NYT reported In December 1997, representatives of most of the world's nations met in Kyoto, Japan, to negotiate a binding agreement to cut emissions of "greenhouse" gases. They succeeded. The Kyoto Protocol was ultimately ratified by 156 countries. It was the first agreement of its kind. But it may also prove to be the last.
Good.Today, in the middle of new global warming talks in Montreal, there is a sense that the whole idea of global agreements to cut greenhouse gases won't work.
That is why Clinton never submitted it to the Congress, and why Bush pulled us out of Kyoto.A major reason the optimism over Kyoto has eroded so rapidly is that its major requirement - that 38 participating industrialized countries cut their greenhouse emissions below 1990 levels by the year 2012 - was seen as just a first step toward increasingly aggressive cuts. But in the years after the protocol was announced, developing countries, including the fast-growing giants China and India, have held firm on their insistence that they would accept no emissions cuts, even though they are likely to be the world's dominant source of greenhouse gases in coming years.
That is exactly the problem. No matter how much the Western countries cut, and how much they hurt their economies doing it, China and India would add more than was cut.Their refusal helped fuel strong opposition to the treaty in the United States Senate and its eventual rejection by President Bush.
It was not just Bush. Clinton knew it would not be confirmed so he did not even submit it.But the current stalemate is not just because of the inadequacies of the protocol. It is also a response to the world's ballooning energy appetite, which, largely because of economic growth in China, has exceeded almost everyone's expectations. And there are still no viable alternatives to fossil fuels, the main source of greenhouse gases. Then, too, there is a growing recognition of the economic costs incurred by signing on to the Kyoto Protocol.
Countries that signed re not following it, because they knew it was hurting their economies.As Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, a proponent of emissions targets, said in a statement on Nov. 1: "The blunt truth about the politics of climate change is that no country will want to sacrifice its economy in order to meet this challenge."
That is what Bush said all along.This is as true, in different ways, in developed nations with high unemployment, like Germany and France, as it is in Russia, which said last week that it may have spot energy shortages this winter. Some veterans of climate diplomacy and science now say that perhaps the entire architecture of the climate treaty process might be flawed.