The environmental effectiveness of any future international agreements on climate change will depend critically on both the United States and the developing world adopting active programs to combat emissions growth. Adopting agreements based on further emissions targets is not enough; an alternative approach will be required. But if the US does not get involved in the future agreements, as they have done with respect to Kyoto, then their effect will be seriously limited. The US currently accounts for just over 20% of the entire world emissions of greenhouse gases, and closer to 25% for carbon emissions from fossil fuels. After Australia (which has also declined to ratify Kyoto), the US has the highest per capita greenhouse gas emissions than any other country.
In the year 2000, the developing countries contributed to half of the worlds green gas emission. Based on the green gas emission projections, the developed world will possibly increase by around 35% 2000-2025, the developing world’s increase is likely to be over 80%. It is apparent that both the US and the developing world have to undertake active programs of reducing emissions with immediate effect, or the efforts of Europe and the rest of the world will be wasted (Pershing, 2004).
It seems that scrutiny of the costs and benefits to the US provides invaluable insights into the US position. If the US ratified the Kyoto protocol, the elements of the cost borne would surpass those in the estimates:
First, this would necessitate formulation of own domestic emissions reduction mechanisms and the costs of that would fall on industry, transport and households. The US believed that these costs would be unacceptable, but had always insisted that the prospects of acceptability would be only if there were widespread emissions trading.
Second, “relative” cost matters (the burden on the US relative to the burden borne by others). Apart from any feelings about “unfairness” if others did not appear to bear a big burden, there are concerns about competitiveness, and about impacts on specific sectors of the economy—not least oil and coal producers.
Third, the US has pushed for the idea that developing countries must urgently define their targets. It is a rational position to take since rates of warming cannot be adequately affected without this happening. The developing countries have always maintained that warming was not their responsibility. If the rich countries want to bring the developing countries on board, they might therefore have to pay for developing country reductions as well as their own. The Kyoto Protocol does have flexibility mechanisms which permit reductions in developing countries to be credited to developed economies provided the latter pay for them. But what the US may have feared was the prospect that the developing countries would maintain their “you not us” stance and eventually the US would have to become a major contributor to the costs of reducing emissions in developing countries, without emission credits being secured.
To conclude with, the promise of economic decisions to combat emissions and further effects of climate change lies on the US as a major world economy. Energy sources and consumption must be in tandem with the risks posed to the environment. Fossil fuel costs must not appear like an incentive to consumers but an incentive for invention of alternative sources of energy.