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Having rejected the Kyoto Protocol, in February 2002, President George Bush announced a unilateral, voluntary plan to curb global warming.

The Bush plan for the United States differs from the strategy laid out in the Kyoto Protocol in two critical ways. First of all, the emissions reduction goals are stated not in terms of greenhouse gas emissions per se, but in terms of greenhouse gas intensity. Greenhouse gas intensity is the ratio of emissions to economic output. Coupling emissions reductions to economic growth rates in this way, should, the Bush administration believes, reduce adverse impacts on jobs and the overall economy. The White House has claimed in the past that the Kyoto target for the United States would cost almost five million jobs.

Bush proposes a reduction in emissions intensity of 18 per cent in the United States over the next ten years. The Kyoto Protocol target for the United States would have resulted in a 33 per cent drop in intensity over this period. In terms of actual emissions reductions, the Bush goal represents a 4.5 per cent reduction below the 1990 baseline as opposed to the Kyoto target for the United States of 7 per cent.

The second major difference between the Bush plan and the Kyoto agreement lies in the entirely voluntary nature of the Bush programme. Businesses can decide whether or not to opt in to the programme. Tax incentives will be provided to those who invest in clean technology, alongside an emissions trading programme. At the national level, the Kyoto Protocol targets are mandatory limits.

The aim is to “get people to put their creativity behind finding the solutions which they do far more rapidly if it is voluntary,” said Christie Whitman, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. “You can always put in mandatory in the future if that’s what you think you have to have.”

International reaction to the plan was mixed. Japanese Environment Minister Hiroshi Oki said that he appreciated Mr Bush’s efforts but that more was needed. German Environment Minister Juergen Trittin observed that “because of its non-binding character, one can hardly expect the programme to significantly lower the already high US emissions.”

Apart from the fear of adverse effects on jobs and the corporate sector, the Bush administration has argued that the Kyoto Protocol, in exempting developing nations, skewed the international playing field. Responding to the Bush plan, the Chinese foreign ministry stated that “developed counties have the duty to take the lead in taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emission, because historically and at present, they are the main emitters of greenhouse gas.”

Meanwhile, nations are lining up to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, with Japan, the United Kingdom and the European Union due to ratify during the first half of 2002.

On the Web
Comment on the climate negotiations and news of ongoing developments can be accessed via the Tiempo Climate Cyberlibrary Newswatch service. On the Web: The climate negotiations lists further links.