Global Climate Change - International Efforts And Global Warming
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In order to slow or halt global warming, many industrialized countries are committed to stabilizing or reducing carbon dioxide emissions. The first Bush administration (1989–1992) opposed precise deadlines for carbon dioxide limits, arguing that the extent of the problem was too uncertain to justify painful economic measures. When President Bill Clinton took office in 1993, he joined the European community in calling for overall emissions to be stabilized at 1990 levels by the year 2000. However, this goal was not met. The administration of George W. Bush has shown little desire to address the issue of global climate change. Oil interests in particular have vigorously opposed emissions standards, fearing that these will decrease demand for oil. Many environmentalists believe that fighting global warming will require advances in energy efficiency. Others have promoted a gradual shift from fossil-fuel burning to renewable energy, an idea most industrialized countries have been slow to embrace.
The Kyoto Protocol
The aim of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is to stabilize global atmospheric greenhouse gases at levels "that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system." In December 1997 delegates from 166 countries met in Kyoto, Japan, to formulate a plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions as the first step towards this goal. The task was more complicated and difficult than envisioned in 1995, when parties to the 1992 Rio climate change treaty decided that stronger action was necessary. The "simple" matter of deciding on a reduction target and creating a timetable for reductions broadened into contentious debate on several fronts.
Developed nations, such as the United States, argued that both industrialized and developing countries should be required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Developing countries, however, argued that because industrialized nations had caused most of the global warming, and were still emitting the bulk of global greenhouse gases, industrialized nations should bear most of the economic burden of the cleanup. It was ultimately decided that the Kyoto Protocol would address only emissions reductions for developed countries. There was also debate over whether development of carbon sinks—such as through the building of tree farms—could offset emissions targets. Many countries wanted sinks to be excluded, in part because their role in global warming has not been well studied and remains uncertain. However, the United States insisted on this carbon sink clause, which it argued would allow businesses low-cost means for complying with treaty requirements. Finally, the United States successfully battled to allow for emissions trading among nations. This permits businesses or countries to purchase less expensive emissions permits from foreign countries that do not need them, rather than cutting emissions.
In the end, the final version of the Kyoto Protocol called for industrialized nations to reduce emissions from 1990 levels by an average of 5 percent by 2008–2012. It was signed by over 170 nations, including the United States, which committed to legally binding emissions reductions of 7 percent below 1990 levels. European Union nations were required to reduce emission by 8 percent, Japan by 6 percent. However, ratification by 55 nations, jointly responsible for 55 percent of 1990 emissions, is required for the treaty to enter into force.
The United States has made no move towards ratifying the Kyoto Protocol since signing it. In fact, President Bush confirmed in March 2001 that the United States would withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol. Bush said that he believed the emissions reductions would be too costly. Christine Todd Whitman, Bush's appointed head of the Environmental Protection Agency, said, "We have no interest in implementing that treaty." The United States was responsible for 25 percent of global emissions in 1990, and it was widely believed that the treaty could not enter into force without U.S. ratification. Despite the withdrawal of the United States from the treaty, however, other countries, including the European Union, Japan, and Canada, have gone ahead with a modified version of the protocol. The Kyoto Protocol is one of several international treaties enjoying broad international support in which the United States has not participated. President Bush has since proposed alternative strategies for dealing with global warming based on tax incentives and volunteer emissions reductions by industry. These plans have been widely attacked as vague and unenforceable.
In June 2002 the Bush administration's U.S. Climate Action Report 2002 (U.S. Department of State, May 2002) conceded first, that global warming exists and is largely the result of human activity, and second, that global warming will cause substantial and far-reaching effects in the United States. The Bush administration has voiced support for adapting to these changes rather than adopting serious measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Soon after the release of the report, President Bush, when asked if he planned any new initiatives to combat global warming, responded, "No, I've laid out that very comprehensive initiative. I read the report put out by the bureaucracy. I do not support the Kyoto treaty. The Kyoto treaty would severely damage the United States economy, and I don't accept that. I accept the alternative we put out, that we can grow our economy and, at the same time, through technologies, improve our environment."
In December 2003 Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia, announced that Russia, the second largest producer of greenhouse gases after the United States, also would not ratify the Kyoto Protocol. However the European Union continues to be enthusiastic about the importance of the agreement, and announced in December 2003 that it was on target for meeting emissions reductions.
U.S. Public Opinion
A November 1997 Gallup Poll suggested that despite their concern about global climate change, Americans were unlikely to support strict measures regarding greenhouse gas emissions. Sixty-nine percent of respondents did not think global warming would be a threat in their own lifetimes, but 65 percent believed it would be a problem in their children's lifetimes. Even so, 48 percent said they were unwilling to reduce global warming if costs for energy went up. (However, 44 percent said they were willing to pay higher energy costs.) An even greater percentage—54 percent—said they would be unwilling to take steps to reduce global warming if unemployment would rise as a result.
Gallup conducted another survey on environmental attitudes in April 2001, coincident with the annual celebration of "Earth Day." Regarding global warming, most Americans surveyed said that they believe global warming's effects will be visible in their lifetimes. One-third of those surveyed said they worry about global warming "a great deal." In fact, a quarter of Americans believe that "immediate and drastic" action must be taken to help preserve environmental resources. A majority, 57 percent, also said that environmental concerns should take precedence over economic considerations when these clash, as they often do. Americans also disagree with several choices made by the Bush administration, in general favoring environmentally friendly choices on issues such as regulating industrial emissions, drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and participating in the Kyoto Protocol on global warming.
Finally, a March 2003 Gallup survey revealed that 75 percent of respondents favored increased enforcement of environmental regulation, and a similar proportion were in favor of mandatory controls on carbon dioxide emissions and other "greenhouse gas" emissions. Fifty-five percent were opposed to opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil companies. However, in this poll, respondents were more evenly divided on the question of environmental concerns vs. energy supplies. Forty-nine percent agreed that environmental protection should be a priority even at the risk of limiting energy supplies, while 45 percent took the opposite position.