The US and us

By Anil Agarwal
Published: Sunday 15 April 2001

Last week, us president and oilman George Bush made his first statement on global warming, which has shocked environmentalists and European governments. But what we must realise is that his position, howsoever Neanderthal, is well calculated, strategic and frankly no different from the earlier us administration. Writing a letter to senators known for their rabid opposition to the climate change convention, Bush stated, "As you know, I oppose the Kyoto Protocol" which was negotiated in 1997 to cut greenhouse gas emissions from the industrialised world. But his reason for doing so was even more loaded. " Because it exempts 80 per cent of the world, including major population centres such as China and India , from compliance and would cause harm to the us economy ," he argued.

But what is new about this? The "green" Clinton-Gore combine took the same stand. Bush is just more crude and blunt. For the past three years, us strategy on climate change has been to target developing countries to be included in the Kyoto Protocol. It has held up negotiations by demanding "meaningful action" from countries like India and China. This is a clever smart move, probably conceived in the fancy negotiation courses taught in universities like Harvard. By implicating developing countries, the us has virtually held the world to ransom. Forget that the greenhouse gas emission of one us citizen is equal to 107 Bangladeshis, 134 Bhutanese, 269 Nepalese or 19 Indians. Forget that multilateral negotiations, of which the us has been a party, namely, the climate convention, agreed in 1992 by no less than the current Bush's father, and the subsequent Kyoto Protocol are all aimed at cutting emissions of the industrialised world only. Simply because these countries contribute the bulk of emissions which threaten to destabilise the world's climatic system.

The other negotiating strategy is to complain that the Kyoto Protocol will "harm us economy" as Bush repeats in his letter. The cost of everything including eggs will go up has been the war cry of the us auto and oil companies. The effort of the government has been to minimise effective action and to cut costs domestically. Firstly, it has tried to make sure that it has no limits on trading emissions -- buying emission reduction by investing in cleaner technology abroad and taking credit for the emissions saved. Secondly, it would like to ensure it pays as little as possible. As buying emission reduction from energy inefficient developing countries is much cheaper, as against taking action at home, it has made the Clean Development Mechanism (cdm) the core of its negotiating demands. The us design for the cdm -- which has Indian industrialists drooling -- is based on the principle of looking for the least-cost options like coal washing which can given a tonne of carbon dioxide reduction for as low as us$3. Never mind that the costs will go up in the future for us. Thirdly, it has worked hard to bring in sinks -- sequestering carbon dioxide by planting forests -- into the protocol. As sinks are difficult to measure it will allow for weak implementation but cheap budgets.

This pigheaded position, of the world's biggest bully, who also happens to be the world's biggest polluter, has meant that the climate change negotiations are stalled and weakened. All Bush has done is to state the obvious: his government is not willing to do anything that would compromise the American way of life.

But in all this mess our leaders are also to blame. They have shown little political sagacity in these critical negotiations. At all intergovernmental meetings, g-77 and China are lost in a quagmire of discussions on technology transfer and funds. As if the larger issues of an effective climate regime do not concern this most vulnerable group of countries. Our leaders go to these meetings with the minds of beggars and petty dealmakers.

Instead, what is needed is the following: One, to take the high moral ground and demand an effective climate convention. g-77 must articulate that it is in its own interest to ask for effective and measurable action from industrialised countries. Two, to do this it must lay out its strategy to make the Kyoto Protocol ecologically effective by plugging loopholes and pushing for a transition to cleaner energy. It can do this by demanding that the cdm trade will be only for high-end technologies, mainly renewable sources of energy.

Thirdly, and most importantly, g-77 and China must make alliances to form a powerful group against the us , namely, the European Union (eu). As yet, g-77 and China have always preferred to keep their options open to make small deals with whoever comes calling first. This prostitution has also meant that it gets dumped whenever it suits the big guys to come together.

Bush in his letter says, "Coal generates more than half of America's electric supply." That justifies his action to do little, even if all of us go to hell. But on the other hand, he argues even if they have not contributed to the problem, India and China must take effective action in the interests of us all. His position is immoral and contemptuous but even more contemptuous is our own inability to tell him that he is wrong.

-- Anil Agarwal

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.