Biggest rogue of them all

April 03, 2001

Press Release

Biggest rogue of them all

APRIL 3, 2001

The world should declare the US a rogue nation for this act of extreme selfishness. And the Indian government should stop being a pushover.

Oilman and US president G. W. Bush made it clear last week that the US, responsible for about 25 per cent of the world's carbon dioxide emissions, has no intention of presenting the Kyoto Protocol to the US senate for ratification, since it is not in the country's "best interest". This act of extreme selfishness condemns vulnerable developing countries to human and economic losses in the future. A report released in February 2001 by an intergovernmental panel on scientists confirmed that developing countries will suffer the most from global warming, not only because they are situated in more vulnerable regions, but also because they lack the capacity to deal with natural disasters.

The Centre for Science and Environment has long argued that the world lacks democratic mechanisms, which hold rich and powerful nations accountable when they default on their commitments. Now, the world is at a loss over how to hold the US accountable. The US uses trade sanctions to 'punish' countries it accuses of being environmental 'free riders' -- but the developing countries, which are likely to suffer most from climate change impacts, are in no position to retaliate in kind.

As European governments step up efforts to talk the US out of this extreme position, India and many other developing countries that will be victims of climate change have remained silent. Perhaps they fear ruining relationships with the new US administration. But becoming doormats simply to appease a more economically powerful nation will be a costly mistake.

If past negotiations are any indication, India faces the danger of becoming the sacrificial lamb the world offers to placate Bush and make the protocol more acceptable to him. One of the objections raised by Bush and his industry cronies to the Kyoto Protocol is that the treaty does not require emissions cuts from countries such as India and China, and is therefore 'unfair' to the US. Mr. Bush must be firmly put in his place by governments of developing nations, and emphatically reminded that the US has enjoyed years of unrestrained industrialisation, thus contributing heavily to 'historical emissions'. Even today, the per capita 'luxury' emissions of one US citizen are equal to the 'survival' emissions of 19 Indians.

The US has used the threat of non-ratification as a tactic before, first as a means of driving down reduction targets in Kyoto, and then as a way of ensuring that even those reductions are met with the least economic burden on the country. In the process, the Kyoto Protocol has been turned into a disaster, which is unlikely to have much impact on the global warming problem.

Already, indirect methods are being used to make developing countries cut emissions even though they have no commitments under the protocol. Northern non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are putting pressure on their governments to stop World Bank funding for fossil fuel projects in the South. The hypocrisy of this position stands exposed at a point when Bush has clearly stated that the US will not ratify the treaty. The US depends on coal for more than 50 per cent of its electricity supply, and the Bush government clearly has no plans to change this scenario.

By refusing to ratify the protocol, Bush seems to imply that multilateral negotiations and commitments no longer hold meaning for the US. If this is the case, then the US has no moral right to interfere, as it does, in the affairs of other countries, under the guise of promoting 'democracy'. What could be more undemocratic than poor countries that have contributed little to the global warming problem suffering the most because the rich believe action would 'compromise their lifestyles'?

Comparison of per capita emissions of USA and South Asia

Country per capita emissions(tC) No. of citizens equivalent to 1 US citizen
  1990 1996 1990 1996
USA 5.18 5.37 1 1
Bangladesh 0.04 0.05 130     107
Bhutan 0.02      0.04 259 134
India 0.22 0.29 24 19
Maldives 0.19 0.31 27 17
Nepal 0.01 0.02 518     269
Pakistan 0.16 0.18 32 30
Srilanka 0.06 0.11 86 49

Note: tc: tonnes of carbon