WASHINGTON, DC -- The best reasons advanced by European environmental officials in Washington this week to reinterest the Bush administration in climate negotiations did not appear to be persuasive.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christie Todd Whitman gave European environmental representatives little hope that the Bush administration would reconsider its decision not to support the Kyoto Protocol.
Whitman, who just weeks ago urged President George W. Bush to support the climate treaty, has seen her authority and credibility seriously undermined by the President's announcement that he views the climate treaty as bad for the U.S economy.
On Monday and Tuesday, representatives of the European Union (EU), including Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrm, Swedish Environment Minister Kjell Larsson and Marc Pallemaerts from the Belgian State Secretary's Office for Energy and Sustainable Development, were in Washington DC to discuss the future of the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement aimed at curbing global warming.
"In all countries, climate change will be on top of the political agenda for a long time to come," said Wallstrm. "By choosing not to be part of the process, the United States will miss this opportunity. It will not only lose influence over the process, it will not be able to participate in international emissions trading."
Under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, 39 industrialized nations are committed to cutting their greenhouse gas emissions to an average of 5.2 percent below 1990 levels by the period 2008-2012. But the Protocol cannot take effect until it is ratified by 55 percent of the nations emitting at least 55 percent of the six greenhouse gases.
The United States is responsible for 25 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions.
Last week, President Bush and his administration said that the United States will not ratify the protocol, and intends to withdraw as a signatory to the agreement.
European environmental officials, who support the protocol, came to the United States to learn whether the President could be persuaded to change his position, or to take other steps toward combating climate change.
Whitman, one of the key environmental officials in the Bush administration, gave the European officials little encouragement.
"Today I emphasized to members of the European Community that I continue to be as optimistic as the President that, working constructively with our friends and allies through international processes, we can develop technologies, market based incentives, and other innovative approaches to global climate change," said Whitman in a statement following the talks.
Whitman stressed the Bush administration's position that "the Kyoto Protocol is unfair to the United States and to other industrialized nations because it exempts 80 percent of the world from compliance." The Kyoto Treaty "could damage the economy," Whitman warned.
"Combating climate change is not only about cost; it provides an opportunity for new technology and for modernizing our economies," said Commissioner Wallstrm. "We also know that companies on both sides of the Atlantic want certainty about the rules."
The trio of European representatives underlined that the Kyoto Protocol remains the framework for international efforts to combat climate change, and that the European Union remains committed to ratifying the protocol by 2002. The representatives warned that climate change is already happening and that it is a serious threat to the future of mankind.
The Europeans also underlined that one country cannot declare dead an international process that deals with a major global issue. The EU still hopes to have the United States involved in the Kyoto Protocol as soon as possible - but is prepared to go forward without the U.S. if necessary.
The European team expressed some optimism that Whitman and other U.S. representatives did not challenge the scientific evidence of global warming.
"The evidence of climate change is based on a broad consensus among the world scientific community," said Swedish Environment Minister Kjell Larsson. "We were happy to note that nobody on the U.S. side questioned the science about climate change. All countries have a responsibility to mitigate the effects of climate change."
"This is particularly true for the industrialized countries, which must take the lead," added Larsson. "Per capita, the United States CO2 emissions are more than 20 tons, while the average emissions for developed countries is 12 tons, and for developing countries, about two tons."
"The administration is undertaking a Cabinet level review of U.S. climate change policy and is considering what policies we should pursue domestically and internationally to address concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere," Whitman said. "Global climate change is a serious issue that this administration is committed to addressing by working closely with our friends and allies."
Whitman's remarks, which supported the Bush administration's official position on the Kyoto treaty, run counter to her earlier statements supporting mandatory controls of greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, and a letter she sent to President Bush urging that he support the Kyoto Protocol.
While environmental groups once looked on Whitman's appointment to the EPA with cautious optimism, many now fear that she will have little or no influence over the Bush administration's environmental policies.
In a letter sent to Whitman today, Friends of the Earth (FoE), one of the nation's largest environmental groups, called on the administrator to step down "as a matter of conscience."
Citing policy reversals on the regulation of carbon dioxide, arsenic in drinking water, and the U.S. decision to unilaterally cancel the Kyoto climate change agreement, FoE said that Whitman's credibility had been compromised "beyond repair" both in the United States and abroad.
"First the Bush administration destroyed her credibility on climate change. Then, in an astounding blow to public health, Administrator Whitman sent standards for arsenic in drinking water back to 1942," said FoE president Dr. Brent Blackwelder. "The best thing she can do for the health and safety of America is to step down and join our fight to halt President Bush's war on our environment."
"It is clear that the actions of the Bush administration and your independent decisions have compromised your credibility beyond repair. Still, it is not too late to become part of the solution," the FoE wrote to Whitman. "Please resign your post and join us in putting a stop to this all out assault on the public health and environment of the United States and, indeed, the rest of the world."
- 100 Climate Justice Initiative