updated 2/15/2005 6:42:47 PM ET 2005-02-15T23:42:47

The Bush administration contends that the long-term benefit from the Kyoto climate treaty will not be worth the immediate economic cost.

The conspicuous U.S. absence from the treaty limits its impact when it takes effect Wednesday. While the 35 participating industrial nations have committed to reducing carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and other compounds to below their levels of 1990, the United States is the single biggest source of greenhouse gases.

President Bush agreed in his 2000 campaign to regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant but came to the view shortly afterward that its harm had yet to be scientifically established.

“We are still learning about the science of climate change,” White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Tuesday. In the meantime, McClellan said, “we have made an unprecedented commitment to reduce the growth of greenhouse gas emissions in a way that continues to grow our economy.”

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States was devoting nearly $5.8 billion this year to scientific research, new technology, foreign aid and tax incentives for non-polluting energy development.

All, Boucher said, are aimed at reducing greenhouse gases and other air pollutants while also improving energy security, reducing poverty and promoting economic growth and development.

Millions of overseas jobs touted
The White House has contended that complying with the treaty’s requirement could cost millions of jobs, many of them in Third World countries such as India and China, both of which signed Kyoto but were exempted from limits on greenhouse gases.

Bush “strongly opposes any treaty or policy that would cause the loss of a single American job, let alone the nearly 5 million jobs Kyoto would have cost,” said James Connaughton, who heads the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

Instead, the president proposed in 2002 to rely on voluntary measures by industry to slow the growth of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases going into the atmosphere mainly from the burning of fossil fuels. It calls for the “carbon intensity” — the amount of greenhouse gases released as a percentage of economic growth — to fall 18 percent by 2012, or about 1.5 percent a year — about the same rate of reduction already occurring.

Environmentalists complain that there is no guarantee that any of that will occur and that, even if it does, greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere will continue to increase.

Because of heavy reliance on coal to produce electricity and oil for transportation over the next two decades, U.S. carbon emissions are expected to increase an average of 1.5 percent a year until 2025, from 5.790 million tons in 2003 to 8.062 million tons in 2025, according to the Energy Department.

“Reducing greenhouse intensity does not reduce total greenhouse gas emissions and is therefore not real climate stewardship,” said Annie Petsonk, a lawyer for Environmental Defense, a nonprofit activist group. “Kyoto breaks the link between economic growth and greenhouse gas pollution. ... That is the market that is leaving America behind.”

Former Vice President Al Gore was a main participant in putting the Kyoto accord together in 1997. Before then, however, the Senate went on record opposing some of the principles of the treaty, including the idea of exempting developing nations from any of its targets.

“The evidence of this worsening crises continues to mount,” Gore said Tuesday, accusing the Bush administration of showing the world “a stunning display of moral cowardice.”

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