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Negotiating the UNFCCC – Moving to the Endgame

In Part III, Robert Reinstein, the United States’ top negotiator at the United Nations, and Stephanie Kinney, one of the State Department representatives, give a behind-the-scenes look at some of the negotiating tactics and backroom dealing used to draft the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). They discuss the crucial negotiations in Nairobi, which marked the beginning of the endgame, and touch on the flurry of meetings around the globe, many of which were less than productive and resulted only in heated exchanges. Reinstein discusses at length some of the tactics he used in negotiating in a multilateral setting.

For example, when he was in Nairobi hammering out the first draft text, he refused to “waste my weekend” on further negotiations and instead headed out on a safari, where he invited key members of other delegations along to help break the ice. He explains the difficulties in negotiating with the European Commission, given its rigid positions arrived at in advance with its Members, how some countries like Norway and Japan would support the U.S. but not say anything publicly, and how he shared his thoughts with OECD colleagues via paper airplane. He also discusses the tortured consultation within Washington over the word “aim.” He also reflects on how he was able to slip in language that made the UNFCCC much more than a framework convention.

Read Parts I and II here.  Read more on the Montreal Protocol. Go here for other Moments dealing with negotiations. Read the text of the UNFCCC


Nairobi:  “This is not the stage where anybody is able to compromise, and I’m not going to waste my weekend”

REINSTEIN: We came to September in 1991, the third session of negotiations in Nairobi, and that was kind of the end of teeing things up and the beginning of the tough part of the negotiations. It was essentially the beginning of the end of the game.

The Nairobi session was the only time in the negotiations that I ever wrote out in advance an intervention. Every other one, as I mentioned last time, I simply did from the back of a piece of paper like this [shows a single folded piece of paper] with three or four tick points, and were recorded and transcripts made after the fact for anybody who wanted a paper copy.

I actually wrote the intervention myself and shared it with the U.S. delegation, and it was a long text because I wanted them to know what I was going to do, why I was going to do it, and how I was going to do it, because not many of them really understood the U.S. position, and not all of them were on board (particularly the Environmental Protection Agency).

I wrote it out and I circulated it and asked them for their feedback and comments. A few made a few minor helpful things, but basically it was it was essentially as I had written it. What we had in Nairobi was the first text of what the Convention might be — not a negotiating text as a clean text, but a compendium of everything anybody had put on the table so far in a single document.

That was the first time we had a document in front of us of what different people thought needed to be in the convention, and that’s the point at which you put brackets, square brackets, around text that you can’t accept, that is not agreed, and your country explicitly is on record as not agreeing.

So what I did in Nairobi is I put the brackets on this first draft text. My intervention was 45 minutes. I explained each reservation the United States had on the language so the rest of the world would understand where we were coming from. I explicitly explained that at that time coal accounted for 60% of the electricity generated in the United States and that we had the world’s largest coal reserves and we were not going to walk away from them.…

What I did in Nairobi was I explained what the U.S. interest was. Why our national situation led us to take certain positions relative to the language. Then I explicitly went through and indicated exactly where in the language we couldn’t agree.

So that first week in Nairobi was a watershed.

During the weekend everybody said we should work on this huge text to try to reduce our differences. They said we should spend the weekend having consultations, and I said, “It is clear that everyone has come here with instructions not to compromise, that everybody’s here to basically put their wants and wishes on the table. This is not the stage in the process where anybody is able to compromise, and I’m not going to waste my weekend.”

So instead we went on safari down to the Masai Mara, in southern Kenya, at a place called Governor’s Camp, and a whole bunch of other negotiators followed us.

Was it a ploy? Partly yes, and some of us said, “Well, let’s get the chief EC negotiator and push him out of the Land Rover when the lions are nearby.”

It was actually very good, but because it was a chance for the people to get away from the UN setting in a place where nature is incredible. If you’ve ever been on a safari, it is an emotional experience as well as an experience of nature and the animals.

But it was a chance for all of us who usually sat around in a very formal way to be outside, sharing beer, coffee and meals together in a very informal setting where we could get to know each other personally.

It goes back to what I said last time about chemistry, personal relationships being critical to the success, a real success, of a negotiation. So in that sense it was part of the game plan also. But it was also a message that the U.S. could see clearly that no one else was ready for a compromise and that we were not going to waste our time because we weren’t about to compromise either.

So there was a message for the negotiations by walking away for the weekend and saying, “No, no. We’re going to have fun. Take advantage.”…

Mind Games

One piece of theater was an incident I referred to briefly last time we talked. I was scheduled to have lunch with my new friend the chief Indian negotiator, Chandrasekhar Dasgupta (pictured), one day. In the middle of the morning plenary meeting, with thousands of delegates watching, I got up from the U.S. chair way in the back of the room (in English alphabetical order) and walked down to where he was sitting behind the India sign. We confirmed our plan to have lunch (not really necessary in the middle of the big meeting) and I made a little joke.


the rest of the world saw us laughing, you could almost feel the paranoia in the room. They were thinking, the U.S. and India are cutting a deal. But we already had a good mutual understanding about the end game. The main purpose of my going across the floor in front of the whole world was to put other negotiators off balance, to make them wonder and fret what was going on behind the scenes.

Between September and December I was working informally. In October I went to a UNIDO [United Nations Industrial Development Organization] ministerial in Copenhagen as alternate head of delegation to the equivalent to “climate minister” for the U.S., John Knauss, the Undersecretary of Commerce and the head of NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Professor Knauss is a wonderful guy. Anyhow the two of us went to Copenhagen, he as minister and me as alternate head of delegation. I had to negotiate the ministerial declaration again, full of the usual nonsense.…

But there was one example I think that was interesting. There was certain language in the draft declaration and I said, “We can’t agree to that language.”

Everybody said, “But you did agree! U.S. agreed to this in Bergen” (which was a developmental ministerial conference a few months earlier).

I said, “Well, I wasn’t in Bergen, and if I had been, I wouldn’t have agreed to this language, and I don’t agree to it now.”

They said, “But the U.S. agreed. You can’t walk away from anything you ever agreed to.”

I said, “Watch me. It’s bracketed, and the answer is no.” It went out of the text, and John Knauss was just sitting in the back of the room watching this and smiling. It was fun.…

“If I didn’t get what I needed for credibility in the final negotiations, I was going to quit as negotiator”

I met with people around the world in Geneva and Rome and Bonn and I met here in Washington with various members of Congress, including Congressman Phil Sharp from Indiana, who at that time chaired the House Energy Subcommittee under John Dingell’s Energy and Commerce Committee. Very knowledgeable, very reasonable, very helpful. I met with both Senate and House people who were in a position to understand, not just [Senator] Al Gore.

We had an economist brainstorming session in Washington on the 7th of November 1991. We invited former members of the Council of Economic Advisors like Bill Nordhaus, Rich Richels from EPRI [Electric Power Research Institute], and David Bradford, who was later a member of the Council of Economic Advisors, and we had a better part of the day talking about the economics of climate change and responses to climate change….

A week later I had a meeting in the White House with the people I was working closely with. Most people in the government did not know who my contacts were. I had a meeting with Andy Card, who was deputy Chief of Staff (pictured), and Boyden Gray, White House Counsel. Andy was the person through whom I communicated with John Sununu (then Chief of Staff) and himself was later Chief of Staff under George W. Bush.

Most of the U.S. government did not know that was my actual reporting chain was straight into the West Wing, and it was not in my interest for them to know. They had to think I was on a short leash from the White House. In fact, I had full authority from the beginning, but I just wasn’t going to tell anybody.

We had consultations in New York in November. We had more meetings. A key meeting was on the 27th of November. Part of my final end game was to quantify what U.S. actions were already doing to limit and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and to lay it out in some detail. We may not want to agree to targets, but that doesn’t mean we’re doing nothing. We were actually doing some individual measures which had larger impacts than the total emissions of a lot of countries.

The other part of the end-game plan was to commit some money for the developing countries. We could not come entirely empty handed, so we had a plan. There was the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) for funding environmentally related measures. The U.S. had given in-kind support but never had given any actual money, only technical assistance.

A bill was pending before the Congress which proposed that the U.S. would give $50 million to the GEF core fund. The White House was opposing it. I went to this meeting, which was led by Sununu, wanting a green light to quantify what we were actually doing to limit emissions and to get $75 million, $50 million for the GEF core fund and $25 million for individual country studies. What I didn’t tell anyone, including my own staff, was that if I didn’t get what I needed for credibility in the final negotiations, I was going to quit as negotiator.

I told Sununu (pictured) what I wanted, and he said, “This $25 million. How did you come up with that number?” This is a guy with 180 or something IQ. You can’t just blow smoke at him.

I said, “Okay, well, we’re going to do a mixture of very large countries, medium-size countries, and small countries. An in-depth country study for India or China, one of those countries, would cost about…” (and I had a number, but I forget now what it was), for medium-size countries, such and such cost and how many countries would be covered, and the same for small countries, adding up to the $25 million.

But there aren’t very many big ones. China, India, and Brazil. Medium-size countries, a lot more. Oh, Russia was included, and they got a country study. And for small countries, we could do a bunch of those. They didn’t cost that much, and we could work out a kind of template for doing them, snap, like that. In other words, we had done our calculations with some research and careful thought.

Sununu sat there and thought for about 20 seconds while I’m thinking, “Well, am I still going to be negotiator after this meeting or not?” He turned to the representative of OMB [the White House Office of Management and Budget], who I think it was Bob Grady who was then acting deputy director of OMB, and said, “Get him the money.”

Anyway, that was very critical. It was part of the game plan. Sununu left a couple of weeks after that.…

Lots of meetings and — finally — some progress 

I came back to Washington and started 1992 very quickly with a whole series of things. On the 6th of January lunch with Dick Lawson, the president of the National Coal Association. General Lawson (a retired four-star general) had been Nixon’s military advisor during the Nixon White House. He was not only a top military person, but he had been inside the White House, and he was a very important ally. He kept the coal industry from revolting against us doing anything on climate change.

The next day I had lunch with Bill Reilly, the administrator of EPA, the day after that Dan Reifsnyder and I went to see Pat Cody, U.S. director in the World Bank. We had a number of meetings with Pat Cody during early 1992 getting the World Bank to back us up on a number of things and putting some funding the way we wanted to see it done. I knew exactly what I wanted from the World Bank, and that’s why I got it, and that’s what Pat told Dan. He said, “Yeah, you guys know what you want and why you want it. That matters.”

So anyway, I was wiring things toward the end game. The beginning of the next week I had a meeting with Energy Secretary James Watkins, retired admiral, former Chief of Naval Operations, the top sailor in the Navy. He and I worked very closely through 1991 and 1992 and his partnership was also critical for the success. There were a lot of little things.…

That was the kind of meetings I had. At the end of January, the beginning of February, I went to a very nice informal conference organized by the Rockefeller Foundation at the Rockefeller estate in Bellagio, Italy, Lake Como. (Photo: Eric Cheng)

Ministers and chief negotiators from around the world were brought in to wine and dine and work with each other informally. That was also helpful in building and strengthening the chemistry.

From there I went up to Geneva for consultations and to chair the IPCC Working Group III meeting. I was the Chair of Working Group III on Response Strategies.

While I was in Geneva I had dinner with Jean Ripert, who just happened to be in Geneva. After the IPCC meeting in Geneva on the 13th of February I went to the Netherlands where I had breakfast with the environment minister Hans Alders, who got to be a good buddy, his number two, Mauritz Eindhoffen, who later wound up as Director General of the Environment Directorate General in Brussels….

So little meetings like that. I went from Amsterdam down to Paris for OECD meetings and more consultations, and an extended bureau meeting of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee, which was organizing the climate negotiations. The extended bureau was basically about 20 or 25 countries or regional representatives that were meant to represent a reasonable cross section of interests. All the big countries were there. It didn’t do much in terms of advancing the negotiations toward an agreed treaty text.

There were further consultations the next day in New York. I picked up a lot of frequent flyer miles. And then back to Washington for cabinet-level consultations, and up to New York for the next UN negotiating session. On the weekend there were consultations, and then on Tuesday I believe part one of the fifth negotiating session began.

Nothing was agreed. Things actually got a bit nasty, but a lot of meetings on the side in New York while we were getting nothing done officially. Again, different countries like Norway, Canada, and Germany. I went out to dinner with the Germans and made a connection there because my father had been director of German Affairs at the State Department in the 1950s, and the chief German negotiator knew my father’s name from his university days because my father was in the German history books. That helped….

By then I had some analysis done with some very nice color graphics, bi-charts and so on. Only six countries account for over half the world: United States, Russia, Japan, China, India, and Brazil. It was in February that I sat down with the other five individually over lunch, dinner, or whatever, coffee, and said, “Let me show you something interesting,” and I pulled out these nice color graphics and said, “There’re only a few countries that really count, and if we can find out what will work that’s half the world.”

The critical part of the end game was getting half the world on board to where I was headed, and that’s what I did. I had the other five in my back pocket in February 1992.

Playing the game with the European Commission and the OECD

No European country was included because they were negotiating as a unit, not individually, and their solidarity and adherence to negotiating positions worked out painfully among them in Brussels kept them from being flexible.…

The Commission was the key player. Number one on their agenda was to increase what is called in the European language “competency,” meaning authority. When I was a trade negotiator in the 1980s, I used to play some of the key Member states and the Commission off against each other. For example, the British were more reasonable in the 1980s on some issues, and I very often stopped in London on the way to Brussels. The Brits would share with me some internal papers and suggestions on strategy when I got to Brussels.

On the other hand when we were having a problem with, for example, the French, the Commission was with us and they would tell me how to deal with the folks in Paris when I went down to Paris after Brussels. So there was always a kind of game between the Member states and the Commission, and it would vary from issue to issue who your allies were.

As a trade negotiator I played that game through all the 1980s, even starting in the 1970s. I knew the game.…

Anyway, that’s where we were as of February. Nothing much happening. Al Gore was hanging around in the UN. I had to have coffee with him from time to time. By the February session, I also concluded that the so-called Common Interest Group, which was the OECD countries [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development] did not represent a common interest at all, and I stopped attending their meetings.

I would send poor Dan, my right hand, with instructions as to what to say (or not say) in those meetings, and Dan would go and follow his instructions, sometimes getting results and sometimes causing the meetings to completely explode and be adjourned. All of that was according to plan, and my non-appearance was intentional:  the chief U.S. negotiator, who had the real authority for the U.S., was refusing to meet with the other OECD countries, because all of them were pushing the binding targets, except the U.S., and they were not willing to compromise with us.

Q: Could they compromise?

REINSTEIN: Some could, but non-EU countries like Canada, Australia and New Zealand, were embarrassed to be grouped with the United States. They wanted to be good international citizens, Canadians especially. They always want to show that they’re not just like the United States. They’re really different. “The North American Nordic.” They’re green except for the fact they’re producing this heavy tar-sands oil with huge CO2 emissions because it’s economic.

Anyhow, nobody else was willing to work with us. A number of them silently agreed with us, but they were hiding behind us, and they would not say so publicly. The Japanese were careful. They didn’t push us they way the others did, but they were quiet as the Japanese very often are, so it’s a language problem.

KINNEY: Countries like Norway could have it both ways because they knew we were going to protect their interests by protecting our own. Our interests were shared; therefore, Norway knew that we would not let bad things happen on targets and timetables, for example. But, on the other hand, neither did they have to fight them because they knew we would, which allowed them to talk a good green game to their European colleagues and their own green domestic constituency.

REINSTEIN: They were just beginning major developments in North Sea gas which had huge increases in emissions, and they were looking for ways to cover their economic interests while looking good.…

“Let me float some thoughts, and I sailed this paper airplane over this long table to all these OECD countries”

At the end of the February session we stayed for Saturday and were working on something called the technology cooperation seminar. It was an idea we wanted to introduce, this idea of technology cooperation as opposed to technology transfer. The idea that we would work with people, where the technology was already in the public domain, which 90% of it was. We would facilitate its transfer and say, “Hey, here’s what we got. You can go to the internet.” The internet wasn’t really functioning yet but here’s how you can get it. There’s a small percent of technology that’s under patent protection and yes, intellectual property rights, and yes, you’ll have to pay for.

This argument is still going on and still, right now, one of the reasons why the whole UN process is deadlocked today. Same issue. Nothing ever goes away in the UN. That was in February 1992….

We had a game plan that was well thought out and articulated, Most of the rest of the world had not thought either long-term or broadly across all sectors of their economies to the degree we had. Also, the Norwegians hosted a seminar in Annecy, France south of Geneva, in December just prior to the fourth negotiating session, so they were pushing JI [joint implementation] right along.

We were being relatively quiet, privately supportive. They said, “Why won’t you support us publicly?” I said we had other things to contend with, bigger fish to fry.…

KINNEY: A large part of the message on our part was that we are interested in talking with anybody who actually wants to do something specific and concrete. Our point was that responding to climate change offers a great potential for international partnerships and cooperation at the operational level.

Diplomacy or diplomats get criticized for partying or conferencing but what you do and how you do it sends strong signals and constitutes a form of communication. In diplomacy, when one deviates from the norm, or ignores protocol, or offends, it should be for a purpose. For the U.S. not to show up at the Common Interest Group meeting at a certain point sent a very powerful signal without saying anything. Our investment in the Technology Cooperation Fair and the form this event took signaled something about us and our interest and our willingness and our seriousness on this issue. You always need to be paying attention to several levels.

REINSTEIN: One other anecdote about the February New York meetings. Over lunch toward the end of them, Stephanie and Dan and I went out to lunch and had hamburgers at a local place on the corner near the UN. We had one of these legal steno pads. I wrote down some thoughts as to general concepts of how I thought things should come out on this handwritten piece of paper.

Well, it wasn’t a map. It was a steno pad, and it was only one page, so nobody would think this is an official U.S. position of any kind.

After I was done, I spilled catsup on it and wiped it off so you could still read it, and then I crumpled it up and then smoothed it out, and I made a paper airplane out of it. We had a very informal OECD meeting after lunch (it was one of the few I did go to). They asked, “Well, what’s the U.S. going to do?”

I said, “Well, we have thoughts about this. Let me float some thoughts, and I sailed this paper airplane over this long table to all these OECD countries, and everybody was grabbing for it and ran to the Xerox machine and made copies. Dan still has the original. It wasn’t exactly the way the convention read at the end, but the concepts were there.…

In other words what I was indicating was where I was headed, so they wouldn’t feel totally blindsided when I executed the end game. I did it in a kind of fun, light way. And also getting people to kind of laugh and be surprised. It’s part of it.…

Another heated meeting with Senator Gore

REINSTEIN: After February we came back to Washington, and things really began to heat up. I needed the money, and I needed the numbers, what our actions were actually doing for emissions.

At that point I was starting to meet pretty regularly with people in the West Wing, Boyden Grey particularly, the White House Counsel who had been one of my friends since the mid 1980s.

I had a one-on-one meeting with Al Gore on the 12th of March. He said, “You leave your people out. I’m going to leave my people out and just the two of us will go at it for an hour.” I said, “Okay, Al, I’ll be there.”

I knew Al pretty well. We went at it for an hour, and at one point he rolls out a chart as long as this table or longer, a 50,000-year record of temperature and atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations. He said, “Look at that. They march in lock stop, and this is absolute proof that CO2 causes global warming, and this is based on the geological record.”

Having scientific, training I knew how to look at his chart. I took a piece of paper, and moved it along the graph. I said, “It is true that the correlation between the two curves is extremely high, but if you look closely, you’ll see that the temperature goes up first and then the CO2 in almost every case where the two of them rise, so correlation is not the same as causality. If there is a causality behind this correlation, it’s that warmer temperatures cause CO2 emissions, which in fact is quite logical because as the average temperature rises, the chemical reactions which release the stored CO2 in the biosphere are speeded up.”…

He just didn’t want to hear it. He knew he couldn’t refute it because his own graph showed it. So he changed the subject. He said, “I’ll switch to something else,” and he tried to prove to me that we could eliminate fossil fuels in a very short time, perhaps by 2010.

Having spent seven years at the Department of Energy, the larger part of that as Chief of Economic Analysis of its regulatory programs, and with a science background as well, I knew that what he was saying was just way out, I mean fairy tale stuff. I said, “I don’t know how much you know about my background” (meaning my energy background), at which point he made the comment, “You’d be surprised what I know about your background. Don’t ever run for president.”

After my meeting with Al, I met with the Senate Energy Committee staff, who were much more substantive. The next day I met with Helga Steeg, who was in town. Helga was the Executive Director of the International Energy Agency in Paris, and I regularly met with her whenever I was in Paris. She happened to be in Washington the next day, and we met in Washington. So I was working very, very closely with the International Energy Agency on how all of the energy aspects of climate change were going to play out.…

The Endgame — “There is no way we can meet the CO2 stabilization target. The majority of you can’t either.”

REINSTEIN: End game, well. We had March and April leading up to the end of April final session (part 2 of the fifth negotiating session). Consultations were still going on when I was bouncing around between here and Europe and here and New York.

At that point there was a higher level group that met at the West Wing of the White House under [previously U.S. Trade Representative and then White House Counselor to the President, Clayton] Yeutter and included cabinet-level people. Previously, from the beginning of the process already before the first negotiating session, there was a senior political level group (under secretary and assistant secretary level) which met under the President’s Science Advisor Alan Bromley, a physics professor from Yale. A wonderful guy.

As it turned out basically, that latter group appeared to be supervising me, but they never gave me any instructions. I had my instructions from Sununu in the beginning, and no one ever said anything beyond that about what I was supposed to do and how I was supposed to do it.

In most of those meetings of the Bromley group, I was telling them what I was doing and how I was doing it, and they were nodding and asking questions and becoming informed. As we got very close to the end, it kicked up to the cabinet level, and it began to get very serious, so there were meetings in the West Wing, and one meeting with the President.…

There was some awkwardness in his final weeks also. [Under Secretary of State for Economic and Agricultural Affairs Bob Zoellick] and Bob Grady at OMB [Office of Management and Budget] were going to leave to join the presidential campaign in 1992, and the two of them had decided that it would be good politics for the U.S. to agree to a CO2 emission target. He tried to get me to agree to it and of course they both outranked me.

At that point Bob Grady was acting Director of OMB and Zoellick was acting Secretary for Climate Change because of [Secretary of State James] Baker’s recusal. I said, “No.” The two of them were high enough up that they knew I was really wired straight into the West Wing, just down the hall from the Oval Office, and so they backed off.

We couldn’t meet a target. We had analyzed it, and I understood the energy economics. It was not doable, and I just said no. Also, the way I looked at it what it would take to get a treaty through the Senate — you got to get 67 votes. If 34 senators are against you, no treaty, no ratification. I started out, “Alabama, Alaska…” and went through where either or both of the senators might be opposed. I got to 34 well before the end of the alphabet.

I knew it intuitively, but I actually had done the arithmetic in my head. We could not get 67 votes with any treaty that had a target, and this is why the Kyoto Protocol was never even submitted to the Senate. They had no prayer. No prayer. They wouldn’t even have gotten 50 votes. Forty, I think. Who knew? They would have been throw-away votes for people who wouldn’t have voted for if it mattered, but probably would have voted for it if they knew it would not pass. We get legislation votes like that too.

We did get the two things I needed for credibility. I got the money, but Grady leaked it to The Washington Post the day before I went to New York to announce it, so I lost the element of surprise.

In order to get the calculation of what our actions were doing with emissions, the Department of Energy and EPA had jointly been asked to make those calculations, and they couldn’t agree.

There was a meeting in the White House where Howard Gruenspecht from DOE, who was then Deputy Assistant Secretary I think, and Eileen Claussen, head of the Air Office from EPA, came with their differing views. They were called by Theresa Gorman of the White House staff, so the four of us sat there, and we fussed back and forth, and I said, “Look. I have a background in energy. I have a background in climate change. And either the two of you reconcile your numbers, or I’ll take responsibility and reconcile them myself and put the State Department’s name on it. I don’t have a problem.” This was about 6:30 in the evening. In 10 minutes I walked out with the agreed numbers.

But there was some tough stuff ahead. Two weeks before the final negotiating session, there were meetings in Paris. I went early, and on Sunday I met with the chief UK negotiator David Fisk. David was Under Secretary of the Environment Ministry and Chief Scientist and a very good guy. Very savvy and reasonable.

First, we had OECD consultations for two days, Monday and Tuesday. There were two different rooms. Dan Reifsnyder had to sit in a bigger room and get beat up, and I went in the smaller room where people talked about the targets. I actually had some flexibility, and I tried to signal to see if anybody was ready to compromise. We were only two weeks from the final session.

I got the comment from my friend from Brussels, “You seem to be making different suggestions here. Are you negotiating with yourself? All the rest of us have agreed on CO2 stabilization targets, 1990 levels by 2000. Are you negotiating with yourself?”

It’s the only time I ever took the gloves off. I said, “Let me be very direct with you. We have analyzed this. There is no way we can meet the CO2 stabilization target. It’s not possible in the United States.”

And I said, “The majority of you can’t either. Even though you have announced various things, the majority of you can’t meet a CO2 stabilization target, and if you want, I will go right around the room and tell each country who can make it and why, and who cannot and why not. Would you like me to do that?”

There was a lot of avoided eye contact. I said, “You go home to the cabinets in your countries, and you come to New York in two weeks and prepare to accept a compromise because we’re not agreeing to this target.”

It’s the only time I ever really got tough. There was one other American in the room. He said it was the most difficult thing he ever experienced in his life internationally — “just watching you.” It was the only time I ever took the gloves off. Some people don’t understand and mistake kindness and a kind of gentle approach for weakness. Every once in a while you have to kind of show them the difference between kindness and weakness.

“‘We have a deal, don’t back out on it.’”

Then we had three days of informal consultations of the extended bureau of the UN negotiating group in another part of Paris. For three days we talked, and it was very obvious there was no compromise. There was no convergence at all. We walked out, and as we were walking out, David Fisk walked up to me and asked, “What do you need?” I explained conceptually what I needed.

He said, “What if we separate the commitment to address emissions from the idea of what the emission trend might be (e.g., the idea of going back to an earlier level), so the two ideas are in two separate paragraphs?” We kicked it around while waiting outside, and I said, “It might work.” He said, “Would you write it up?”

I came back to Washington and I wrote the text that I thought we could live with. I had to circulate it at cabinet level to the White House group that Yeutter was overseeing it.

I got agreement. There were minor changes. [OMB Director] Dick Darman wanted to put in the need for economic development, economic growth, and things like that, as things that had to be taken into account. I put those things in, and a few other things the cabinet-level people wanted. Most of the text was my language. We went back and forth between Washington and London by faxes. E-mail was still wasn’t available. The British asked for a couple minor changes.…

Then Bush called John Major, British Prime Minister, and said, “We have a deal. Don’t back out on it.” Then he called French President Mitterrand and said, “We have language we can agree to. My man is bringing it to New York. Tell your man,” who was French and was chairing the negotiations, “to put it into the Chairman’s text.” Then he called German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and said, “My guy’s coming to New York with a text that I can live with. Tell your people not to mess it up or I don’t go to Rio.”

Three phone calls. The four biggest Atlantic countries counting the U.S., and that was it. I already had the other five of the Big Six outside of Europe (Russia, Japan, China, India and Brazil) in my back pocket months earlier.…

One final hurdle over one word

The New Zealanders came and wanted to add one more factor:  available technology. The majority of their emissions were methane from sheep. Then near the end, my German friend (who had known my father’s name) came to me and said, “The original language said with a ‘guideline’ of returning to earlier levels.” He said, “Could we have another English word that has a history in the negotiations, either aim or goal? The word ‘guideline’ has never appeared in the history.” He said that in German, aim, goal, or guideline are all the same. It’s all Ziel. He said, “It’s not the meaning. I need a word that has appeared before. An English word that’s appeared before. Aim or goal.”

I had to go back to the cabinet level which had cleared the original text, and I called Yeutter at the White House and said, “The Germans need to have this word changed.”

He called me back after a few hours, after he connected with the various people and he said, “Three people can back you:  Bill Reilly from EPA, Mike Deland (the head of the Council on Environmental Quality), and Brent Scowcroft, the National Security Advisor. And then there’s a group in the middle including the Secretary of Energy.” He said, “I have reservations, too. There’s a gang at the other end who says, ‘You’ve already gone way farther than we should. Walk out of negotiations now.’”

So it’s one-third, one-third, one-third. I have two-thirds of the cabinet against me.

I picked up the phone and called the Secretary of Energy, Admiral [James D.] Watkins, who I’ve been working with for over a year, and I said, “Look. Here’s the context,” and I explained it. Here’s a guy who’s the former head of the Navy, and he said, “The Germans are an important ally, I understand.” He said, “A goal looks like a target. If you aim at a target sometimes you miss. I could live with ‘aim.’” Great. I called Yeutter back and I said, “I got Watkins.”

Zoellick is out of the country somewhere in Eastern Europe, incommunicado, and Buff Bolan was just told to not even speak the word “climate,” so I had the State Department vote in effect, as well as being chief negotiator.

Yeutter said, “I’ll back you.” He said, “I’m going down the hall.” Sixty percent of the cabinet was probably still against us, and he walked into the Oval Office and he got the President to agree to “aim.” It’s going to be in my book. That was it.

I went back, and I gave the Germans “aim.” After that my counterpart and I were just like this (two fingers together) on the finance mechanism in Article 11, where our good lawyer had provided key help with language during an all-night negotiation among the key players on the 29th floor of the UN building. I had language that said we agreed to pay what we agreed to pay. It was buried in long UN language so it wasn’t that blatant, but that is in fact what the language says.

In other words, no up-front commitments. We’ll look at every proposal of every project on its merits. But we will pay up front for them to submit their annual reports that tell us what their emissions are and things like that. In other words, administrative support we committed to. That was a small ticket item. So that’s what we got.…

“They were cheering. They were crying. All the pent-up emotion of 15 months broke out.”

We couldn’t get agreement on the final text by Friday night, which was supposedly the deadline, and we ran all through Saturday. We got to 6:00 Saturday night and we still didn’t have agreement on the text. Poor Dan [Reifsnyder]. He said, “I have to go down the hall to the men’s room. Nothing’s happening here. I’ll be back.”

While he was there, my friend UN Ambassador Heider, from Pakistan, who happened to be chairing the Group of 77 in China that month (it rotates every month in New York) made a compromise proposal on language on the financial mechanism. I had met him in Paris two weeks earlier, and we had a good talk there. His proposal did not undo what I had carefully worked out with Germany.

Of course my lawyer was concerned. I looked at it, and, although I’m not a lawyer, I understand English and thought, “This could work.” But Ambassador Heider still didn’t have all of the G-77 signed off on it. He was putting it out tentatively, because he had about 80% of the countries who said okay, and the others just hadn’t answered yet. OPEC was still holding out.

I saw that it was the opportunity to strike, put up the sign [asking the Chair to speak]. I said, “Mr. Chairman, I would like to thank my friend and colleague from Pakistan for his effort in trying to find a compromise and although from a U.S. perspective it’s not perfect, I think we can live with it on the understanding that this completes the text of the convention.”

In other words, I hooked the entire convention on the acceptance of these four sentences. Then there was a 10-minute exchange in which most people didn’t know what was going on.

The Chairman then advanced it (I’m not sure he knew what the tactic was but I suspect the head of the Secretariat who was sitting next to him picked it up). It went from being the U.S. proposal to the proposal and eventually to my (the Chairman’s) proposal. Looking over the head of the Kuwaiti delegation, which was waving its sign, he said, “Seeing no more requests! I take it the proposal has been accepted, and we have adopted the text of the convention,” and he brought the gavel down 10 minutes from the opener by Pakistan to the adoption of the convention, at which point most of the room was totally shocked….

We had run more than a day over. When they realized what had happened, people stood up. They were cheering. They were crying. All the pent-up emotion of 15 months broke out. Poor Dan came back from the men’s room and said, “What happened? Why is everyone standing up? Why are people crying?”

Not a single minister ever entered the room the entire negotiating process from February 1991. The closest we came was having Al Gore as an observer sitting with me. Fifteen months from scratch to probably the most economically comprehensive international agreement other than a trade agreement, without a single minister ever coming, ever taking part in the process.


Lessons:  First, every negotiation is unique. Montreal Protocol is a very successful treaty but not a model for climate change. They’re quite different, and I wrote a paper on this in 1996 after I left government. Negotiations are not only unique in substance, but the players are often unique in terms of the chemistry between the key negotiators. But sometimes fortunately there’s overlap from other things, even trade over to environment, and it’s the personal relationships that really count that make things possible.

Work the domestic process simultaneously with, not after, you do your negotiations. Know what you can deliver, what you can actually ratify and implement honestly before you agree to anything. Know how much it’s going to cost, who’s going to pay.

And consult with the people who are going to be affected, who are the ones whose businesses and lives are going to be affected, and the people who represent them in the Congress….

I knew this from trade. When I negotiated trade agreements, I had to do this. You can’t get a trade agreement through the Congress if you haven’t worked it during the process, so I worked the climate agreement during the process. It was ratified in record time.

We submitted it to the Senate in September 1992. Bill Reilly (EPA administrator) and I testified before the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, and we got advice and consent from the Senate and deposited our instrument of ratification at the beginning of October.

We were the fourth country to ratify. The first three were small island states. But we were the first large industrialized country to ratify. Some people think we never ratified, that we refused to ratify. They confuse the Kyoto Protocol and the Climate Convention. [Go here to read the UNFCCC text.]

The UN Climate Convention, along with Montreal Protocol, is one of the most successful agreements ever done, and in it are various the seeds of the way out of the Kyoto Protocol dilemma. They’re buried in Articles 4.2(a), (b), and (d) [see below for text], and they were very carefully put in there with malice aforethought.

There’s a trailer at the end of the sentence of Article 4.2(d). When the EC was defeated on the target proposal, we agreed to a regular assessment of the adequacy of industrialized country commitments. The first one should be done by the first meeting of the Conference of the Parties (the supreme body of the Convention), which happened to be in 1995, and thereafter at regular intervals, the next one being in 1998.

What I added to that at the end of the paragraph was “until the objective of the Convention has been met,” which was to stabilize atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gasses at a certain level described in Article 2 of the Convention.

It was mathematically impossible to stabilize atmospheric concentrations at any level without the participation of the major developing countries, and I knew that. In other words, that trailing phrase was a hook that said it doesn’t matter if the industrialized country emissions go to zero, you cannot stabilize atmospheric concentrations. You have to come back to the question of the participation of China, India, Brazil, and those countries, and that was put in there as a hook. They didn’t discover it until after 1995. There has never been another assessment.

They tried to change the language to assessment of the adequacy of the implementation of commitments and the OECD countries said, “No, no. The language is very clear. Adequacy of the commitments themselves is not the same as adequacy of implementation of the commitments. We can talk about that separately under Article 7.”

There were a lot of things that were put in there for the future. Many, many things. There were far more in the Framework Convention than wound up in the original Montreal Protocol. The original Montreal Protocol didn’t really have a financial mechanism. There was some vague language on money, but it was not really fleshed out until the London amendment in 1990. We were way ahead of the original Montreal Protocol.

In other words, we were far more than a framework convention. Everything that would be needed for the long-term response to climate change was already in the Convention and was put in there very quietly in those two paragraphs that I wrote. They were never negotiated.

All the business about tropical rain forests that they’re talking about now, it’s all in there. Everything was put in there. Very quietly and without the agreement of the rest of the world. They didn’t even know where the language came from. They still don’t know. They think some people did it in some backroom, and the backroom was on the 29th floor of the UN.


Text of Article 4, Commitments, Para 2:

(a) Each of these Parties shall adopt national policies and take corresponding measures on the mitigation of climate change, by limiting its anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases and protecting and enhancing its greenhouse gas sinks and reservoirs. These policies and measures will demonstrate that developed countries are taking the lead in modifying longer-term trends in anthropogenic emissions consistent with the objective of the Convention, recognizing that the return by the end of the present decade to earlier levels of anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases not controlled by the Montreal Protocol would contribute to such modification, and taking into account the differences in these Parties’ starting points and approaches, economic structures and resource bases, the need to maintain strong and sustainable economic growth, available technologies and other individual circumstances, as well as the need for equitable and appropriate contributions by each of these Parties to the global effort regarding that objective. These Parties may implement such policies and measures jointly with other Parties and may assist other Parties in contributing to the achievement of the objective of the Convention and, in particular, that of this subparagraph;

(b) In order to promote progress to this end, each of these Parties shall communicate, within six months of the entry into force of the Convention for it and periodically thereafter, and in accordance with Article 12, detailed information on its policies and measures referred to in subparagraph (a) above, as well as on its resulting projected anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases not controlled by the Montreal Protocol for the period referred to in subparagraph (a), with the aim of returning individually or jointly to their 1990 levels these anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases not controlled by the Montreal Protocol. This information will be reviewed by the Conference of the Parties, at its first session and periodically thereafter, in accordance with Article 7;

(c) Calculations of emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases for the purposes of subparagraph (b) above should take into account the best available scientific knowledge, including of the effective capacity of sinks and the respective contributions of such gases to climate change. The Conference of the Parties shall consider and agree 1 This includes policies and measures adopted by regional economic integration organizations. 13 on methodologies for these calculations at its first session and review them regularly thereafter;

(d) The Conference of the Parties shall, at its first session, review the adequacy of subparagraphs (a) and (b) above. Such review shall be carried out in the light of the best available scientific information and assessment on climate change and its impacts, as well as relevant technical, social and economic information. Based on this review, the Conference of the Parties shall take appropriate action, which may include the adoption of amendments to the commitments in subparagraphs (a) and (b) above. The Conference of the Parties, at its first session, shall also take decisions regarding criteria for joint implementation as indicated in subparagraph (a) above. A second review of subparagraphs (a) and (b) shall take place not later than 31 December 1998, and thereafter at regular intervals determined by the Conference of the Parties, until the objective of the Convention is met.