“The United States will start at home,” said
Dr. ZhongXiang Zhang, a fellow in energy and environmental
economics at the Center. “I don’t believe that
the United States will return to the Protocol anytime soon,
but I do believe that the United States will adopt mandatory
domestic regulations sometime this decade.”
By developing effective domestic policies, the United States
may be considered a credible international partner if it returns
to the negotiating table, Zhang said.
Zhang added that President George Bush is likely to continue
his opposition to the Kyoto Protocol and international emissions
agreements, but increasing domestic and international pressures
may soften his stance. Leading Republicans have increasingly
supported domestic emissions controlregulations, and U.S. allies
will continue to pressure the United States as well. British
Prime Minister Tony Blair pledged last month to make climate
change a top priority of the G8 industrialized nations during
Great Britain’s presidency of both the G8 and the European
Foreign pressure will help increase attention to climate issues
in the United States. This, combined with domestic pressures,
could help bring about a situation in which the Republican presidential
candidate in the 2008 election might consider distancing himself
from the current president’s climate policy, Zhang predicted.
This occurred when George H.W. Bush distanced himself from President
Ronald Reagan in the 1988 presidential election regarding the
regulation of sulfur dioxide emissions from power plants.
Zhang pointed out that the Republican Party, although it has
traditionally opposed the Kyoto Protocol, is divided on domestic
regulation of carbon dioxide emissions. He noted, for example,
the McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act of 2003, the most
detailed bipartisan bill on emissions to date. This bill would
have required domestic, mandatory, and economy-wide emissions
reductions beginning in 2010. The bill failed on a vote of 43-55
in the Senate in October 2003.
However, the Senate voted 95-0 in July 1997 for the Byrd-Hagel
Resolution warning President Bill Clinton not to sign a treaty
that would put emissions limits on the United States but no requirements
on developing countries. Zhang said those two votes symbolized
a “very significant” change in attitude toward climate
Zhang said there are many actions taking place at the state
and local levels as well in the United States. For example,
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger supported the state’s Air Resources
Board requiring auto makers to sell low-emissions vehicles starting
in 2009. California accounts for 10 percent of the total U.S.
auto market. New York Gov. George Pataki proposed in 2003 the
Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative—a cooperative effort
by nine Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states to cut carbon dioxide
emissions from power plants.
Given that the combined carbon emissions from the Northeastern
states and California make them the world’s sixth-largest
global emitters, the actions in these states make much sense
and are very environmentally meaningful, Zhang added.
Business views are also evolving. The “common front” against
carbon emissions regulations by the private sector has softened,
and positions have become more differentiated, Zhang said. For
example, DuPont has pledged to cut its emissions by 65 percent
below 1990 levels by 2010.
British Petroleum met its target of
cutting emissions by 10 percent below 1990 levels eight years
ahead of schedule at no net economic cost.
Although U.S. withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol complicates
the process aimed to broaden future participation and commitments,
U.S. actions will happen faster if the EU and Japan continue
to take the lead. “They should push the United States for
credible, mandatory domestic actions through political means
and trade policy before asking it to take on binding international
commitments,” Zhang said.
ZhongXiang Zhang is an energy and environmental economist
at the East-West Center. He can be reached at (808) 944-7265