The Kyoto Protocol should not be a partisan issue. The percentage reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions to which the United States committed itself by signing the 1997 Protocol to the 1992 un Framework Convention on Climate Change was probably unachievable when the protocol was adopted. The protocol then languished in Washington for the final three years of the Clinton administration, which chose not to present it to the Senate for ratification. In accordance with a Senate resolution calling for the full participation of the main developing countries in the protocol's emissions-cutting requirements, that pause was supposed to allow time for negotiation to bring those countries on board. But nobody thought any such negotiation could produce results, and no negotiation was ever attempted. George W. Bush, succeeding to the presidency three years after the protocol's signing, had some choices and may not have made the best choice when he rejected the plan outright last year. But the one option he did not have was to submit the protocol to the Senate for ratification.
The U.S. "commitment" to the protocol meant cutting emissions significantly below their 1990 level by 2010 -- which required a 25 or 30 percent reduction in projected emissions levels. Such a cut was almost certainly infeasible when the Clinton administration signed the protocol in 1997. Three years later, with no action toward reducing emissions, no evidence of any planning on how to reduce emissions, and no attempt to inform the public or Congress about what might be required to meet that commitment, what might barely have been possible to achieve over 15 years -- 1997 to 2012 -- had become unreasonable. The Senate will not confirm a treaty unless it knows what actions the "commitment" entails, and no president could answer that question without a year's preparation. No such preparation appears to have been done in the Clinton administration. Bush, in stating that he would not submit the treaty to the Senate, at least avoided hypocrisy...
This is a premium article
Buy PDFBuy a premium PDF reprint of this article.
SubscribeSubscribe and get premium access to ForeignAffairs.com.