Toxic Texan Throws Out Kyoto Treaty

hammer1.gif (1140 bytes) People’s Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of
India (Marxist)


No. 26

July 01, 2001

Toxic Texan
Throws Out Kyoto Treaty


IT took very
little time after becoming US President for George W Bush to shed the centrist image
carefully projected during the presidential campaign and embrace the far right
conservative platform, for which his Republican Party and he himself are better known, on
a variety of issues ranging from anti-missile systems to the environment. Within days
of each other, Bush declared his administration’s policy of going ahead with the
controversial National Missile Defence (NMD) System in direct violation of the
Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and of withdrawing from the Kyoto Treaty to globally control
emissions of carbon dioxide known to be the dominant factor behind the greenhouse effect
resulting in global warming.
With the moderate mask stripped off, Bush’s
supposedly disarming grin is looking ever more like a sneer as he cocks a snook at world
leaders, international obligations and even domestic opposition and public opinion.

policies cynically demonstrated the brittle foundations and class basis of US democracy.
Having come to office through a quirk of the US electoral college system for presidential
elections, despite having received less votes than his rival Democrat Al Gore and thus
with a mandate from less than half of the under 50 per cent of the American electorate who
cared to vote, George W Bush is giving a daily demonstration that, in the US, the opinions
and concerns of corporate interests count far more than that of the people. And nothing
demonstrates this better than Bush’s abandonment of the Kyoto Treaty along with a
host of other decisions on environmental issues.


Europe incensed
Bush’s decision has attracted widespread odium, especially and including among the
US’ otherwise closest allies in Europe and Japan, where opinion amongst both
political parties and the general public is heavily in favour of the Kyoto Protocol and
other international treaties dealing with global environmental problems, amongst which
global warming is seen as the most pressing. Bush’s recent and first tour of Europe
as President was nothing less than a disaster.

Everywhere he
went, Bush was greeted by street demonstrations, an angry if not hostile press which
promptly nicknamed him “Toxic Texan” and an extremely upset political leadership
struggling to come to terms with an arrogant and uncaring new Big Brother. Bush’s
staunch, repeated and smirky justification of his decision to launch the NMD even if this
meant violating the ABM Treaty and his announcement that the US was formally pulling out
of the Kyoto Treaty only rubbed salt into US allies’ wounds. As recently as March 3,
the head of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Christine Todd Whitman had
assured G-8 environment ministers at Trieste in Italy that the US would not backtrack from
international commitments it made in 1997 to cut carbon dioxide emissions. All this showed
that the signature of the US president on international treaties means nothing, that the
US cares only for its own interests and that these are often only a surrogate for those of
US corporates.

environment minister Dominique Voynet denounced “Mr Bush’s unilateral
attitude [as] a scandal” and added that Bush’s behaviour was “entirely
provocative and irresponsible.”
Italy’s environment minister Willer Bordon
said that if Washington persisted in renouncing the Kyoto Protocol, then Europe, Russia
and Japan should implement the accord unilaterally. Even staunch US ally Britain was
shaken and British environment minister Michael Meacher said: “This is not the end of
the story… we have to keep hammering on.” Swedish environment minister Kjell
Larsson said the Kyoto Treaty “is still alive, and no individual country has the
right to declare that a multilateral accord is dead”. The widespread international
condemnation of president Bush’s decision has left the US looking increasingly
isolated. Even in its own backyard, at an inaugural meeting of the 34 environment
ministers of the Americas in Montreal ended with the US and Canada alone refusing to sign
a document saying that advancing the Kyoto accord was foremost in their priorities for

Perhaps even
more than NMD, which concerns all but in which only a few nuclear weapon states are
directly and practically involved, the Kyoto Treaty may well prove to be the issue on
which Europe and Japan begin to sharply diverge from the US and which divergence may have
wider political and economic consequences as well.


To briefly
recap, the Kyoto Treaty, so-called because it was finally agreed upon in Kyoto, Japan,
1997 after years of intense, hard-fought and painstaking international negotiations and
annual conferences, commits 38 most industrialised countries to reduce emissions
carbon-rich gases, mainly caused by burning oil, gas and coal, by 5.2 per cent over
present levels by 2010. Developing nations are also covered by the Treaty, but are
excluded from these emission quotas during this first phase till the first decade of the
new millennium as any enforced reductions at this stage would impede badly needed economic
development and also because the past and present burden of toxic emissions is so heavily
loaded on the side of the developed industrialised countries. This lack of emission quotas
for developing nations is one of the main objections raised by the Bush administration to
the Kyoto accord although, as we shall see, this objection is neither factually-based nor
defensible on other grounds, and is only another excuse to do away from Treaty obligations
which are portrayed as being against US, especially corporate, economic interests.

Global climate
change is driven by the accumulation of carbon-dioxide and other heat- trapping gases in
the atmosphere over the past centuries. Most such greenhouse gases are extremely
persistent, and stay in the atmosphere for a hundred or more years before breaking down. The
industrialized countries, with less than 25 per cent of the world’s population, are
responsible for about 75 per cent of the accumulated carbon dioxide emissions currently in
the atmosphere. The US alone, with about 4 per cent of the world’s population,
accounts for more than 25 per cent of the atmospheric carbon dioxide build-up and US power
plants emit around 500 million tons of carbon per year, exceeding the combined emissions
from 146 countries, roughly three-quarters of the countries in the world. India, with over
1 billion people or 4 times the US population, is responsible for just over 2 per cent of
global carbon emissions, while China, the world’s most populous country, accounts for
about 8.5 per cent. Clearly at present, and for many years to come, industrialized
countries like the US will continue to be the biggest source of the problem
President Bush and his right-wing supporters such as the Heritage Foundation assert that
the Kyoto Protocol is “unfair” and discriminatory since it exempts 80 per cent
of the world’s population. Yet, 80 per cent of the global warming problem comes from
just 20 per cent of the world and the US is far and away the biggest contributor to global
warming pollution.

In fact, even
without binding targets, leading developing countries such as Mexico, Brazil, Argentina,
China and India are already acting to reduce greenhouse gases by increasing energy
efficiencies in industry and transport, and upgrading technologies. For example, while US
carbon dioxide emissions continue to rise, now standing about 13 per cent above 1990
levels, emissions from China have dropped more than 17 per cent since 1997. China’s
energy efficiency and conservation measures since 1980 have resulted in avoided emissions
of more than 400 million tons of carbon per year, an amount nearly equal to emissions of
the entire US transportation sector.


The Bush
administration and its drum-beaters have also been scare-mongering by claiming that
adherence to Kyoto would cause enormous economic and job losses in the US. In support,
President Bush’s declaration cites only one obscure study while inexplicably ignoring
even relevant US government analyses showing that greenhouse gas pollution can be reduced
by the US to levels called for in the Kyoto agreement without damage to the US economy. In
1998, the White House Council of Economic Advisors concluded that the costs of
implementing the Kyoto Protocol would be “no more than a few tenths of 1 per cent of
gross domestic product in 2010” (‘The Kyoto Protocol and the President’s
Policies to Address Climate Change: Administration Economic Analysis,’ July 1998). A
more detailed subsequent study by an Inter-Laboratory Group of the US Department of Energy
found that increases in energy efficiency and use of renewable energy resources would
enable the US to achieve most of the Kyoto-mandated emission reductions and simultaneously
save consumers money, ease our energy problems, and actually improve economic performance
over the long run.

declaration on the Kyoto Treaty, and his various statements since, shockingly claim that
the Treaty was based on “bad science”, that the relationship between carbon
dioxide emissions and global warming is yet uncertain and there was therefore no reason to
rush towards difficult and expensive emissions-reduction regimes. This line of argument,
clearly echoing the voices of the US oil and coal industry, is strongly reminiscent of the
long-held position of US tobacco giants that the link between cigarette-smoking and cancer
was not definitively proven!

Not only have
there been numerous scientific studies on climate change and carbon dioxide emissions
which have firmly established the linkage between them and which went in as inputs to the
protracted pre-Kyoto negotiations, studies since 1997 have only further reinforced the
need for urgency action to reduce emissions driving climate change. The scientific
understanding of climate change has now also been summarized in the definitive work of
thousands of the world’s leading scientists collaborating as the UN Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change.

organisations of scientists and researchers in the US, such as Physicians for Social
Responsibility, Union of Concerned Scientists, US Public Interest Research Group and
others, have sharply brought out these and other related facts related to the Kyoto Treaty
and the Bush Administration’s contrary stand on it. But all this clearly does not
weigh as much with Bush as the opinions of his buddies and campaign financiers from the US
oil and energy industry.


withdrawal from the Kyoto pact is part of a broader pattern of policy pronouncements and
executive actions in the field of environment which clearly follow the tune dictated by
Bush’s oil and energy buddies who played such a big part in putting him in the White

President Bush
has decided to permit drilling for oil in the Alaska Biosphere Reserve and in various
other forest and nature reserves, overruling objections by environmentalists, civil rights
groups and even his own Environment and other Departments. In his new energy policy, Bush
has called for the Justice Department to “review”, obviously drop, litigation
against energy and other companies flouting environmental laws. In the supposedly
market-dictated pricing of energy in California which Bush has said he does not want to
disturb, wholesale power prices in the state are today 10 times what they were last year
despite no proportionate drop in supply, and the energy companies are raking in
unprecedented profits. Despite please from California governor Gray Davis, Bush has
refused to consider price caps, clearly acting at the behest of good buddy Enron CEO
Kenneth Lay who is known to have a big say in key White House appointments. Bush’s
energy plan, drafted by the National Energy Policy Development Group, reads as though it
were written by oil and other energy interests which it probably was given that the NEPDG
will not divulge the “experts” it consulted.

Bush made a big
thing during the presidential campaign about states’ rights, even defending the right
of South Carolina to fly the civil war rebel Confederate flag over the state legislature
on grounds that such issues should be decided by the people of an individual state. But
clearly such principles do not stand in the way of Bush’s oil buddies making some
cash. Against the wishes of the people of Florida and the state’s Republican
governor, Bush’s brother Jeb Bush, president George W Bush has decided to auction the
rights to offshore oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. As one media critic in the US put
it, this was perhaps the first time the US has seen someone stomping on (actually a
four-letter expletive was used in the article) the environment, states’ rights and
his own brother in one fell swoop.

Regular readers
of these columns may recall how even all the earlier international negotiations on
environmental issues such as the Kyoto Treaty have been arenas of struggle between
developing and developed countries, corporate interests and common peoples rights, between
efforts to privatise global resources and widen public access and ownership of these
global commons. Fierce battles were waged both inside and outside the negotiating rooms,
between governments and between governments and people in their respective countries, in
the effort by progressive forces to maximise the common good. For all their flaws, these
global Treaties and agreements were advances over the earlier position where might was
simply right. The Bush administrations first few months in office clearly show that these
struggles, however arduous they were and appeared at the time, were only mere skirmishes
compared to those likely to occur and which will be required in the years to come. The
gloves are clearly off, and it is going to be down and dirty from here on.

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