The White House recently sought advice from the State Department about how
the United States can legally withdraw its signature from a landmark 1997 global
warming agreement, signaling its intent to pull out despite efforts by European
and Japanese leaders to try to keep the agreement alive, an administration
source said yesterday.
The global warming treaty -- negotiated and signed in Kyoto, Japan -- marked
the first time that the world's industrial nations committed to binding limits
on the heat-trapping gases that scientists believe threaten catastrophic changes
in the planet's climate. Under its terms, the United States would have to reduce
its emissions of carbon dioxide, methane and certain other pollutants by 7
percent below 1990 levels by 2012.
However, the Senate has refused to ratify the treaty, and President Bush
wrote to four conservative senators March 13 that he opposed the agreement
because it exempts developing countries and would harm the U.S. economy.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christine Todd Whitman told
reporters yesterday that the Kyoto protocol was dead as far as the
administration was concerned and that if the Europeans and Japanese wanted to
reach an agreement, they would have to abandon the outlines of the accord and
take a different approach.
"No, we have no interest in implementing that treaty," Whitman said. "If
there's a general agreement that we need to be addressing the global climate
change issue, [the question is] how do we do it in a way that allows us to make
some progress, instead of spending our time committed to something that isn't
going to go."
The efforts by the administration to further distance the United States from
the global warming accord seemed certain to stun European Union officials, who
have been urging Bush to help restart stalled talks on implementing the
Whitman's comments angered environmental groups, which already are upset by
Bush's decision March 13 to reverse himself on a campaign pledge to seek major
reductions in U.S. power plant carbon dioxide emissions. Environmentalists and
Democrats have condemned that decision as a major setback to efforts to combat
EU leaders sent Bush a letter last week saying that the United States and
Europe "urgently needed" talks on a follow-up to last year's failed efforts in
The Hague to try to reach accommodation on a global warming treaty. Until
yesterday, Whitman had kept a dim hope alive that the administration might try
to negotiate a deal this summer, despite Bush's opposition to the Kyoto
In light of Bush's March 13 letter, a White House official contacted the
State Department inquiring what the administration was required to do to
indicate that it would not ratify the Kyoto agreement, according to the source,
who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The White House was told that it could withdraw by having Secretary of State
Colin L. Powell send a letter to the United Nations notifying it that the United
States has no intention of ratifying the agreement, the source said.
A senior State Department official said last night that his department was
asked to help determine "where do we go from here" as part of a review of the
climate change accord. But the official insisted that how to "unsign" the Kyoto
treaty "was not one of the questions tasked out under the review."
Whitman said that the president continues to believe global warming is a
serious issue and that the administration will remain engaged in international
negotiations on ways to address climate change.
Whitman noted that no other major industrial country has ratified the Kyoto
agreement. "We are not the only ones who have problems with it," Whitman
The next round of Kyoto talks is slated for July in Bonn, where some expect
the Bush administration to present alternatives.
A week before Bush decided he would not seek limits on carbon dioxide
emissions by power plants, Whitman warned him in a memo that he must demonstrate
his commitment to cutting greenhouse gases or risk undermining the United
States' standing among its allies.
"Mr. President, this is a credibility issue for the U.S. in the international
community. It is also an issue that is resonating here at home," she wrote in
the March 6 memo. "We need to appear engaged."
Yesterday's developments angered environmental leaders, who in the immediate
aftermath of Bush's inauguration in January had thought the administration might
prove willing to take steps to address global warming. Industry groups that have
long opposed the Kyoto protocol cheered the administration's steps.
Philip Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust, said the White
House position dangerously erodes U.S. credibility in Europe. "The president has
walked away from yet another campaign promise on global warming, and infuriated
our allies in the process," he said. "Declaring the Kyoto negotiations dead
rather than proposing changes which would make it acceptable will delay action
on global warming for years and years."
Glenn F. Kelly, executive director of the Global Climate Coalition, an
industry group, said, "One of the things the administration should be applauded
for is early recognition that the Kyoto protocol is significantly flawed and
that continuing to invest efforts and resources into fixing it will simply be