On February 12th, 140 of this nation's largest businesses in cooperation with the Bush Administration announced pledges to voluntarily reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 4% in the next four years. Considering that the Environmental Protection Agency reported in 1989 that it will take at least a 50% reduction in greenhouse gases to begin restabilizing the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and the fact that the rest of the international community is ready to accept legally binding emissions restrictions in the form of the Kyoto Protocol, something better than voluntary compliance to a 4% reduction will have to be done in the US to address global warming. Apparently the Bush administration is going to pass the buck to another generation and another administration to tackle this problem.

Section 101 of the 1970 National Environmental Policy Act establishes the "continuous policy" for the Federal government to preserve the environmental integrity of the nation against degradation, risk to health or safety, or other undesirable and unintended consequences (section 101 b) 3.). The global warming trend that is emerging could have serious social implications on Americans and world citizens as regional weather patterns change and sea levels rise. In fact, there was a "medical warning" presented at the Kyoto Protocol conference signed by 1500 physicians and initiated by Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. Eric Chivian which validates the concern for human health in the face of global warming. The US is also party to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC).

Restabilization of the atmosphere is the goal stated in article 2 of the FCCC. This treaty became international law on March 21, 1994. Yet the United States government, controlled by the Republicans and Democrats, has refused to accept the next round of climate change treaties, over emphasizing the mandatory reductions negative impact on already establish energy industries.

The Kyoto Protocol is the first international treaty attempting accountability in curbing greenhouse gas emissions. In March 2001, the Bush Administration announced that the United Sates would not send the protocol to the senate to be ratified, although the Clinton administration signed the treaty on November 12, 1998. The treaty cannot legally bind the United States unless ratified by the Senate and signed by the President; however, the signature of President Clinton does authenticate the text of the agreement and obligates the U.S. to refrain from acts that would defeat the object and purpose of the agreement. Even without the US ratification this Kyoto protocol could still go into force, which demonstrated the international support for legally binding greenhouse gas emission reductions.

At the recent Earth Summit held in September 2002 in Johannesburg South Africa, Russian president Vladimir Putin expressed Russia's intent to ratify the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien also expressed that Canada would follow suit by ratifying the protocol.

The protocol will go into effect when at least 55 countries accounting for at least 55% of the carbon dioxide emissions in 1990 ratify the treaty. The 55-country clause has already been surpassed; 87 countries had ratified the treaty as of September 1, 2002. However those 87 countries only account for 37.1 percent of emissions.

When Russia ratifies the treaty, it will have over 55% of emissions accounted for. Canada's ratification alone cannot make the treaty law, however, currently 50% of Canada's energy production is exported to the U.S. If Canada begins to curb its greenhouse gas emissions certainly this exported energy will be subject to change. Regardless of the fact that the United Stated is not going to ratify this particular round of climate change treaties, at some point the United States government will have to join the international pact to stabilize climate. In this regard, the Bush administration is not helping US interests by disregarding the Kyoto Protocol.

Article 2 of the Kyoto Protocol focuses on enhancing energy efficiency. The article outlines areas in which every nation committed to stabilizing global climate can approach. These areas include protecting current carbon sinks, enhancing carbon sinks through sustainable forest management, increased renewable energy use, phasing out subsidies and limiting greenhouse gases in the transport sector. So when will the US make real strides in these areas? Our forest management practices still emphasize cutting trees for timber; the federal money for renewable energy research and development has vastly declined from a high of $2 billion in 1980; the oil, timber, and mining industries still receive millions in perverse subsidies; and federal emission standards for cars have not been improved since 1980! The Bush administration is not serious about addressing this issue because it strikes at the unsustainable our US industries, the same industries that pour millions into campaign financing and lobbying. Somewhere down the line, all humans are going to have to deal with the consequences our 200-year-old addiction to fossil fuels. Hopefully the earth's atmosphere and climate are still habitable when change comes.

Sarah Clark is a Freep Board member.

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