US Response to Climate Change and Kyoto Protocol

Although the Clinton administration negotiated the Kyoto Protocol, the Bush administration has thus far refused to ratify it. In his public remarks, President Bush has disagreed with both the form of the Kyoto Protocol and the scientific evidence that prompted other governments to ratify the treaty. In 2001, he stated that the emissions targets established by the Kyoto Protocol "were arbitrary and not based on science," and further claimed that "no one can say with any certainty what constitutes a dangerous level of warming, and therefore what level must be avoided" (O'Neill and Oppenheimer, 2002). In addition, President Bush has been dissatisfied with the division of responsibility for carbon emissions reductions between developed and developing countries (White House, 2001).

The Bush administration has proposed a voluntary program of reducing GHG "intensity" by 18% in the next 10 years (U.S. Department of State, 2002). GHG intensity is defined as the ratio of GHG emissions to economic output. The administration proposes to lower the current GHG intensity of 183 metric tons of carbon equivalent (MTCE) per million dollars of GDP to 151 MTCE per million dollars by 2012 through voluntary and incentive-based measures. A key component of the administration's proposal is the creation of tax incentives for the development of renewable energy, hybrid and fuel cell-powered vehicles, co-generation and landfill gas, and other new technologies. In response to this proposal, some businesses have developed their own voluntary initiatives to reduce GHG emissions (White House, 2003).

A major criticism of the administration plan is that it allows U.S. total emissions to continue to increase along its current trend. Total U.S. GHG emissions increased from 1.671

billion MTCE in 1990 to 1.907 billion MTCE in 2000, a 14% increase. Under the administration's plan, 2012 emissions (2.155 billion MTCE) would be 30% above 1990 levels (Pew Center on Global Change, 2002). If the United States had ratified the Kyoto Protocol, it would have been required to reduce its emissions to 93% of 1990 levels by 2008-2012. The Pew Center on Global Climate Change notes that GHG intensity fell by 21% in the 1980s and by 16% in the 1990s, so the Bush plan will result at best in only very slight improvements over existing trends.

The Bush administration proposal mandates improvements to the current federal registry of GHG emissions. The goal of registry improvements is to ensure that voluntary actions taken by industry to reduce GHG emissions will be rewarded in the future with transferable credits for emissions reductions. Currently, few businesses participate in the registry because there is no third-party verification of reductions for buyers of carbon credits (Chartier, 2002). Registry improvements are currently expected to be slow due to concerns over the legality of binding future Congresses to the current administration's plan to grant transferable credits.

The U.S. administration's failure to adopt binding national emissions limits and to ratify the Kyoto Protocol is a signal to U.S. industries that Bush does not consider climate change to be a serious national problem that requires international cooperation. While some firms may voluntarily reduce emissions to take advantage of new technology and/or to enhance their reputations, other firms will not find incentives strong enough to bear the cost. An example in point is the U.S. failure to meet the voluntary goals agreed to in the UNFCCC. Current U.S. policy is a departure from previous policy solutions to national pollution problems.

The U.S. national program to reduce acid rain includes emissions limits and trading. It has been widely considered to be successful in meeting environmental goals in a cost-effective manner (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency [USEPA], 2002a). In 2003, discontented with Bush administration climate policy, Senators McCain and Lieberman introduced a bill in Congress to mandate emissions reductions and create an emissions trading market. This bill did not pass, but it was supported by 44 senators.

Because GHG emissions emanate from all over the globe, it is widely recognized as an international problem that requires broad-based international solutions (Antle, 2004). We should note that the United States has ratified other multilateral environmental agreements to reduce international emissions of pollutants. An example is the 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. This treaty has been more successful than anticipated in promoting technological solutions, achieving reduction goals, and productively involving developing countries in the multilateral effort (UN Environment Programme, 2000; USEPA, 2002b).

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