A proposal... [Link U.S acceptance of the Kyoto Protocol to European support on Iraq]

So am I correct in reading your statement to mean that the Clinton administration was not rational? If he signed the treaty in 1997, couldn’t he have found time to send it to the Senate for approval sometime before January 2001? Signing the Kyoto treaty was in Clinton’s best interests, not the U.S.'s. His main concern was how he was perceived, not how he performed for America. This was made clear by the bipartisan vote of no-confidence in the Senate. Bush should have never even acknowledged the Treaty. He should have just said that since his predecessor did not think the treaty worth submission to Congress, he wasn’t going to change anything.

Well, I am not an American and I haven’t looked into the politics of this, but if, when Clinton signed the treaty, he saw no prospect of its being ratified, then I would criticise him. In that scenario, whatever reasons he had for signing it, it doesn’t appear that he intended to proceed to ratification, and he has “devalued” the currency of the United States’ signature on a treaty. The fact that, through clever manouevring, he has got the Bush administration blamed for this wouldn’t change matter.

There is, I think, a difference between not submitting a treaty (or any other measure) to the Senate and declaring that you do not intend to submit it. The former may simply result from waiting for the optimal time, hoping or expecting that an election will change the make-up of the Senate, or that developing events or pressures will alter the views of Senators. I’m not saying that that was Clinton’s thinking - a reverse of a 95-0 vote is a big swing to hope for - but it does mean that Bush was going one step further in positively declaring that ratification was not an option.

I don’t agree with you that Bush should have said that, since his predecessor didn’t think the treaty worth submitting, he wasn’t going to submit it either. Apart from the fact that that is not the only possible reading of Clinton’s actions, there is the point that Bush, having become president through the vagaries of the American electoral system, has a responsibility to take his own decisions on policy matters, and not to hide behind the actions (or inactions) of his predecessors. If Bush thought the treaty was a Bad Thing he ought to have said so (as indeed he did); to hide behind the Clinton administration would have been weak.

UDS, I agree with your last comments regarding Bush’s actions. While I also believe that what he did was the right thing, what I was saying was what the “politically” right thing would have been. I and many others can see that he stood up for what he believed and told us so instead of parsing words. However there are many who just read propaganda that is fed to them, and as a result truly believe that Bush killed Kyoto when in actuality it was dead and buried in America long before.

He was in a sticky situation. The only alternative might have been for him to say “I don’t think this is a good treaty (or is as good as it could and should be), but the US will stand by its international obligations and I will submit this treaty to the Senate for ratification”. He would then have submitted the treaty, and the Senate would have rejected it.

On balance this is perhaps what he ought to have done. By ditching the treaty himself he can be acccused of “playing to the gallery” for domestic political gain at the expense of damaging the international reputation of the US as a country which stands over its signature on a treaty.

On the whole, I think that neither administration emerges from this covered in glory.

I’m missing something here, I think.
But how can you sign a treaty first and only then run it by senate??
Aren’t you bound to a treaty the moment you sign it?
I don’t know exactly how your government system works, with regards to signing treaties. But if the president isn’t entitled to sign treaties of his own accord, how come he was able to sign in the first place, without running it by the senate?

Shouldn’t the order of things be:
You are asked to join a treaty
Senate debates wether to join or not.
Senate decides to join.
President signs treaty on behalf of the people.

I don’t understand this buisiness of signing and then having to ‘ratify’ it.

No, what happens is the President is authorized to sign treaties, the Senate then gets to make the final decision. No one is bound by anything until the ratification process is completed. Of course, the intelligent course of action is for the president to keep the Senate involved and informed at all steps so they have a chance to address their concerns before it comes time to ratification. But not everyone does this - see Wilson, Clinton and Bush. He almost lost out on NAFTA due to differences with the Senate and I’m not sure it would have been passed if Clinton wasn’t such a big fan of it and made the effort he did to get it ratified.

And in any case, there are several other countries that have the same order as the US.

The sequence of events is

  1. States negotiate treaties.

  2. Then they sign them. This means that the negotiation is finished, and the treaty is in final form. Those states who have signed the treaty have “accepted” the outcome of the negotiations, as it were, and are saying that they will now proceed to ratify the treaty (i.e. make it binding upon themselves) in accordance with their own constitutional requirements. States which are not happy with the outcome of the negotiation (i.e. they don’t like the final form of the treaty) shouldn’t sign it.

  3. States who have signed the treaty ratify it, at which point it becomes binding on them.

Constititutional requirements for ratifying treaties depend on national law, and vary from place to place. In the US, treaties are signed by the Executive but ratified by the Senate, and the Executive does not control the Senate and therefore cannot give an unqualified guarantee that signature will be followed by ratification. But, by signing the treaty, the accept an obligation in good faith to proceed to ratification. Thus, in the case of the Kyoto agreement, the criticism is not that the US failed to ratify the treaty, but that the administration announced that it would not seek ratification, in breach of the good faith obligation which the US undertook to other states.

Texican has suggested that this criticism should have been directed at Clinton instead of, or as well as, Bush. There may be merit in this but, from the point of view of those outside the US it is irrelevant. The US is the US; the US government is the US government; who happens to be in office at any time matters to the citizens of the US but it is no business of anyone else, and in its international relations every US government is bound by the acts of its predecessors.

Wow, one doesn’t have to be away from a thread for very long for a lot of misinformation to build up!

First point: As UDS has pointed out, the 95-0 vote by the Senate was taken before the meeting that produced the original Kyoto Protocol. The vote was a resolution to the effect that the U.S. position in the negotiations should be that an agreement require emissions limits on all countries, not just the industrialized countries. Since the Kyoto agreement that came out of these negotiations specified just limits on industrialized countries with note that the other countries would be included in subsequent rounds of emission reductions, some people took the vote in the Senate as a voting down of Kyoto before the fact.

There are at least couple of reasons why this interpretation is misleading. First, this was essentially a statement by the Senate of a negotiating position. At least some Senators surely understand that negotiations with other nations require us to make compromises. Second, in the many intervening years since that vote, the science of global warming has advanced and the political climate has changed quite dramatically. For example, the Global Climate Coalition, made up of corporations fighting action on climate change has essentially fallen apart and even former members such as B.P. and Ford have acknowledged the serious danger of global warming and, in the case of B.P., embraced Kyoto.

Second point: While I am not happy with Clinton’s seeming unwillingness to expend political capital talking up Kyoto, it is unfair to blame him for not submitting for ratification. At the time that he left office, very few nations (none that I can name off the top of my head, in fact) had ratified Kyoto for the simple reason that it was only a framework agreement with the final details of implementation still being negotiated. In particular, issues that needed to be addressed included global emissions trading and credit for “carbon sinks.”

What Bush essentially said was, “Sorry, we are no longer interesting in these negotiations. We think the agreement is fundamentally flawed and are pulling out of Kyoto regardless of how the negotiations turn out.” So, Bush did indeed pull us out of Kyoto. As it turns out, the final Kyoto agreement that nations are now ratifying contains considerable compromises toward concerns about economic costs, so much so that some environmentalists dubbed it “Kyoto Lite” (while still acknowledging that is much better than nothing).

Third point: The article USA Today article that Texican cited is out-of-date in several ways. For one thing, it is written before the final details were put into the treaty. For another, it suggests that other nations like the Europeans might be privately happy that the U.S. killed Kyoto. However, like a phoenix, Kyoto has risen from the “death” that some proclaimed upon it after the U.S. backed out. (Some claimed noone wanted it anyway while others said that the U.S. backing out would doom it.) Lots of countries have now ratified it, including all the major industrialized ones except Australia and the U.S., and it is expected that Russia will ratify it fairly soon (later this year?) thus bringing it into force. [It comes into force when countries totaling 55% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions have ratified it.]

Final point: Bush’s pulling us out of Kyoto would not have been greeted with such unhappiness if he had at least proposed a credible alternative plan for the U.S. Instead, he has proposed a goal of reducing what he calls “greenhouse gas intensity,” which is emissions divided by GDP, by a set amount (18% ?) by 2012. He calls this an ambitious but attainable goal and he is half-right. It is certainly attainable. It is far from ambitious however as it reflects almost precisely the trend that greenhouse gas intensity has been on (due to general efficiency improvements plus the fact that our economy has become more service-oriented and less manufacturing-oriented). So, it is essentially business-as-usual and, even if we meet the goal, emissions in 2012 will probably be about 30% higher, rather than 7% lower, than 1990 levels.

Hope that all helps to set the record straight. There is a lot of misinformation about Kyoto out there, some of which Texican has generously inserted into this thread.

By the way, here is an article in the New York Times Magazine about BP and its CEO John Browne explaining how BP has met a target it set for itself that is a bit more rigorous than Kyoto…8 years ahead of time and saving money in net:

Here for your reading pleasure is a page of information on Kyoto from the website of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, including the current status of which countries have ratified it:


(Be sure you click on the list of signatories and ratification for the Kyoto Protocol and not the Convention or you are apt to be confused as I was the first time I visited this site.)

Couple of points:

Drilling for oil in any Western, democratic country is an absolute nightmare in most cases. First you have miles of red tape to cut through to just get the rights to drill, including the nod from environmentalists and any other special-interests groups. Then you must build equipment and facilities that meet strict health and safety codes, hire workers for a decent wage and give them lots of benefits. There are enourmous resources of oil underneath North America, but actually getting to them is, more times than not, an ungodly process with a huge pricetag.

Now imagine this: A poverty and war stricken country with the second-largest supply of oil comes under “regulation” by “peacekeeping” forces. They build equipment and facilities sufficien enough that they won’t fall over, but they are still mostly death traps, hire local workers and pay them enough to keep activists off your back, and then reap all the benefits. Low overhead = big profits. Ever heard of a sweatshop? Same idea.

Now, you might think that all this oil would mean plummeting prices, which means no profits. Not true. The influx of the oil would cause a slight drop in price, yes, but since the oil companies are only paying a fraction to actually unearth it than they would be drilling in the States, and far less than they would be buying it off, say, Brazil, they make a bundle. Furthermore, countries are limited in the amount of oil they can sell every day. These quotas mean stable prices, and big profits over the long haul. If you discovered a magical island that had pre-built facilities capable of exporting 5 trillion barrels of oil a day, the impact would be only slight on the world market because of the upper limits on what that island could actually introduce into the market.