The World Summit on Sustainable Development, to be held August 26 to September 4 in Johannesburg, South Africa will focus on five key areas: water and sanitation, energy, health, agricultural productivity and biodiversity/ecosystem management. Not on the list, but a necessary aspect of topics like sustainable energy, is global warming -- the subject of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol which sets targets for reducing greenhouse gases.
Fully ratifying the protocol by the start of the Johannesburg summit has been a goal of treaty supporters. To come into force, it has to be ratified or otherwise accepted by 55 nations. Within those who ratify, there must be enough nations to, as measured in 1990, account for 55% of total carbon dioxide emissions of the group.
Treaty supporters, including the European Union, have been having some success getting countries to agree to emission limits. The protocol has now been ratified or otherwise accepted by 77 countries. The level of emissions of those ratifying so far is 36 percent. Japan, which produces 8.5% of the emissions accepted the agreement on June 4. Key to the success of the treaty will be ratification by either Russia or the U.S. which produce, respectively, 17.4 and 36.1 percent of the emissions.
But the U.S. has come out strongly against the treaty, largely for economic reasons and -- according to environmental groups -- has moved to quash discussion of global warming and the treaty in South Africa this fall.
"The U.S. has been active in trying to minimize discussions of global warming on the agenda," said Dan Lashof of the Natural Resources Defense Council. That is because any discussion that happened to take place, he told United Press International, would inevitably point a finger at the United States' stand against the treaty and what many see as the Bush Administration's failure to take steps domestically to reduce greenhouse gases.
For its part the administration has been doing "a whole lot of arm twisting to keep (discussion of the Protocol) off the agenda," said Stephen Mills, International Program Director at the Sierra Club.
Despite those efforts, all of the more than half dozen treaty supporters and opponents interviewed for this story agreed the treaty will likely come up in debate -- and most agreed it would make little difference to the United States.
"I would assume that in any type of forum like (Johannesburg) there is a lot of pressure particularly from, say the European Union, for the United States to take a second look at the Kyoto protocol and reconsider its position, said Charli Coon, Senior Policy Analyst for Energy and Environment at the Heritage Foundation. "I certainly expect it to be discussed but I don't expect to see the United States change it's position."
At least one expert thinks that full ratification, however, may not be far off.
Michel Gelobter, Executive Director, the Oakland, Calif., think tank Redefining Progress, does not expect a statement (about ratification) at the Johannesburg Summit. "That's not what I have heard," he said.
He does expect a statement two to six months later, however, specifically timed to squeeze American policy makers.
"They may well stage ratification within the European Union," explained Gelobter, "so that a bunch of countries come in at the same time -- so that people don't sort of dibble into ratification but, in fact, there is a key moment at which ratification is certain and they can make the best announcement that pressures the non-compliers like the United States."