The Failure Of The Kyoto Process

The United States continued nonratification of the KP was a specter that hung over the entire process of governing climate change between 1998 and 2000. The United States was and remains the single most important player for the Kyoto Protocol given the requirement that Northern states totaling 55 percent of the world's emissions have to ratify for the protocol to come into force—the United States, upon the negotiation of the KP, accounted for 36 percent of the total needed for entering into force.97 During the Clinton administration, U.S. ratification looked difficult, but the prospects turned even dimmer with the succession of the second Bush administration (Bush II).

After the election of 2000, the second Bush administration initiated a substantive shift on climate change back to the recalcitrance of the late 1980s. The Bush II administration questioned the urgency of the climate change problem and focused on uncertainty and the costs of fighting climate change to the American economy.98 On participation, the United States remained a stable proponent of universal commitments—the change in administration did not change the U.S. view of an appropriate global response.99 However, the combination of a skeptical substantive view and the understanding that a global response entails universal commitments did lead to a dramatic shift in climate change policy. Convinced that the Kyoto process was "fundamentally flawed," the Bush administration removed the United States from the process.100

The U.S. refusal to participate in the Kyoto process in 2001 signaled the strength of domestic constituencies opposed to significant action on the climate problem, but it did not immediately signal a weakening of the rule calling for universal participation. Instead, it signaled the United States' ultimate dissatisfaction with the North-first variant of universal participation. The United States justified its exit on the grounds that the Southern states do not participate enough in the proposed implementation of the Kyoto Protocol.101 The hegemonic norm entrepreneur thus ended its campaign to directly convince states about its vision of a global response, and instead exited from the process that was defined by a normative context that it disagreed with—a potentially very powerful entrepreneurial tool given the predominant position of the United States.102

The U.S. exit did not automatically constitute a failure of the Kyoto process for the rest of the participants. The rest of the world moved forward after the U.S. withdrawal, eventually finalizing the last details of the Kyoto protocol.103 Without U.S. official participation (the United States did attend all of the COP meetings) these negotiating rounds were founded on the North-first variant of universal participation. The U.S. exit removed the contestation over universal participation, however, "engaging developing countries on the issue of targets will remain extremely difficult without US participation in the protocol."104 The completed governance activities moved the world close to bringing the Kyoto Protocol into force and with Russia's ratification, the Kyoto Protocol reached the necessary 55 percent.105 The question that remains, however, is whether the KP process can succeed without the hegemonic presence.

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