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Friday, 30 March, 2001, 09:21 GMT 10:21 UK
Kyoto: Why did the US pull out?
President George W Bush AP
President Bush has agreed to disagree with world opinion
By Paul Reynolds in Washington

President Bush's rejection of the Kyoto agreement on global warming shows that he is quite prepared to accept arguments and rows with friend and foe alike over issues in which he thinks vital American interests are at stake.

Kyoto joins the list. It is now getting quite long:

  • missile defence, which has upset some European allies;
  • Russia and China;
  • his rejection of immediate talks with North Korea, which South Korea wanted;
  • air strikes on Iraq, of which not all members of the Security Council approved;
  • And a hands off approach to Northern Ireland and the Middle East, which concern some Irish and Palestinian activists.
The common factor is that the Bush administration identifies where its strategic interest lies, and acts accordingly.

If others don't like it, then that might be regretted, it might even be argued about, but it has to be accepted.

Wind power generators AP
President Bush wants technology to play a role in cutting pollution
George Bush has never made any secret that he doesn't like the Kyoto agreement, which seeks to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases in order to combat the rapid change in the planet's climate some scientists argue is now taking place.

He thinks it unfair on the United States, as it leaves out developing countries.

He fears that it would lead to higher energy prices in the United States and, at heart, he probably doesn't think it would do much good anyway.

Different options ordered

As far as the immediate issues of the Kyoto treaty and greenhouses gases are concerned, Mr Bush's decision was taken for two reasons.

The first is that the United States is facing an economic downturn and an energy shortage.

He doesn't want to do anything which makes that worse - and which would make his own position worse.

Remember that his father probably lost the Presidency in 1992 to Bill Clinton because he neglected the economy in favour of foreign policy.

The second is more practical. He argues that in order to reduce greenhouses gases (especially carbon dioxide) without "harming the economy and hurting American workers", as he puts it, the United States would need to use much more natural gas - and it does not have the means to do this.

There is not enough gas and not enough infrastructure to import it.

Senate support

Mr Bush is not alone in his view. The Senate has already voted not to ratify the treaty. That kills it anyway.

But George Bush does not want to appear totally inflexible. So, instead of Kyoto, he has ordered his cabinet to come up with some different ideas. He gave a hint of this approach during the election campaign.

He wants technology to play a leading role in cutting pollution, and he wants incentives for people to cut back, not punishments. These ideas will be further developed in the review.So what Mr Bush is promising at the moment is to look for a Kyoto alternative.

This would be one which does not exempt developing nations and does not penalise, as he would see it, the United States above all others.

And any reduction will have to be done in such a way as to not harm the economy.

Diplomatic flak

In the meantime, Mr Bush is ready to take the diplomatic flak, which is coming his way.

The European Union has already opened fire. It sent a strong letter to Mr Bush recently after his decision not to seek mandatory curbs on carbon dioxide emissions.

Behind Mr Bush's policies lies something else: a feeling among Americans that they are unfairly blamed for the world's pollution.

The climate in the United States is far more severe than in Europe. The summers are hot and the winters are cold. This means the use of more energy to keep cool and warm. Most Americans now drive European size cars.

So the White House is tapping into a public opinion interested in global warming but wanting to spread the burden around the world.

Until that happens, Mr Bush is arguing, we will do our own thing.

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See also:

28 Mar 01 | Sci/Tech
Anger as US abandons Kyoto
28 Mar 01 | Sci/Tech
US blow to Kyoto hopes
07 Mar 01 | Sci/Tech
Bush 'serious on climate change'
24 Feb 01 | Sci/Tech
'Odds against' a climate deal
25 Nov 00 | Sci/Tech
Analysis: What next?
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