Calling The US' Bluff On Kyoto
By Christopher Flavin
resident Bush has breathed new life into the global effort to combat climate change. In Europe, shock has turned to anger over Bush's hasty rejection of the Kyoto protocol. His rejection has also fostered a new determination to bring the protocol into force - without the US if necessary.
From Europe to China, consensus is growing that the world cannot afford to wait another decade for a new climate protocol to be drafted. From the ice cap at the North Pole, which has lost 40 percent of its thickness in the last decade, to the coral reefs near the Equator, one-quarter of which have been killed by rising ocean temperatures and other stresses, the Earth is telling us that we are entering an era of dangerous climate change that is already threatening human populations around the world. Already, economic damage from natural disasters has reached $608 billion over the last decade - as much as in the previous four decades combined.
By rejecting the Kyoto Protocol, the Bush administration has put the 180 countries that are co-signatories in an unenviable position. Reducing America's insatiable appetite for fossil fuels is essential to stabilizing the earth's climate.
The U.S. accounts for nearly one-quarter of global carbon dioxide emissions and is doing little to control them. Since 1990 - the base year for the Kyoto Protocol - U.S. emissions have grown by an additional 13 percent. In Europe, emissions have only increased by one percent. Growth in U.S. emissions over the last 10 years equal combined emissions increases in China, India, and
Although President Bush has argued that the Kyoto Protocol could damage the U.S. economy, not implementing the treaty would actually be more damaging. The Bush administration, with its deep personal and financial ties to the fossil fuel industry, is attempting to turn the country back to oil and coal - the energy sources of an earlier era. This will be a costly economic mistake. In the end, those countries that address climate change earliest will dominate the massive new energy technology markets of the new century - and create millions of jobs in the process.
Already, a number of countries are moving rapidly to pursue a new generation of 21st century energy technologies such as fuel cells, wind turbines, and solar electric generators. In Europe, the market for wind power and other renewable energy technologies is growing at double digit rates - and provides over 10 percent of the electricity in some regions.
Although it encourages these fundamental changes, the Kyoto Protocol isn't perfect. Ironically, this is largely because of loopholes insisted on by the previous U.S. administration. But a responsible U.S. government would have joined other governments in the now three-year effort to improve and complete that agreement, rather than insist on starting over because one of 180 governments had a change of heart.
Indeed, Kyoto is all that's now standing between us and a future of more severe storms and rising sea levels. It is time for Europe, Japan, and other nations to call the U.S. bluff and adopt the Protocol.
For many decades, the world has relied on the United States to lead the way in international environmental agreements. But that hope is now gone. Unlike the Clinton administration, whose opposition to Kyoto was tentative and opaque, the Bush administration's opposition is crude, unambiguous, and will not be reversed.
But now other countries, pushed together by the arrogant actions of the U.S. administration, are preparing to take a greater leadership role. Europe is being joined by Japan, which appears to have been pushed by the Bush Administration to abandon its traditional alliance with the United States on climate policy.
In an interesting twist, some in Europe are now arguing that President Bush's sharp rejection of the Kyoto protocol may have actually improved the chances that it will be adopted at a decisive meeting in Germany this July.
Christopher Flavin is President of the Worldwatch Institute in Washington. The
Worldwatch Institute is a nonprofit research organization that analyzes
global environmental and development issues.
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