International co-operation in Kyoto Protocol.
The environment started to be seen as a serious issue for some during the 1970’s. Many politicians at that point in time did not regard the environment as being an important issue, although the oil crisis of 1973 did make people think about pollution and resources. Concern for the environment was manly confined to ecologists and a few fringe environmental groups such as FOTE. However, greater scientific evidence of environmental damage that could seriously damage the future of the planet placed the environment firmly on the global political agenda (Evans& Newnham, 1998, p.149). Although the environment got onto the political agenda it has not proved straightforward to gain full international co-operation over taking meaningful measures to reverse or at least halt environmental damage. Effective co-operation has been delayed by the reluctance of some countries to reduce their pollution levels, as it would mean lowering their prosperity like the United States. Also there is resentment from third world countries being told they should stop their economic development because the West have already used most of the global resources. There are issues concerning who owns the remaining natural resources and who pays for the pollution that that they cause (Bannock, Baxter & Davis, 2003, p.120).
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Ecological movements are not new to the late 20th century and the early 21st century yet the amount of influence that environmentalists have is greater than ever. There were people and movements opposed to industrialisation due to its social as well at its environmental impact (Eatwell & Wright, 2003, p.231).Ecological movements would usually have far more expansive plans for reversing environmental damage and would not be popular with political leaders, consumers and voters. Politicians rather than ecological movements almost always determine the pace and direction of international co-operation on the environment. The ecological movements have won a partial victory in that the environment looks set to remain on the agenda indefinitely. The difficult part is to make sure that agreements such as the Kyoto Protocol are truly co-operative and effective rather than just meaningless gimmicks by all governments that signed up to it (Eatwell & Wright, 2003, p.250).
It was probably no coincidence that modern ecological movements emerged in the West during the 1960s when growing affluence amongst the young middle classes allowed them the chance to think about the global economy and the impact that it had upon the global environment. In the 1960s many people if they thought about the environment at all assumed it meant nothing more or less than making the air and water clean (Hobsbawm, 1994, p. 262). The main political and economic to capitalism, communism may have had different aims to its capitalist rivals yet it still aimed at rapid economic growth. Neither capitalism nor communism were or are intended to be guardians of the environment. However growing knowledge of the damage being caused to the environment would force countries to co-operate with each other especially after the fall of communism in Central and Eastern Europe (Brown, 2002, p. 240). In the ever increasing consumption of natural resources and increasing levels of pollution arguably intensified the Global Warming problem and would mean that co-operation over the environment would become a major area of contention. For the instance the United States consumption of oil increased by 300 per cent between 1950 and the start of the oil crisis in 1973. The highly ineffective factories of the Soviet Union produced almost as much as the United States for the production of far fewer goods (Hobsbawm, 1994, pp. 252-253).
Complacency about the environment started to be lifted during the 1970s eventually leading to international protocols to reduce pollution. The oil crisis of 1973 led to some attempts to find alternatives to fossil fuels although it did nothing in the long term to reduce oil consumption even if it did hurt the pockets of Western motorists and Third World governments. As the human population continues to grow upwards of 6 billion plus beyond the use of resources and resulting pollution will grow (Nicholson, 1998, p.157). Environmental and ecological movements started to make headway in Western Europe and North America with concerns about acid rain, the emission of CFC’s reducing the ozone layer and most significantly global warming (Brown, 2001, p.252).
Global warming is now a concern of most governments although they do not have an equal say as to the policies that should be pursued to stop or reverse the process. Rising sea levels are more of a threat to the Netherlands, parts of Britain or Bangladesh than they are to the United States, Russia and China. The relative wealth of the Netherlands and Britain make their co-operation with the Kyoto Protocol than that of Bangladesh. The exclusion of the United States, Russia and China plus India would seriously damage the co-operation needed to make the Kyoto Protocol near being effective (Nicholson, 1998, p.165).
It has been encouraging that has been co-operation between governments over the environment. However, that co-operation has to be bought about by a process of negotiations and compromises with little to force countries, especially more powerful ones such as the United States, Russia and China into agreeing to effective measures to protect the environment. Aside from appealing to sense and reason there is little way of enforcing measures agreed at the Kyoto Protocol or any other environmental summit. The Kyoto Protocol, like its predecessor the Rio Earth summit, was the result of long drawn out talks similar in complexity to the GATT rounds or EU treaties or summits. Co-operation over the environment is often to the minimum restrictions and measures that can be agreed rather than the maximum. The agreements over reducing CFC (chloroflurocarbons) emissions can be regarded as starting the process on international co-operation to slow down environmental damage although it amply demonstrated that politicians are only willing to take action once there is enough scientific of environmental damage. By that time much damage has already been done (Brown, 2002, p. 240).
The Rio Earth Summit was intended to introduce measures and co-operation to tackle global warming on a greater scale. To a certain extent it succeeded in producing co-operation even if it was hampered by the unwillingness of the Bush senior administration to agree to the most stringent measures that could have been agreed. The United States remains the world’s largest individual polluting country yet its governments are generally unwilling to jeopardise American living standards to save the planet. The Bush senior administration did not however block the agreement at R as it could have done. The United States government came under pressure from other governments to take greater action yet did yield to it (Brown, 2002, p. 243).
Third World and developing countries were not happy and remain unhappy that the United States does not do more to protect the environment as it gained most from the way that the global environment operates (Nicholson, 1998, p.173). Other countries mainly in the EU and Scandinavia have been more active in seeing the environment as being of vital importance and wished to go further that the agreements reached at Rio. The EU can play its part in protecting the environment as it can pass legislation and regulations that its member states have to conform to (McCormick, 2002, p.128).
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EU states plus Australia and New Zealand played their part in the Kyoto Protocol. Once again the United States proved reluctant to adopt tough measures. That reluctance was despite President Bill Clinton being keen on environmental issues. He was unwilling to cut American living standards and also realised that tough restriction were unlikely to get through a Republican controlled Congress (Crystal, 2003, p.513).
European countries such as Britain, France and Germany were unhappy about the lack of United States support for the Kyoto Protocol. Tony Blair was especially disappointed as he expected Bill Clinton to have been more supportive of the Kyoto Protocol and protecting the environment (Young, 2003, p.150). George W Bush was even less willing for the United States to be constrained by any parts of the Kyoto Protocol. Indeed prior to the 9/11 attacks the bush administration seemed cool to the idea of government co-operation most issues. Since 9/11 the United States government has been more interested in pursuing the war on terrorism rather than co-operation to uphold the Kyoto Protocol or protecting the environment. The campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq have done harm to the environment. The soaring oil prices seen after the invasion of Iraq may however boost the moves towards finding alternative fuels as much as any of the target son reducing emissions agreed within the Kyoto Protocol would have done on their own. OPEC countries seem far happier to cut oil production to maintain high prices, as it is not in their economic interests to co-operate with other countries to reduce oil production. Such is the demand for oil that the consumption does not decline even when prices are at record levels. Western governments when talking with OPEC countries would rather get the oil production quotas raised than discuss co-operation towards reduced consumption (Evans and Newnham, 1998, p. 397).
The need for global co-operation to achieve the 5 per cent emission targets set out with the Kyoto Protocol would seem to gathering with global warming seeming to contribute to climate changes that are increasingly costly and dangerous(Crystal, 2003, p. 513). Climate changes have and will make floods and droughts more common whilst lack of adequate food and water supplies will contribute to greater instances of famine and severe poverty. Whilst countries can take steps to avoid economic problems there is little they can do to stop a hurricane or tsunami. The costs of reducing pollution or improving irrigation and building up flood protection with no certainty that they will be successful (Eatwell and Wright, 2003, p. 251). There was large-scale international co-operation to help the Asian countries devastated by the tsunami of December 2004. Countries can only hope that such disasters are confined to unpopulated or lightly populated areas to keep death and destruction to a minimum. Aside from such hopes countries can increase their levels of co-operation by encouraging recycling, energy and water conservation schemes to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases.
Therefore although the Kyoto Protocol was a sign of global co-operation to start reducing pollution and trying to make the global environment safer it has had its limitations. The failure of the United States to co-operate with the process means that the world’s greatest polluter is not taking active steps to help protect the environment. Perhaps that might change depending on who succeeds George W Bush to the presidency. Not every country has signed up to the Kyoto Protocol and of those that did not all have ratified it. Should the current high oil prices continue there maybe co-operation to find alternative fuels that are cheaper and possibly cause less pollution? Some countries are more committed to co-operation in order to protect the environment. The member states of the EU are formerly aiming towards sustainable development and the mission reductions agreed to as part of the Kyoto Protocols.
The selfishness of the United States and other countries that fail to co-operate to reduce environmental damage will come back to haunt us all and leave a terrible legacy to our descendants to deal with its full consequences. However the Rio Earth Summit and the Kyoto Protocols have provided a framework for global co-operation that needs to be built upon. Perhaps global co-operation could be increased through the auspices of the United Nations and aided by scientific evidence of the urgent need to act now. People should also consider acting on an individual and community basis to conserve and protect the environment as best they could by recycling and conserving water and energy.
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