Read all about it in my article at Asia Focus.
The Kyoto climate change treaty (actually the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change or UNFCCC) has a few flaws:
1. It assigns legally binding emissions caps only to 40 nations in the developed world.
2. No binding caps were assigned to developing world powerhouses such as China, India, and Brazil.
3. The United States never ratified the treaty.
The EU and Japan have nobly met their obligations, even as the United States, China, and India continue to dump greenhouse gases in the air and atmospheric temperatures increase.
During the Bush administration, there was no question about who was wearing the black hat.
In 2001, the White House spokesman, Ari Fleischer presided over this exchange:
Q: Is one of the problems with this, and the entire energy field, American lifestyles? Does the President believe that, given the amount of energy Americans consume per capita, how much it exceeds any other citizen in any other country in the world, does the President believe we need to correct our lifestyles to address the energy problem?
MR. FLEISCHER: That’s a big no. The President believes that it’s an American way of life, and that it should be the goal of policy makers to protect the American way of life. The American way of life is a blessed one.
With the election of President Obama and his announcement that green economics would form the core of his agenda, the black hat quickly and efficiently slid over to China’s head.
One way forward might have been for the United States to ratify Kyoto, perhaps conditioned on China and India agreeing to legal caps.
However, the accepted wisdom apparently was that the U.S. Congress would never ratify Kyoto, so the Obama administration planned on scrapping Kyoto and replacing it with a new treaty.
That strategy involved passing domestic cap-and-trade legislation in 2009 and going to Copenhagen with the moral, economic, and diplomatic clout to lead the world (and predictably unhappy China and India) toward a new climate change regime.
Trouble is, President Obama had teed up cap-and-trade after health care. By November 2009 the U.S. acknowledged it would be going to Copenhagen without national legislation.
In other words, the United States was going as just another big polluter like China and India.
The only difference was that China and India were anxious to preserve the advantageous Kyoto Treaty, which also provided the only legally-binding agreement to combat climate change…
…while the Obama administration wanted to scrap Kyoto, but could not deliver a keystone American legal commitment necessary for a successor system.
Instead of admitting its climate-change shortcomings, the Obama administration decided, for whatever domestic or international reasons, to present the illusion of American leadership and orchestrated a firestorm of criticism of China’s climate-change intransigence.
The main takeaway for China was that Washington wanted to gut the Kyoto Treaty unilaterally with the help of its buddies in the EU without putting anything in its place…
…while shifting the blame to China for blocking an agreement that was, actually, no agreement.
Much ugliness ensued, both at Copenhagen and afterwards, as the U.S. and EU countries embarked on a massive flame war against China in an effort to keep the climate-change villain frame firmly on Beijing.
The Chinese gave as good as they got, forming the BASIC bloc* (Brazil, India, and China, with South Africa contributing its reversed initials for much-needed African-continent cred and acronym assistance) of big developing-world emitters, which looks likely to bedevil the Obama administration’s climate change maneuvers for the foreseeable future.
The longed-for international united front against climate change is pretty much a shambles, which would seem to fit into a U.S. narrative of Kyoto is broke and has to be replaced, not fixed.
However, with the developing world dismayed by the West’s machinations at Copenhagen, and with cap-and-trade off President Obama’s domestic political agenda, the United States seems a long way from gaining enough moral and political altitude to be able to scrap Kyoto in the face of determined Chinese and Indian opposition.
I document the atrocities in an article I have up at The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus, entitled The Copenhagen Challenge: China, India, Brazil and South Africa at the Barricades.
Eric Johnston of Japan Times kindly contributed an afterword addressing the possibility of the Obama administration turning to Japan—together with the EU, the unheralded good guy living up to Kyoto obligations and spending real money and effort trying to save the planet—to take a leadership role in the run-up to the next climate change set-to in Mexico City.
*In case you are wondering, why BASIC, why not BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China), the answer is that the USSR is an Annex 1 (developed world) signatory. Its caps–calculated on the emissions of the evil empire at its smoke-belching climax–are ridiculously high. Russia is making some nice coin selling carbon offsets and is as uninterested as China and India in seeing the Kyoto boat rocked.