RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
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A dozen years ago, Vice President Al Gore returned from Kyoto, Japan, with a climate treaty in hand, and it was already a dead letter. The U.S. Senate, which ratifies treaties, strongly opposed the deal. Yesterday, Al Gore returned to the Senate. This time, he offered advice on how to deal with the new climate treaty that will be negotiated this year in Copenhagen. NPR's Richard Harris reports.
RICHARD HARRIS: The federal calendar is packed with pressing business this year. One of the toughest deadlines is to lay the groundwork for the international climate talks in Copenhagen. Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, reminded his colleagues the new treaty will be negotiated in December of this year.
Senator JOHN KERRY (Democrat, Massachusetts): That means there is no time to waste. We must learn from the mistakes of Kyoto, and we must make Copenhagen a success.
HARRIS: To help set the tone for that, Kerry invited his old friend and colleague Al Gore in to offer the Senate advice. Gore happily obliged. First, he said, the Congress needs to settle on domestic actions that will reduce our own emissions and make us credible on the international scene. That's starting to happen with the stimulus package, and Congress has even bolder plans for later this year. But Gore also acknowledged one reason the Senate balked at ratifying the Kyoto Treaty was other major emitters in the world had no obligations to cut back themselves.
Mr. AL GORE (Environmental Activist, Former Vice President): The very fact that developing countries like Brazil and Indonesia, China, which is in its own category, have now begun to take initiatives, I think that makes it a very different situation.
HARRIS: Since Kyoto, China has overtaken the United States as the world's largest emitter of carbon dioxide. On the one hand, the rapid construction of coal-fired power plants is driving China's economic development, but Gore says some people in the Chinese government now recognize that runaway growth, if it comes with runaway climate change, could dry up their water supplies.
Mr. GORE: The great rivers of Asia, the Indus and the Ganges and the Brahmaputra and the Salween or the Irrawaddy, the Mekong, the Yangtze and the Yellow, all originate in the same ice field. And 40 percent of the population on Earth gets 50 percent or more of its drinking water from this melting pattern.
HARRIS: That ice field could be gone in 2035 as a result of climate change. That potential disaster is not going unnoticed, Gore said.
Mr. GORE: Recent statements by Chinese leaders have made it very clear that they are changing, and changing rapidly.
HARRIS: But so far, China has not promised to meet any binding limits on carbon dioxide emissions. And that was what the Senate demanded back in 1997 when the Kyoto Treaty went down to defeat. After the hearing, Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists underscored just how much the international landscape has changed since Kyoto.
Mr. ALDEN MEYER (Union of Concerned Scientists): We've seen a number of countries in the last year or so put forward very specific proposals for what they're prepared to do to reduce their emissions. We've seen that from South Africa, from Mexico, from Brazil, from other countries. And we know that China and India have analyses in the works. The question of binding is a tricky one.
HARRIS: China has been reluctant to make binding promises until the United States does. And since the U.S. wants promises from China up-front, it's a bit of a game of chicken at this point. Meyer says unfortunately, a lot of senators don't realize that developing nations are doing as much as they are.
Mr. MEYER: It surprises senators, for example, when they find out that China has in place today stronger fuel economy standards for new cars sold in China than the Congress adopted last year for the U.S. in 2020.
HARRIS: Yesterday, Al Gore started selling members of the Senate on the need to act and act fast. And while he had a very sympathetic audience at the Foreign Relations Committee, it takes 67 senators to ratify a treaty, and it's clear that there's a lot more convincing to do. Richard Harris, NPR News.
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