President G.H.W. Bush and the Biodiversity Convention

While George H.W. Bush was President, the UN held a big environmental meeting in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, called the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in June 1992.  Two of the issues UNCED would consider were global warming and the conservation of ecosystems, species, and genes. The main climate change document under consideration was the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).  The main document dealing with conservation was the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).  

I was deputy director of the State Department office with primary responsibility for the CBD.  The office next door was responsible for the UNFCCC. The director of my office spent most of the year leading up to the Rio conference in Nairobi, Kenya, negotiating the CBD text that was to be presented in Rio.  

In preparing to go to Rio, President Bush basically said he could not support two environmental agreements.  His Republican base would not stand for it. He came down on supporting the climate change convention, but refusing to sign the biodiversity convention.  The job of opposing the biodiversity convention appeared to fall on Vice President Dan Quayle’s office. His chief of staff was William Kristol, who still writes and appears on TV regularly as a Republican pundit.  Quayle, Kristol, and their staffers made sure the US would not sign the CBD. My boss, Assistant Secretary Buff Bohlen, was disappointed at this result, because he had been president of the World Wildlife Fund, but he recognized that climate was a more urgent international  issue than biodiversity if President Bush could only sign one.
The UNFCCC continues to exist and holds conferences of the parties to the convention annually.  It provided a forum for negotiating the Kyoto Protocol on climate.  The Biodiversity Convention was signed by many nations in Rio, but not by the US.  It has 196 parties which meet every two years, most recently in 2016 in Mexico.

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