Monitor archives:
Copyrighted material

U.S. Economy More Important Than Global Warming, Bush Says

by Jim Lobe

Bush Anti-Environmental Extremism Spurs Panic
(IPS) WASHINGTON -- Smarting from attacks both here and abroad on his unilateral abandonment of the Kyoto Protocol to curb global warming, President George W. Bush today insisted that the world will benefit from a stronger U.S. economy unhampered by restrictions on greenhouse-gas emissions.

In a confusing statement just before meeting with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, the U.S. president told reporters that he intends to consult with European and other leaders about global warming, but that he would not "do anything" that could set back the U.S. economy.

"I will explain as clearly as I can today and every other chance I get, that we will not do anything that harms our economy, because first things first are the people who live in America; that's my priority," he said.

"I'm worried about the economy; I'm worried about the lack of an energy policy. It's in our national interests that we develop a strong energy policy with realistic, common-sense environmental policy," he said. "And I'm going to explain that to our friends. It is in their interest, by the way, that our economy remain strong -- after all, we're a free-trading administration -- we trade with each other."

Bush was expected to get an earful from Schroeder about European reaction to the decision, which was formally confirmed March 28 by White House spokesman, Ari Fleischer.

"The president has been unequivocal," Fleischer told reporters, confirming an earlier statement by EPA head Christine Todd Whitman, who had tried hard over the past two weeks to persuade Bush not to abandon the 1997 Protocol. "He does not support the Kyoto treaty. It is not in the United States' economic best interests."

Latest in Bush decisions that are alarming other nations
While the White House statement had been signalled in a letter to four right-wing senators two weeks ago, when Bush reversed a campaign pledge to curb emissions by U.S. power plants of carbon dioxide, few thought his abandonment of Kyoto would come out quite so quickly and bluntly, particularly given the importance attached to the Protocol by Europe and Japan, Washington's closest allies.

Bush has stressed from the outset that his administration would set as its top foreign-policy priority consolidating ties with the allies.

But both European and Japanese diplomats have expressed growing unease at a number of unilateral moves by Bush since his inauguration in January, including his rebuff of South Korean President Kim Dae Jung's "sunshine" policy toward North Korea; his expulsion of 50 Russian diplomats in retaliation over a spy case; and his seemingly determined pursuit of national missile defense (NMD), which U.S. intelligence experts have warned could provoke a new arms race.

In that respect, the latest move is certain to contribute to anxiety. In an effort to persuade Bush to continue participating in the Kyoto process, Whitman herself warned in a leaked memo that most U.S. allies considered Kyoto "the only game in town."

"Mr. President," she urged, "this is a credibility issue for the U.S. in the international community. We need to appear engaged and shift the discussion from the focus on the K-word (Kyoto) to action, but we have to build some bona fides first."

When he reversed his campaign pledge the following week, the European Union (EU) sent a delegation who met with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice to gain assurances that Washington would still be engaged in the Kyoto process. On the contrary, however, Rice reportedly told them that, so far as the United States was concerned, Kyoto was dead.

"It's a textbook case of unilateral diplomacy, which rarely works and always brings resentment," said David Sandalow, who helped negotiate the Protocol under the Clinton administration.

Ironically, the Protocol came out of a series of negotiations among industrialized countries that followed a climate-change convention signed by Bush's father at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Under Kyoto, signatory states agreed to cut their greenhouse emissions by about 5.2 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2012.

Greenhouse gases -- including carbon dioxide, which is emitted by the combustion of fossil fuels, like coal and oil -- are believed by most scientists to be responsible for the accelerating warming of the earth's atmosphere over the last century.

In its latest report, the UN's International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimated that average temperatures on the Earth's surface could rise by as much as 5.8 degrees Celsius by the year 2100 if present emission trends are not altered, with potentially catastrophic consequences.

While Clinton and other Western leaders signed the Protocol, no parliament has ratified it, as the precise mechanisms by which those reductions could be achieved are still being hashed out in negotiations, the last of which took place at The Hague late last year. The next round is scheduled for Bonn in July.

The Senate, which would have to ratify the accord, strongly opposed the Protocol due to concerns over its potential impact on the U.S. economy -- a subject of major debate between the energy industry and environmentalists -- and the fact that developing countries were not covered. Bush raised the same objections in his letter to the senators.

Given Washington's diplomatic weight and status as the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases (about 25 percent of total emissions), its withdrawal could mean the collapse of the entire negotiations, according to both environmentalists and diplomats here.

"Bush's decision to abandon America's commitment to the Kyoto Protocol has created the most serious international environmental policy crisis in years," according to Christopher Flavin, president of the Worldwatch Institute.

"It is time for Europe and Japan to call the U.S. bluff and adopt the Kyoto Protocol, perhaps abandoning some of the more problematic elements insisted on by the United States (during the negotiations)."

"As the world's last remaining superpower, and its largest producer of greenhouse gases, the United States has a special obligation to lead on this issue," said Fred Krupp of the New York-based Environmental Defense Fund. "It is bad for America's interests for the United States to be seen as the rogue nation of greenhouse gas pollution."

Comments? Send a letter to the editor.

Albion Monitor April 2, 2001 (

All Rights Reserved.

Contact for permission to use in any format.