Date: 10 April 2001

Ah Did It Mah Way: Bush on Global Climate Change

By Rahab S Hawa

While the whole world is gasping in shocked dismay at US President Bush’s decision to kill the Kyoto Protocol of 1997, the big boys in the oil and coal business who helped fund his presidential campaign are prancing about with glee. After all, it is payback time.

He has made it clear that meeting US energy demands (and pleasing his friends in the energy business) is a priority for the Bush government. ‘We have an energy crisis… That’s why I have decided not to have mandatory caps on CO2,’ the President explained.

This unilateral rejection of the Protocol by the US President took the Europeans and the Japanese by total surprise. Despite being the closest allies of the US, they were not consulted.

This has left behind a bad taste in the mouth for all parties concerned. Now, what is to become of the next round of talks scheduled for Bonn in July?

The Kyoto Protocol required the rich industrialised nations to cut 'greenhouse gases' - mainly the by-product of burning oil, gas and coal - by some 5.2 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2012. These 38 rich countries comprising one-fifth of the world's population are responsible for 60 percent of carbon dioxide emissions on earth.

Scientists believe that these greenhouse gases are responsible for creating a dangerous hole in the protective ozone layer of the earth's atmosphere.

Ozone depletion can lead to increased cancer in humans, global climate changes affecting all life forms and destroying food systems.

President Bush said that the Kyoto Protocol is unfair to the US because it exempts big countries like China and India from carbon dioxide reduction. 'I will not accept a plan that will harm our economy and hurt American workers,' he added.

He said, the 'incomplete state of scientific knowledge of the causes of, and solutions to global climate change' made him junk the Protocol.

This flies in the face of the series of reports brought out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an expert advisory group established by the United Nations.

The IPCC, which involves hundreds of leading scientists, had earlier this year concluded that the impact of climate change is likely to be greater than previously feared. 'There is new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities,' it reported in January.

It predicted that the earth would be hotter over the next one hundred years with temperature increases by as much as 5.8 0C.

This would result in spreading deserts, declining agricultural production, floods, droughts, coastal erosion and water shortages for large parts of the globe. If present emission trends are not reversed, it can be cataclysmic for the planet.

The US, with only four percent of the world's population, is the world's largest polluter as it is responsible for 25 percent of the emissions of toxic gases that cause the greenhouse effect.

Observers say that the abandonment of the Kyoto Protocol by the biggest polluter will lead to a 'collapse of negotiations' creating an 'international environmental policy crisis'.

In defying the whole world, the US has become (not for the first time) the number one pariah - this time, 'a greedy polluting pariah'.

US opposition to the Kyoto Protocol has been received with shocked disgust and confusion all around.

In a pointed reference to US policy on the environment, President Jacques Chirac of France said, 'how can we affirm the right to a protected and preserved environment, the right of future generations?'

The International Herald Tribune dated 31 April also reported that the World Council of Churches, based in Geneva, called the US action a 'betrayal of their responsibities as global citizens'.

According to various press reports, environmental groups are outraged at this ‘irresponsible acts of brinkmanship' and are mobilising to counter Bush's decision. Greenpeace plans to target the 100 biggest corporations (and energy companies) it branded as 'the chief architects' behind Bush's dumping of the Kyoto Protocol.

The EU has expressed fears that 'without the participation of the world's biggest polluter, the Kyoto protocol is in serious trouble,' said a spokeswoman for Margot Wallstorm, the EU environment commissioner.

Japan's foreign minister Yohei Kono also echoed similar sentiments and warned that this could prompt other countries to withdraw and lead to the treaty being disbanded.

According to Ms Wallstrom, quoted in the Financial Times of 30 March, 'Washington does not really understand the feelings and reactions of many developing countries'.

One of the ironies of global climate change is that the US, which is chiefly responsible for the problem, would suffer minimal devastation from its impact.

Unlike the Third World countries, which will be the hardest hit and most vulnerable to further climatic disruptions; already floods, droughts, sea level rises are affecting many poor countries.

This move by the US President to ignore the Kyoto Protocol should come as no surprise. It was the US that scuppered the UN Climatic Change Treaty talks at the Hague in November last year. As a result, the Kyoto Protocol was already trashed even then.

President Fidel Castro of Cuba, the only leader courageous enough to censure the US, condemned the 'disdain and arrogance with which the superpower breaks accords and treaties that are vital not only to the peace and security of people throughout the world, but also for preserving ecological equilibrium and the natural resources that make life on our planet possible'.

By blatantly spurning a worldwide effort to combat global warming, the US is signaling to the rest of the world that it has no intention of honouring its global commitments to the UN.

Unknown to many, in December 1999, when the US decided to pay a part of its UN dues, it stipulated that the money cannot be used for the Framework Convention on Climate Change, the International Seabed Authority and the Desertification Convention or the International Criminal Court. Neither can it be used to pay for debts from the 1992 Rio Summit or the 1995 Women's Conference in Beijing.

In effect, the US is reminding the rest of the world that no rules can apply to it and that it is not bothered with what the rest of the world believes in or has to say. This is rogue behaviour at its ugliest.

This also goes to show who put President Bush in the White House. Corporations in the oil, coal, mining, timber and automotive industries spent millions to get him elected. Big business interests own Bush and he is now out to return corporate favours.

Oil connections remain strong in his Cabinet and include the Vice President Dick Cheney; Don Evans, the Commerce Secretary; Richard Haas in the State Department and Doug Farish, the US ambassador to London.

What the world is learning from this Presidency is that it is driven by narrow interests and sadly lacks strategic policies. The fact that the US has failed to measure up to its global commitments and responsibilities either because it does not know or does not care shows that there is indeed a crisis of leadership in the US administration.

That the US goes about breaking international treaties with impunity, showing its utter contempt for world and scientific opinion is nothing new. Indeed, it has an awful feeling of déjà vu.

After all, was it not President Bush senior who had stated at the Rio Summit in 1992 that the lifestyle of the US of A is not up for negotiations? President George W. Bush is daddy's boy alright.