar goals.

The Berlin Mandate, discussed above, took a similar position, but the U.S. wanted to lay out a path toward eventual commitments by developing countries in the protocol to be adopted at Kyoto. The U.S. proposed protocol had three elements on this point: 1) elaborating existing commitments; 2) creating a new category, Annex B, of commitments for the most advanced developing countries, a "halfway house" between limited and more extensive commitments, as had been agreed to by the OECD members; and 3) setting a mandate to negotiate a new agreement by 2005 that would include legally binding emissions targets for all countries, sometimes called "evolution" to mark the developing countries' progression toward accepting firm commitments. While nearly all of the parties to the Framework Convention had accepted the first point, most had rejected the other two as beyond the scope of the Berlin Mandate.

To address this impasse, the U.S. proposed a set of incentives, some within the new protocol, but importantly also outside, to work in tandem with "peer pressure and self-interest" to persuade developing countries. These incentives included strong bilateral assistance to help developing nations plot a "climate friendly path to development;" contributions to the Global; Environment Facility (GEF), which was designed to support the global benefit of development projects; and a proposal for joint development to foster private sector investment in projects in developing nations to reduce emissions and claim credit for these cuts against commitments made by the countries in which the private industries were based.

These U.S. proposals faced difficult waters internationally and at home. The memorandum outlines the positions of the key blocs in the negotiations. The developed countries were split on what targets they should accept and whether anything should be asked at this point from developing countries. The critical bloc of big developing countries followed the lead of its three key members – China, India and Brazil – in arguing that global warming had been caused by the developed world, so they should pay for the clean-up. Only when developing nations had incomes and per capita emissions equal to the developed nations would they take on commitments.

The role of developing countries had become a divisive domestic political issue in the U.S., where "the issue seems to have been created as a red herring to derail the negotiating process. Certain industry lobbies opposed to any action to address climate change parlayed their message on developing countries into Congressional objections, full-page newspaper advertisements, and international consternation." This opposition centered on two principal rationales: climate change could not ultimately be solved without developing country participation, and if U.S. cuts were not balanced by developing country commitments, the result would be an "immediate, significant and negative impact" on U.S. competitiveness. This opposition coalesced around a sense of the Senate resolution drafted by Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV), which had over 60 co-sponsors, warning the Clinton White House that the Senate would not approve any agreement that did not call for and adopt new developing country commitments. This political opposition was joined by the even more strident, position taken by the Global Climate Coalition of coal and coal-fired utilities, and by many manufacturing industries, which had actively tried to "delay, postpone or derail" the talks since they began.

Looking ahead, it would be very difficult to secure a final Kyoto agreement that aligned with the U.S. position. To meet this situation, the paper called for a series of steps, including 1) an intensive diplomatic campaign – involving ultimately the President and Vice President - to convince the other governments that the U.S. position was correct, and that the U.S. would "walk away" from any agreement that did not cover its developing countries concerns; 2) a domestic agreement with Congress on the level of cuts the U.S. would accept and which were sufficient to convince the other parties that the U.S. was serious about the problem and therefore "entitled" to demand more from developing countries; and 3) compromise with the developing countries, which would require giving up or postponing some of the administrations' "most cherished ideas." Last and perhaps most difficult to achieve would be the U.S. proposal for evolution to bring developing countries into the agreement with binding commitments by 2005. To secure this would "ultimately require high level contact and arm-twisting."

Document 16: Memorandum: Getting to Success in Kyoto: Strategy and Tactics, ca. September 1997 (no classification)

Source: Department of State FOIA

This memorandum sheds further light on the efforts of the Clinton administration to salvage an acceptable Kyoto agreement in the face of international and domestic criticism. Looking to the upcoming release of a "chairman's text" by AGBM chair Raoul Estrada (see Document 9 above) around October 1, the State Department now expected that neither the present U.S. developing country proposals nor any expanded set of obligations would be part of the text. However, the release of this text would provide a chance for the U.S. to call for a "fallback" involving two stages: 1) concluding an agreement in Kyoto that included elements acceptable to the U.S., particularly the flexibility provisions and definition of developing country obligations under article 4.1 of the Framework Convention, but not the Annex B and evolution proposals to provide a more explicit path for developing nations to take on commitments; and 2) proposing a Kyoto Mandate to negotiate a new agreement, linked to the Kyoto Agreement, that would involve all parties with agreed metrics for measuring GHG emissions. The Clinton White House would not submit any stage 1 agreement to the Senate for approval until the stage 2 talks were concluded. The rationale for this fallback reveals the complex factors that were whipsawing the Clinton White House. By this point, securing agreement in the talks on the original U.S. position was likely impossible, with the U.S. assigned the blame for pushing to secure developing country commitments outside the Berlin Mandate. On the other hand, the U.S position was also inadequate to meet the Senate's demands. Terminating the talks would create a fierce political backlash at home and abroad, as Clinton, Gore and senior administration officials had repeatedly called for success at Kyoto. The two-stage process outlined above would seek to bridge the divide between these two seemingly irreconcilable demands and lay the basis for continued talks, even though the positions laid out would still likely encounter criticism internationally and at home


[1] A very good overview of the issues at the Paris climate summit is found in Jane A. Leggett, International Climate Change Negotiations: What to Expect in Paris, December 2015, Congressional Research Service Report R44288, November 27, 2015, available on the Federation of American Scientists website. For early reports on the Paris summit, see "Paris Climate Talks: Clearing the Way for High-Level Negotiations, The New York Times, December 4, 2015; Steven Mufson and Joby Warrick, "Obama urges world action on climate change: No nation ‘immune' to global warming, Washington Post, November 30, 2915.

[2] On Obama's efforts to bring China and India into the effort, see Coral Davenport, "In Climate Deal With China, Obama May Set 2016 Theme," The New York Times, November 12, 2014; Coral Davenport, "U.S. and Chinese Climate Change Negotiators to Meet in Los Angeles," The New York Times, September 15, 2015; and Coral Davenport and Ellen Barry, "Narenda Modi Could Make or Break Obama's Climate Legacy," The New York Times, November 30, 2915.

[3] See Elizabeth Kolbert, "Congress Moves to Sabotage the Paris Summit," The New Yorker, December 4, 2015.