United States should set example by ratifying Kyoto Protocol

The Kyoto Protocol went into effect Wednesday. Notably absent from countries committing to the protocol is the world’s biggest producer of such greenhouse gasses: the United States.

The Kyoto Protocol was negotiated in Kyoto, Japan, in December 1997. Its full name, Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, illustrates what it was intended to do. The increasing emissions of greenhouse gasses had been linked to a rise in the Earth’s average temperature. To counteract this trend, the international community agreed to impose standards to keep emissions at the level they were at in 1990, if not lower them.

All member countries of the European Union ratified the protocol in 2002 and have successfully lowered the emissions. The EU accounts for about 21 percent of greenhouse gas emissions and has proven that stricter guidelines do not necessarily adversely impact the economy.

Meanwhile, the United States is pouting. While being instrumental in drafting the protocol, the United States never ratified it. The official stance taken was last reiterated by President George W. Bush, who said, “America’s unwillingness to embrace a flawed treaty should not be read by our friends and allies as any abdication of responsibility.”

The U.S. stance is that unless all countries — including China, the world’s second highest emitter of greenhouse gases — abide by the rules established in the protocol, what’s the point of bothering?

The point is that global warming a serious threat. A rise of only a few degrees in global temperature could have catastrophic results, causing heat waves in some areas while causing record winters in others.

Some scientists even point at last year’s wave of hurricanes, droughts and record snowfall as a symptom of global warming. The Bush administration argues that there is no clear proof that this is indeed the case.

The problem is, they are right. But by the time enough data is gathered to conclusively prove without a shadow of a doubt that global warming is real, it will be too late to stop it.

Instead of accepting the protocol, the administration hides behind Orwellian policies, such as “Clear Skies,” that actually raise emissions by weakening environmental standards.

The United States has an obligation to ratify the protocol. Instead of pointing the finger at other countries, it should show initiative and forethought by leading the cause.