CC9.2. U.S. and Kyoto

In the United States, the Kyoto Protocol received mixed reviews. President Clinton signed the agreement. However, in order to have the force of law, the protocol needed to be ratified by two-thirds of the 100 members of the Senate. Various views were expressed. Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut issued the following statement.“I commend President Clinton and Vice President Gore for their moral and political leadership in addressing the threat of global climate change. In signing the Kyoto Protocol today, the president and vice president are in sync with the American people who support action on global warming because they care about the kind of world we leave to our children and because they want the cleaner air that will come with implementing this treaty.

“It is essential that the United States be a full player at the negotiating table in order to influence future decisions that will be made about emissions trading and other market-based programs which we fought hard to include in the Kyoto agreement.

“By signing the agreement, the Administration confers on the United States the authority and credibility it needs to continue its leadership role in shaping and implementing these programs and in persuading the developing nations to become a part of the solution.

“At the same time, no binding obligations will be placed on American companies as a result of the agreement. The Administration has said it will require meaningful participation by developing countries before seeking ratification of the treaty by the Senate.

“The Kyoto Protocol is not a complete agreement; it is only a beginning. But it establishes the goals and describes the mechanisms for dealing with global warming…”

Sen. Lieberman’s views, however, were not shared by a majority of senators. The main stumbling block was the absence of a requirement for developing countries to limit greenhouse gas emissions. 

Sen. Lieberman’s views, however, were not shared by a majority of senators. The main stumbling block was the absence of a requirement for developing countries to limit greenhouse gas emissions. 

Representative James Sensenbrenner Jr.

Representative James Sensenbrenner Jr.

The possible effect of the treaty was also discussed in the House of Representatives. On April 14, 1999, at a House hearing about the Fiscal Year Climate Change Budget, Chairman James Sensenbrenner Jr. of Wisconsin stated: 

As I have said on many occasions, I believe this U.N. treaty to be seriously flawed—so flawed, in fact, that it cannot be salvaged. In short, the treaty is based on immature science, costs too much, leaves too many procedural questions unanswered, is grossly unfair because developing countries are not required to participate, and will do nothing to solve the speculative problem it is intended to solve.

Recognizing that he lacked the support of two-thirds of the Senators, President Clinton decided not to submit the Kyoto Protocol for ratification at that time. For two years, the United States was party to the treaty as an annex member.

After taking office, President George W. Bush confirmed his opposition to the Kyoto Protocol and the United States withdrew from participation. In his rejection, President Bush cited concerns that mandatory emissions caps would harm the United States economy, while also expressing skepticism about scientific knowledge about greenhouse gases and climate change. “At a time when California has already experienced energy shortages, and other Western states are worried about price and availability of energy this summer, we must be very careful not to take actions that could harm consumers. This is especially true given the incomplete state of scientific knowledge of the causes of, and solutions to, global climate change and the lack of commercially available technologies for removing and storing carbon dioxide.”

The issue was controversial all the way until the 2012 closure of the Kyoto Protocol. Watch/hear Senator Sheldon Whitehouse from Rhode Island regarding the threat posed by climate change (from Senate session 2012 Dec 5 –

See/hear also Senator Whitehouse’s remarks from 2012 Dec 19.