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Kyoto Rows

Sunday, 17th June, 2001

As you know, solitary reader, I'm fundamentally fascinated by the differences between England and the United States. Nothing seems to have highlighted these differences quite so well as the current bitchfight over the environmental accord known as the Kyoto Protocol.

Put simply, the agreement is for 38 major industrialised countries of the world to reduce their output of six key greenhouse gases to an average of 5% below their 1990 levels by the year 2010. That is simple, however, as there is an incredible amount of small print. The reason that this issue has become such a volatile one is that President Bush has publicly stated his opposition to the accord and his refusal to ratify it.

I remember when I first heard this news. Obviously Bush, newly elected to the presidency, was stamping his feet and saying that he was going to do his own thing. The oil connections of both Vice President Cheney and Bush himself were very much in mind. It would be a major step backwards in the environmental challenge to repair some of the damage that the human race has inflicted upon its home planet.

Or would it? The more I look into this issue, the more I see hypocrisy and blind stupidity. Whether Bush is right in his actions or not, certainly he seems to be the only honest party involved. All the major gridlocks can be easily washed away.

The leaders of the fifteen European Union nations are condemning Bush for refusing to ratify the treaty, yet none of them have yet ratified it themselves. As far as I can gather, the only European country to ratify it is Romania, which is outside the EU. The agreement was drafted at the Kyoto talks in 1997, putting us four years into a thirteen year deadline already. If it is going to be ratified in Europe, why has it not already been done?

Many critics point to the US as being the largest polluter in the world, quoting it as producing 25% of the world's carbon dioxide emissions for only 5% of the population. While technically true, this is highly misleading as the US also produces 25% of the world's goods. If the US didn't produce goods for export, the rest of the world would have to produce them and thus even up the emission balance. Rapidly developing industrialised countries such as India and China are catching up already, and the Kyoto treaty doesn't apply to them.

Given its size and very high percentage of forested land, it also absorbs far more carbon dioxide, making it less of a damaging influence. A far more extreme climate also demands much higher energy use anyway. Many old age pensioners die each year in England due to very hot or cold weather. Temperature in the US is far more extreme and thus far more dangerous without heating or air conditioning, depending on the season. They are requirements, not luxuries.

At talks over the last few years, it seems that rather than amend the aims to more realistic and scientifically viable ones, the European leaders have steadfastly refused to discuss. This had become evident even before Bush was elected, leading the US Senate to reject the whole plan, making Bush's opposition irrelevant anyway.

The Canadians put the blame for the treaty's failure directly in the hands of the EU. Environment Minister David Anderson is more environmentally aware than most, given that he sees noticeable effects of global warming within his own country. He accepts the science of the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change absolutely, though cannot see any viable way of solving the problem without use of logic that the EU are inflexible over.

Canada and its allies - the US, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Switzerland, Norway and Russia - advocate the use of sinks (forestry to absorb carbon dioxide through growth) and the Clean Development Mechanism (a means to share the load of the reductions worldwide), but the EU vetoed their use in the treaty.

In the end, this inflexibility and reluctance to work within the bounds of reality has led the world's biggest polluter to abandon the treaty outright, throwing its entire worth into doubt, in favour of following its own route towards environmental efficiency. In a few mere months, Bush himself has already pushed through stringent legislation on emissions from vehicles and home appliances that will make a noticeable difference. He is also building power plants, though often in dubious locations, to both meet a growing power need and to make production more efficient.

Almost totally absent from discussion and diatribe is the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which is the international treaty that underlies Kyoto as well as every other global climate agreement. While Bush is well within his rights to bow out of Kyoto, he is legally obliged to implement the underlying convention, signed into American law by his father. Most obviously relevant is the assertion that all signatory nations will reach 'stabilisation of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.'

Given that a little research renders the Kyoto agreement flawed and non-viable, all that remains is rhetoric, of which there seems to be no lack. Reading through an open forum hosted by the BBC, I can't help but notice the appalling arrogance, not on the part of the Americans taking part but, surprisingly, of the Europeans.

Commentators consistently hurl insults and diatribes at Bush and America in general, while accepting no fault on the side of Europe. What strikes me more than anything else is the setting up of sides: Europe vs America. I'm sorry but Europe in the sense of a united political front simply does not exist. The European Union is a collection of constantly bickering politicians who cannot find common ground anywhere.

I live in the UK, physically part of the continent of Europe and politically signed up as a member of the European Union. We share nothing with our EU compatriots: neither a common language, nor a common currency nor even a common policy on defence, finance or human rights. We may be the most extreme of the fifteen member states but no one country honestly agrees much with any other when it comes to the fundamental basics of providing a union. Most are still fighting to keep parts of their geography from achieving independence, while ever striving towards a United States of Europe.

Logic decrees that either all the nations involved sacrifice sovereignty and power to a fairly elected European government or the entire experiment be abandoned. The current halfway house is pointless and self-defeating. We prove time and time again how pitifully our alliance copes with any substantial problem, soon requiring outside help from those that we seem to hate most.

Across the continent, I see many young people happy to be European as well as being Spanish or German or Dutch. I also see every success on the continent being a local one. The environment is no exception: many cities on the continent have introduced varied and effective methods of helping our planet, but none have been nationally designed and every national government will find a way to foul them up.

The current implementation of a European ideal is laughable and self-destructive. The politicians may play with the idea all they like, but it is well along the road to collapsing into nothing. When it dies, the people of Europe will choose a method of recovery. Whether it will be based on a national or European ethic remains to be seen, but until that time it has no validity to enter into any mudslinging whatsoever.

In as much as Europe can be summed up as anything, it is a negative culture, as much as the US is a positive culture. I don't like a lot of what George Bush has proposed but at least he's putting his money where his mouth is and doing something. All the Europeans seem to do is bicker. I feel ashamed to be associated with them.

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