This week, environment officials, diplomats and other observers from around the world gathered online, and a small group assembled in person in Kunming, China, for the meeting, the 15th United Nations biodiversity conference.
The United States is the only country in the world besides the Vatican that is not a party to the underlying treaty, the Convention on Biological Diversity, a situation largely attributed to Republican opposition. American representatives participate on the sidelines of the talks, as do scientists and environmental advocates.
The person primarily responsible for the US not being a member of the Biodiversity Convention is William Kristol, who was Vice President Dan Quayle’s chief of staff when the Convention was negotiated. It was to be signed at a big UN meeting on the environment in Rio de Janeiro. There were two big agreements on the table, biodiversity and climate change. Because of pressure from the Republicans, mainly exerted by Kristol in Quayle’s office, then-President George H.W. Bush felt that he could not sign both. So he signed the agreement on climate, but refused to sign the agreement on biodiversity.