George Bush: "I oppose the Kyoto Protocol"

The leader of the most polluting country in the world claims global warming treaty is "unfair" because it excludes India and China

"I oppose the Kyoto Protocol because it exempts 80 per cent of the world, including major population centres such as China and India, from compliance, and would cause serious harm to the US economy." This retrogressive statement made by US President George Bush in a letter to Republican senators has sparked off a series of horrified reactions from leaders across the world, and from non-government organisations who have condemned Bush for backing off from pre-election promises. The Indian government, however, has failed to react to this false accusation levelled at the country.

In fact, these "population centres" which Bush refers to make an insignificant contribution of greenhouse gas emissions, particularly carbon dioxide, since they have extremely low per capita emissions. The US, on the other hand, contributes to one-fourth of the world's total greenhouse gas emissions. The total carbon dioxide emissions from one US citizen in 1996 were 19 times the emissions of one Indian. US emissions in total are still more than double those from China. At a time when a large part of India's population does not even have access to electricity, Bush would like this country to stem its 'survival emissions', so that industrialised countries like the US can continue to have high 'luxury emissions'. This amounts to demanding a freeze on global inequity, where rich countries stay rich, and poor countries stay poor, since carbon dioxide emissions are closely linked to GDP growth.

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, under which the Kyoto Protocol was negotiated, recognises the right of developing countries such as India to increase emissions to meet development needs. However, the US senate has opposed this provision, claiming that it will have a negative impact on the economy. The senate has also opposed any reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by the US for the same reason. In his letter, Bush goes to the extent of saying that the US will not tackle carbon dioxide emissions because it is not listed as a "pollutant" under the US Clean Air Act.

It is important that the Indian government respond firmly to this statement -- because it is an accusation without basis, which does not reflect the responsibility of major polluters to take action first. Also, because India is likely to suffer loses from the impact of global warming if the US does not curb domestic emissions. A recent report by a global body of scientists has found that besides sea-level rise, global warming will have an impact on the Indian monsoon, will lead to the disappearance of the Himalayan glaciers, and will lead to water scarcity in tropical Asia.

For the full text of the Bush letter, comments, and for further information/clarification, please contact Neelam Singh or Anju Sharma at 4645334 or 4645335

The Background

  • Since pre-industrial times, atmospheric concentrations of 'greenhouse gases' (GHGs) carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide have grown by 31 per cent, 151 per cent and 17 per cent respectively. This is largely because of fossil fuel use, land use change and agriculture.
  • The GHGs, which trap the sun's rays, create a hothouse effect, resulting in an increase in the Earth's temperature. In 1995, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a scientific body set up to advice the convention, had estimated that this temperature will rise by as much as 4°C by 2090. But recent IPCC estimates project that temperatures will rise by as much as 5.8°C by 2100. This will be accompanied by a rise in sea level and changes in weather patterns, and will have a grave impact on agriculture and water resources.

Developing countries are twice more vulnerable to climate change than industrialised countries, and small island states are three times more vulnerable, according to a group of UN-sponsored scientists.

  • In 1992, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted. This convention recognised that industrialised countries (listed as annex I countries in the convention) were mostly responsible for increased GHG concentrations in the Earth's atmosphere, and hence should take the first step towards action against climate change.
  • In the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, industrialised countries agreed to decrease their emissions by at least 5.2 per cent compared to 1990 emission levels, by the 2008-2012 period. Specific targets are listed under annex B of the protocol. The US is expected to make a 7 per cent reduction, Japan a 6 per cent reduction, and the EU, an 8 per cent reduction.
  • The US, responsible for a fourth of the world's carbon dioxide emissions, wants the cheapest possible means of meeting its Kyoto targets. This almost exclusive emphasis on economic efficiency by the US and its ally 'umbrella group' -- usually Japan, Canada, Australia and New Zealand -- has already seriously compromised the 'ecological efficiency' of the Kyoto Protocol - viz. its ability to actually address climate change mitigation.
  • At the last meeting of the UNFCCC, held in the Hague in November 2000, the European Union (EU) refused to give in to the US tactics to drive down the effectiveness of the Kyoto Protocol, leading to the collapse of the meeting. Since then the EU has tried to negotiate a compromise with the US and its allies, but with no results. The G77 group of developing countries has completely sidelined itself in the negotiations by voicing no opinion on this extremely retrogressive stand taken by the so-called leader of the free world. This is despite the fact that these developing countries will be the most severely affected.