Who Killed Kyoto?

We've heard it now for so long that it's drummed into our heads. President George W. Bush soured relations with the EU by refusing to accept the Kyoto Protocol. In doing so, he took the <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />U.S. into unilateralism and demonstrated his disdain for world opinion. That's what is at the root of the current divide between Europe and America. We're hearing that argument trotted out by various contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination, most notably Senators Joe Lieberman and John Kerry.The trouble is, it just isn't true. The Kyoto treaty was killed in November 2000, during the dying days of the Clinton-Gore administration. We didn't notice in the United States because something else was going on at that time. This is also why we didn't notice that it wasn't the Americans who killed it. It was the Europeans, most prominently (surprise, surprise) the French. How did this happen? Back in 2000, there was a general agreement among governments that Kyoto was a good thing. This was certainly the opinion of the Clinton administration, despite the Byrd-Hagel resolution (Senate Resolution 98) passed by the Senate in 1997, that Kyoto would be harmful to the economy of the United States and was flawed in its failure to restrict the emissions of developing nations. Nevertheless, the United States, along with Australia, Canada and Japan, argued that carbon sinks—the natural forests and greenery that hungrily absorb so much of the carbon dioxide emitted all over the world – should be taken into account when working out emissions targets. The fact is that, while the North American continent emits about 1.6 billion metric tons of carbon every year, North American carbon sinks actually absorb 1.7 billion tons of atmospheric carbon every year. North America is therefore a net consumer of carbon dioxide. The same is not true of the European nations, who essentially see their emissions cleaned up by North American or other carbon sinks. They were not keen to see carbon sinks counted in the equation when they had none to count themselves, despite the fact that the European targets under Kyoto were less stringent than those imposed on other industrialized nations. The various sides in the argument came together in November 2000 at The Hague in the Netherlands to sort out their differences. Frank Loy, the chief negotiator for the Clinton-Gore team, acted swiftly to try to compromise. He dropped the previous American stance of demanding that developing nations commit themselves to “meaningful” involvement in the Kyoto process. He told the conference: “It's time now that we commit ourselves to a pragmatic, not a dogmatic approach. We're past the time for rhetoric—we need give and take. The U.S. has shown flexibility.” But as the U.S. position softened, and the United Kingdom—true believers in the Kyoto process—tried to broker a deal, the position of “Old Europe” hardened. French President Jacques Chirac in particular took up a radical stance, telling delegates “France proposes that we set as our ultimate objective the convergence of per capita emissions.” This idea is based on the theory that everyone in the world should have the right to emit carbon in equal amounts—so requiring a vast decrease in the amount emitted by industrialized nations and a massive increase in the amount emitted by the Third World. Chirac admitted that Kyoto therefore represented “the first component of an authentic global governance.” If this process sounds familiar, it should. French intransigence caused the U.K.-brokered deal to allow progress on Kyoto to collapse. British Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott blamed continental European politicians in no uncertain terms: “It failed in the European area. There comes a time when politicians have to use their own guts, their own judgment.” European ministers should have taken a chance and made the change, he said. “That's what I decided to do and everyone was with us until we got into those Euro ministers and they split.”<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />

Even the environmental groups blamed the Europeans. According to the BBC, the National Environmental Trust said: “The Hague was likely to have been the European nations' best opportunity to achieve a strong climate treaty, and they decided to pass it up. After January, they could face a Bush administration almost certain to push for bigger loopholes. There is no excuse for having walked away.” By refusing to countenance any compromise on Kyoto at The Hague, the French and their allies essentially killed the treaty, two months before President Bush took office. Whenever anyone blames the President for rifts with Europe over the environment, these particular events of November 2000 need to be remembered.