Their view: Bush may improve legacy by ratifying Kyoto Protocol

In less than a week, Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will travel to Oslo to collect their Nobel Prize for their efforts to build awareness of and combat climate change.

Though they will collect a prize worth well over a million US dollars, we could imagine no better present the United States government could give them than the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, the decade-old international treaty designed to limit emissions and pollution that cause global warming.

Ironically, the United States has already signed the Kyoto Protocol (under the Clinton administration) but forgot the minor detail of actually ratifying it. The United States’ failure to ratify the Protocol is tragic in contrast with the tenor of the global warming discussion virtually everywhere else: Witness the dire climate assessment from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Al Gore’s Nobel Peace Prize, and Prime Minster-elect of Australia Kevin Rudd’s winning campaign promise to sign the protocol. As it stands, 172 parties (either countries or governmental entities) have ratified the protocol, including virtually every developed country in the world besides the United States.

The central argument against ratifying the protocol is that it treats countries differently based on how developed they are. For example, many countries that have ratified the treaty are only required to report their emissions rather than regulate them. But these arguments are both shortsighted and petty. For one, developing nations that are not yet required to regulate emissions are building good habits into their infrastructure through reporting mechanisms that will lead to increased awareness and later action against environmentally harmful practices. For another, the most developed countries are the worst emitters. Third, the protocol has a built-in framework to renegotiate the treaty in 2012, at which time the status of countries that have progressed and began to have higher emissions can be reconsidered. And lastly, the United States needs to take to be an international leader in fighting pollution and slowing climate change-engaging in squabbles over technicalities is childish and further undermines our already tarnished reputation.

Though countries have already started to gather in Bali to develop the Kyoto Protocol’s successor, that is no excuse not to ratify the Protocol now. The American economy may well take a hit from the strict emission and pollution controls that the Kyoto protocol demands. But if decisive action is not taken relatively soon, the changing climate will wreak more havoc on the global economy than strict environmental laws ever could.

Failing that, the United States should at the very least set tougher standards to curb its emissions and pollution on its own. The symbolic as well as material effect of such an action cannot be underestimated, especially as a country like China rapidly overtakes the United States as the globe’s worst polluter. We must lead by example, from the forefront of the global community instead of doubting and quibbling from the back. This is why we hope that each and every presidential candidate will make a pledge similar to Prime Minister-elect Rudd’s, to push for the ratification of the Kyoto protocol.

As President Bush prepares to finish out his last term as president by burnishing his image on the global stage – witness the Annapolis Conference – there are few initiatives that he could undertake that would be more significant than combating global climate change. We hope that he asks the Senate to ratify the Kyoto Protocol and fully invests our nation in the development and implementation of its successor.

The above editorial appeared in the Harvard Crimson (Harvard) yesterday.