Last month Bush announced that he was abandoning the Kyoto Protocol, having concluded that the international agreement could hurt the American economy, particularly during a burgeoning energy crisis. Governments around the world condemned the President's stance as uninformed and even reckless, noting with outrage that the U.S. is home to 4% of the world's population but produces 25% of its greenhouse gases.
Bush is reluctant to sign up to an international agreement that would require American industries to install expensive new anti-pollution equipment in factories. The Administration insists that it has by no means spoken its last word on global warming and pledges a coherent if unspecified policy at some later date. It would like this line to be seen as thoughtful caution;
European and Japanese ministers visiting Washington during the last two weeks say it is political dithering.
And many governments are not willing to wait. Last week, members of a European Union delegation, which had been stonewalled by the Bush Administration in Washington, toured Russia, Iran, China and Japan to drum up support for the Kyoto agreement. The E.U. is keen to press ahead with Kyoto even without the U.S., but the Japanese, whose Washington delegation was as large as the E.U.'s, seem willing to wait at least until the Administration announces an alternative plan. "U.S. participation is very important," said Japanese Environment Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi. The Japanese also agree with the U.S. on several important issues such as emissions trading, which would permit countries that exceed their required cuts to sell credits to other countries, and counting CO2 absorption by forests as part of targeted reductions.
In a joint letter published last week in the Swedish daily Göteborgs-Posten, European Commission President Romano Prodi and Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson indicated a willingness to renegotiate parts of the Kyoto deal to meet U.S. objections. "It would be a tragic mistake to tear up the agreement and start over from scratch," they wrote. "We would lose time, and that would make us all losers." They also stressed that the E.U. would ratify the protocol with or without the participation of the U.S. The E.U.'s strategy and those of the U.S. and Japan may become clearer later this week when world environment ministers meet in New York to discuss last week's compromise proposals from Jan Pronk, president of the United Nations' forum on global warming, aimed at salvaging the Kyoto Protocol.
Bush's decision has energized environmentalists as well. Friends of the Earth one of the more than 5,000 organizations in 184 countries that make up the Earth Day Network is urging the world to "give President Bush a taste of what climate change means and how much people are concerned about it" by flooding the White House with e-mails. Even before Bush's move, this year's Earth Day activities were set to focus on fossil fuels and global warming. One of the most prominent events is Earth Car Free Day (April 19) with scores of cities around the world participating.
For all the storm Kyoto has caused, its original provisions seem modest: a 5% reduction in emissions below 1990 levels for most industrialized nations, with the U.S. as the world's worst CO2 offender receiving an incrementally tougher 7% cut. Developing countries that signed the treaty would get a pass for a while.
Simple atmospheric arithmetic suggests that this kind of sliding scale for emissions makes sense, but a closer look explains the Administration's objections. The category of developing countries, for the purposes of the accord, included China and India, major powers by almost any measure. Giving two such heavyweights a CO2 waiver while the U.S. had to carry its share was galling to some. Proponents of the deal counter, as the biggest polluter, the U.S. should shoulder more of the reduction burden. Says Kjell Larsson, Sweden's Environment Minister and current President of the E.U.: "The U.S. has made it more difficult by using the argument of their economy and saying, 'We cannot afford to take action.' What do you think the argument from the least-developed countries in the world would be?"
Yet the cuts the protocol requires are deeper than they seem....