Bush pulls out of Kyoto Protocol

Despite the promise of the head of the US EPA to honour the climate change agreement at the recent G8 summit, President George W. Bush has taken the path his critics long expected him to.

On 29 March, Bush announced that “the United States opposes the Kyoto Protocol because it exempts many countries from compliance and would cause serious harm to the American economy”. Speaking at a press conference with Germany’s chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, Bush said that although both “share a common concern about global climate change”, they “differ on the best way to protect the earth’s climate”. The president urged the development of “technologies, market-based incentives, and other innovative approaches to meeting the challenge of global climate change”, but, referring to Kyoto, he later added that he would “not accept a plan that will harm our economy and hurt American workers”.

Only weeks before, the head of the US Environmental Protection Agency, Christy Whitman, committed to implement the Protocol at the meeting of the G8 environment ministers in Trieste (see related story). This was the second time in as many weeks that Bush has undermined Whitman, after he backtracked on campaign pledge to limit carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, which she had promised to honour (see related story).

Richard Boucher, a US state department spokesman, said that the government’s plan was still to attend the next round of international Kyoto talks in Bonn in July, but did not specify what position would be taken, and whether US delegates would insist on negotiating from scratch, without referring to the Kyoto agreement.

UK Environment Minister Michael Meacher, said Bush’s announcement was “exceptionally serious”, but said he didn’t think that “we should despair or try to ostracise the US as a pariah”.

Chancellor Schroeder expressed his concern at his meeting with Bush, while the Australian environment minister, Robert Hill, said that the Kyoto Protocol “wouldn’t work without the United States”.

Margot Wallstrom, the EU’s environment commissioner said she was “extremely concerned and disappointed” and would attempt to keep the US involved in cutting greenhouse gas emissions. “Why should we put European businesses under such high pressure and let American companies off the hook,” she said. “Why should they play by other rules? The EU is willing to discuss details and problems – but not scrap the whole protocol.”

“Europe must stand up to irresponsible US policies by rejecting them at the petrol pump. Unless the US rethinks its position, direct boycott is the only language they will understand,” the European parliament’s environment committee said in a statement.

However, the environmental NGO, the Worldwatch Institute, sees reason of optimism in Bush’s action. “It is time for Europe and Japan to call the US bluff and adopt the Kyoto Protocol, perhaps abandoning some of the problematic elements insisted on by the United States,” said the organisation’s president, Christopher Flavin. “In the end those countries that address climate change earliest will dominate the massive new energy technology markets of the new century-and create millions of jobs in the process.”

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie