Wednesday, November 9, 2011

To Ratify or Not to Ratify?: US Reluctance to Join the EU in the Global Kyoto Protocol




Despite economic concerns that are resonating throughout the world, the European Union continues to represent itself as a power on the world stage and has proved that cooperation in policy coordination can produce significant benefits. When countries are compelled to unite to fix problems with global implications, the model of the EU demonstrates that cooperation and coordination centered on a common goal is not an impossible feat.

Although social policies might be better coordinated at the national level, environmental policy, specifically initiatives pertaining to climate change and the atmosphere, are global problems that can and need to be addressed collectively. The Kyoto Protocol, ratified by the European Union in 2002, is an attempt at global coordination to strengthen the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change. According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Kyoto Protocol is an international agreement that sets legally binding objectives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Factories, automobiles, and the sheer number of individuals (over a half-billion people) make the EU a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and a part of the problem.

There are clear benefits for countries that have ratified this treaty. In addition to representing a collective global response in support of climate control, the agreement encourages cross-cultural cooperation and fosters a sense of responsibility between the ratifying countries and their counterparts. It only makes sense that the United States should want to be a part of this global opportunity, given its apparent concern about the environment, commitment to cooperation, and efforts to spearhead research and technology.

Critics of the United States’ lack of commitment to the protocol say the US is irresponsible for revoking its participation (the US signed the agreement but never ratified it). Although US hesitation is rooted in the potential for negative economic effects as well as the absence of compliance from developing countries, making polluters “pay” by cooperating with global emission regulations would silence critics who claim the US is not bearing its share of the burden. The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) performs comparative assessments of environmental impact. According to the EIA, the United States has the highest per capita emission in the world of carbon dioxide, which is a greenhouse gas that the Kyoto Protocol aims to decrease. If the US is an environmental liability, then why doesn’t it join in the initiative?

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From 2008-2009, the US was successful in decreasing greenhouse gas emissions by 7%. EU member states also experienced decreases under Kyoto Protocol regulations. Are US policies sustainable enough to merit its lack of cooperation with the EU and rest of the world?

Although international actors, institutions, and individuals are focused on the United States’ “failure”, critics of Kyoto might point to what the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or the US Government can currently do independent of the internationally binding agreement. Following its withdrawal of commitment from Kyoto, the United States pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions using their own approach.

In a time when it’s essential to understand the effects of globalization and to cooperate in the management of the use of the world’s resources, it is imperative for the US to collaborate on a much larger scale rather than place confidence in national level policies that could easily change with new leadership.

From the EU and US perspective, the protocol has both positive and negative aspects. The answer might not be Kyoto; however, global cooperation is key in environmental protection.


Allyce Husband is a first-year student in the Master of Arts in European Union Studies program at the University of Illinois. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Communication and Psychology from the University of Illinois in 2011. As an undergraduate, Allyce studied abroad in Florence, Italy. She was awarded a Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowship for 2011-2012 to continue studying Italian as a graduate student. She plans to research immigration issues in the European Union.

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