Nov
22
2000

U.S. Coverage of Global Warming Talks

Rare, Not Well-Done

Delegates from over 160 countries are gathered at the Hague in the Netherlands this week for negotiations to finalize the Kyoto climate treaty, the 1997 protocol on combating global warming. Despite the high stakes involved in global warming, news coverage of the Hague talks in mainstream U.S. print media has been extremely sparse. National television coverage found in a search of the Nexis news database has so far been limited to one episode of CNN's Ahead of the Curve (11/20/00).

The foreign press, however, has devoted significant attention to the story, with many articles describing the talks as "deadlocked," and blaming what are seen as obstructionist U.S. tactics for the stalemate. Here's a sampling of headlines from overseas, all from November 20:

  • "Gas-Guzzling U.S. Under Fire at Global Warming Talks" (Agence France Presse)
  • "U.S. Blamed for Climate Treaty Talks Deadlock" (London Daily Telegraph)
  • "Climate Talks Fail to Close Rift with U.S." (London Guardian)
  • "U.S. Blocks Attempts to Cut Global Warming" (London Independent)
  • "Pollution Pact Under Threat as America Is Accused of Con Trick" (London Times)

One of the few U.S. outlets to pay attention to the Hague talks, the New York Times presented a quite different take on how the talks were going. Their November 20 headline: "U.S. Move Improves Chance for Global Warming Treaty."

What pro-environment move is the Times referring to? The Kyoto agreement requires the reduction of fossil-fuel emissions like carbon dioxide, of which the U.S. is by far the world's largest producer. The "new stance" that the Times celebrates is the U.S.'s new willingness to compromise on its demand that it be allowed to count forests as major credits in meeting the emission-reduction targets mandated by the protocol.

Since vegetation absorbs carbon dioxide, the reasoning goes, the U.S. should get points simply for not cutting down its existing forests. Counting such "carbon sinks" as emission reductions would allow the U.S. to skip many of the more expensive and inconvenient environmental measures the Kyoto agreement proposes, like redesigning industry to actually reduce pollution at its source. Essentially, the U.S. has gone from insisting on a measure that would allow it to sidestep emissions reduction requirements, to agreeing to negotiate on it.

While papers like the London Times described the U.S.'s latest proposal as one that "threatens to derail" the entire Kyoto conference, putting the U.S. "at loggerheads with Britain and the rest of the European Union," the New York Times went to some length to portray the U.S. as a constructive partner in the talks, saying that the U.S.'s "new stance" will "brighten prospects" for the Kyoto treaty's finalization, and that "despite outward discord," delegates "seemed poised for compromise."

Since the November 20 article, the U.S. stance the Kyoto talks has become even more controversial abroad. Some more recent headlines from overseas:

  • "U.S. Trying to 'Wriggle Out of Fossil Fuel Pact'" (London Daily Telegraph, 11/22/00)
  • "Explorers on the Trail of 'Carbon Sinks' Stir Spectre of Imperialism" (Financial Times, 11/22/00)
  • "U.S. Berated for Wriggling Out of Treaty Pledges; EU Fury Grows as Americans Try to Exploit Loopholes" (London Guardian, 11/22/00)
  • "Europe Rejects U.S. Call to Alter Pollution Targets; Americans Threatening Kyoto Gains, Says EU" (London Independent, 11/22/00)
  • "Chirac to Americans: They = CO2; He Firmly Urges the U.S. to Limit Its Emissions" (France's Liberation, 11/21/00)

The London Daily Telegraph (11/22/00) reported that after examining the new American proposal on carbon sinks, the European Union has found that, far from being a genuine compromise, the plan would actually "allow the United States to increase its emissions of greenhouse gases by 8 per cent, instead of cutting them by 7 per cent by 2010 as it is required to under the Kyoto treaty."

Conflict between the U.S. and Europe over this measure has become so intense that, according to the London Guardian (11/22/00), "there were signs" that the EU "was prepared to reach an agreement with other developed countries which excluded the U.S. if necessary." To date, the New York Times has not reported these developments.

ACTION: Please encourage the New York Times to continue their coverage of the Kyoto conference at the Hague, and ask them to improve it with more critical analysis of the U.S. role in the talks and of U.S. environmental policy.

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