COP3—Kyoto Protocol Climate Conference

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  • by Anup Shah
  • This Page Last Updated Friday, February 15, 2002

1997, at the Conference of Parties III (COP3), Kyoto, Japan, the Kyoto conference on climate change took place. There, developed countries agreed to specific targets for cutting their emissions of greenhouse gases. A general framework was defined for this, with specifics to be detailed over the next few years. This became known as the Kyoto Protocol.

The US proposed to just stabilize emissions and not cut them at all, while the European Union called for a 15% cut. In the end, there was a trade off, and industrialized countries were committed to an overall reduction of emissions of greenhouse gases to 5.2% below 1990 levels for the period 2008 - 2012. (The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said in its 1990 report that a 60% reduction in emissions was needed...)

Big Businesses on the Defensive

However, there were many political factors involved during the conference and many industries such as oil and coal had a huge campaign to discredit the conference.

Leading up to the conference, during it, and since, big corporations with financial interests at stake have had a lot of influence in the outcome and on the media. A lot of primarily industry arguments against the Kyoto conference and Global Warming in general, claim that it will hurt the global (or USA's) economy and affect people's jobs.

Some of the well-respected scientists claiming that Global Warming is a myth have been sponsored in some way by various commercial interests as well.

Yet as the Kyoto Climate Change Conference ended in what Greenpeace has termed "a tragedy and a farce", the planet's temperature continues to rise.

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Washington Reluctant to Sign the Protocol

At the end of March 2001, U.S. President George Bush said that he "opposed the Kyoto Protocol." One of the reasons he cited was because India and China would not be subject to Kyoto measures and would increase their emissions. Yet he ignored that on a per capita basis, India and China's emissions are far less than the United States, which is the worst. Furthermore, the U.S. for over 20 to 25 percent of the world's carbon dioxide emissions, for just 4 to 5 percent of the world's population. Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment provide quite an explosive critique of Bush's claims:

In fact, these "population centres" which Bush refers to [in his March 2001 announcement] make an insignificant contribution of greenhouse gas emissions, particularly carbon dioxide, since they have extremely low per capita emissions. The US, on the other hand, contributes to one-fourth of the world's total greenhouse gas emissions. The total carbon dioxide emissions from one US citizen in 1996 were 19 times the emissions of one Indian. US emissions in total are still more than double those from China. At a time when a large part of India's population does not even have access to electricity, Bush would like this country to stem its 'survival emissions', so that industrialised countries like the US can continue to have high 'luxury emissions'. This amounts to demanding a freeze on global inequity, where rich countries stay rich, and poor countries stay poor, since carbon dioxide emissions are closely linked to GDP growth. (Emphasis is original)

The leader of the most polluting country in the world claims global warming treaty is "unfair" because it excludes India and China, March 16, 2001.

Also, China has taken steps to reducing its carbon emissions.

Economic fears were also cited. Business interests, as mentioned above have constantly resulted in strong lobbying in Washington, as well. Bush's announcement resulted in almost world-wide condemnation and many pointed to Bush's controversial election which included backing and contribution of millions of dollars by the oil industry, as factors in this decision.

In February 2002, Bush has proposed a different means to address Climate Change instead of following the Kyoto plans, which again met with the same criticism. An interesting thing to note has been his Administration's play on words, saying green house gas intensity will be reduced, rather than emissions. Professor of economics, Paul Krugman from M.I.T., points out the issue in an op ed in the New York Times:

What is this thing called greenhouse gas intensity? It is the volume of greenhouse gas emissions divided by gross domestic product. The administration [of George Bush] says that it will reduce this ratio by 18 percent over the next decade. But since most forecasts call for G.D.P. to expand 30 percent or more over the same period, this is actually a proposal to allow a substantial increase in emissions.

Still, doesn't holding the growth of emissions to less than the growth of the economy show at least some effort to face up to climate change? No, because that would happen anyway. In fact, the administration's target for reduction in greenhouse gas intensity might well be achieved without any policy actions - which is good news, because the administration hasn't really proposed any.

... So what does the Bush administration propose to do? Nothing much

Paul Krugman, Ersatz Climate Policy, New York Times, February 15, 2002

This despite pressure for many years on Washington to sign the Kyoto Protocol when over 36 countries, including all members of the European Union have already signed.

USA is the most powerful and influential country in the world (and incidentally, the worst polluter). However, the Republicans and business industry have always been opposed to the convention. (The United States have also failed to ratify the Biodiversity Convention and have been openly hostile towards most international agreements involving the United Nations or its affiliates).

The business lobby in USA is extremely powerful and is afraid of the economic ramifications of this treaty. There were huge propaganda events and advertisements by Congress and by the Global Climate Coalition (a group of large businesses concerned at their bottom line if the Kyoto Protocol was signed), making it harder for Washington to sign.

The Global Climate Coalition has recently seen some of its prominent members drop out, such as Shell and BP, who, for example, are trying to adapt their images to energy companies, not just petroleum companies. Others who have pulled out include Ford, Dupont, Daimler Chrysler, Texaco, General Motors. An additional reason for pulling out of the Coalition has been due to their images suffering by staying in there. However, a number of these companies have promised to help reduce emissions and take other steps to help tackle climate change.

"Some of the exiting companies, such as BP Amoco, Shell, and Dupont, joined a progressive new group, the Business Environmental Leadership Council, now an organization of some 21 corporations. This new outfit, founded by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, says, "We accept the views of most scientists that enough is known about the science and environmental impacts of climate change for us to take actions to address its consequences."

...

"Abandonment of the Global Climate Coalition by leading companies is partly in response to the mounting evidence that the world is indeed getting warmer. The 15 warmest years in the last century have occurred since 1980. Ice is melting on every continent. The snow/ice pack in the Rockies, the Andes, the Alps, and the Himalayas is shrinking. The volume of the ice cap covering the Arctic Ocean has shrunk by more than 40 percent over the last 35 years. To deny that Earth is getting warmer in the face of such compelling evidence is to risk a loss of credibility, something that corporations cannot readily afford."

The Rise and Fall of the Global Climate Coalition, World Watch Institute, 25 July 2000

Also, the US wishes to suggest an emission trading policy instead of the suggested policies of the Kyoto protocol. However, it has been criticized as an ineffective and inequitable system.

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More Information

For more information, although there are hundreds of sites out there, I would suggest the following as starting places:

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Author and Page Information

  • by Anup Shah
  • Created: Monday, July 20, 1998
  • Last Updated: Friday, February 15, 2002

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