Gore Vows Flexibility in Climate Talks


In an effort to jump-start a stalled summit on global warming, U.S. Vice President Al Gore jetted to Japan today to say the United States would be more flexible in treaty talks aimed at slowing climate change.

The meeting had hit a snag over how much industrialized countries should reduce greenhouse gas emissions, how soon they should do it and who will pay for it. Washington wants to make cuts more slowly than most nations, and although developed countries are exempt from making binding commitments at this conference, the U.S. is demanding that they waive the exemption and commit to measures negotiated here. Earlier this week, Gore had said that U.S. negotiators “would walk away from the table” if the treaty didn’t meet Washington’s bottom line.

But in an address to delegates from 166 countries who have come to the 10-day conference, Gore signaled that the U.S. would make concessions that could break the diplomatic logjam.

In a statement added to his speech just 30 minutes before he stepped onto the podium, Gore raised the hopes of frustrated delegates that there could be an agreement by the Wednesday deadline.

“After talking with our negotiators this morning, and after speaking on the telephone from here a short time ago with President Clinton, I am instructing our delegation right now to show increased negotiating flexibility if a comprehensive plan can be put in place--one with realistic targets and timetables, market mechanisms and the meaningful participation of key developing countries.”


The statement represents a breakthrough for Gore himself, who has been struggling to balance his own longtime environmental aspirations against political pressure from U.S. industry groups who say that the U.S. is committing to too much too soon. In his speech, Gore took a subtle swipe at groups that have questioned the premise that global warming causes environmental problems, comparing them to those who have espoused the tobacco industry’s denial that smoking did harm.

“To those who seek to obfuscate and obstruct, we say, ‘We will not allow you to put narrow special interests above the interests of all humankind,’ ” Gore said.

The speech energized the delegates and lobbyists buzzing around the edges of the negotiations.

“If there is one person in the world who has the history, understanding and reputation to bring this all together, it is Al Gore,” said Michael Oppenheimer, chief scientist of the Environmental Defense Fund. “If this fails, a large part of the blame falls on the administration.”

By the time he departs Kyoto, Gore will have spoken privately with ministers from Japan, Costa Rica and Mexico, and to the chairmen of the groups of developing countries.

He arrived without firm plans to meet with representatives of China and India, two countries who will join the ranks of the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases by the end of the century. Both have refused to make binding commitments to cut greenhouse gas production.