Environment, Headlines, North America

CLIMATE: U.S. Exempts Military from Kyoto Treaty

Danielle Knight

WASHINGTON, May 20 1998 (IPS) - U.S. law makers, in the latest blow to international efforts to halt global warming, Wednesday exempted U.S. military operations from the Kyoto agreement which lays out binding commitments to reduce ‘greenhouse gas’ emissions.

The House of Representatives passed an amendment to next year’s military authorisation bill that “prohibits the restriction of armed forces under the Kyoto Protocol.” The House may pass the bill as early as Thursday.

Republican congressman Benjamin Gilman, who introduced the amendment, said that the Kyoto Treaty would “exert pressure on future administrations to curtail defense operations and training.”

Gilman, backed by other conservative representatives, said that the treaty’s aim to limit the burning of fossil fuels – blamed for global warming – would pose limits on military operations involving military vehicles and aircraft.

Earlier this week European leaders criticized the United States, which still has to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, for dragging its feet on taking action against global warming. The administration of President Bill Clinton, which helped negotiate the treaty, has been blocked by industrial interests and a conservative Congress throughout the ratification process.

Last December, world leaders gathered in the Japanese city of Kyoto to draft a binding treaty that would address the emerging threats of global warming illustrated by scientists and environmentalists, worldwide.

An international panel of scientists that advised the United Nations on the issue said that the burning of coal, gas, and oil was believed responsible for the warming of the Earth’s surface and changes in the global climate.

Scientists also noted that 1997 was the warmest year on record and that nine of the past 11 years set new records for warm temperatures. These increases could lead to changes in climate – including increasingly frequent and intense storms, floods, heat waves, and droughts, they said.

Earlier, in an attempt to deal with the growing threat, industrialised countries agreed at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro to try to reduce their greenhouse emissions by the year 2000 to 10 percent below 1990 levels. The agreement was non- binding, however, and many parties to it – including the United States – increased emissions, according to government reports.

Signatories to the Protocol promised to reduce their emissions of six greenhouse gases by an average of six percent from 1990 levels, and to complete the reductions between 2008 and 2012.

The main argument by Congress against the treaty centered on the level of participation of developing countries in reducing emissions. Lately, though a coalition of conservative law makers and former foreign policy diplomats charged that the Kyoto Protocol would also “limit U.S. national security and sovereignty.”

“The treaty will hamstring American military operations around the world and would lead to the creation of a ‘Climate Change Secretariat,’ which would usurp the authority of elected local, state and federal governments,” said a letter sent to Clinton by the Committee to Preserve Security and Sovereignty (COMPASS).

The letter was signed by, among others, former secretaries of defense Richard B. Cheney and Frank C. Carlucci, former secretaries of states Alexander M. Haig Jr. and Lawrence S. Eagleburger and other formers. Mark C. Helmke, former Republican foreign policy aide set up the committee with former arms control negotiator Richard Burt.

Many of those who signed the letter are now employed by industrial interests who have been against the treaty from the start of negotiations. For example, Cheny is chairman of Halliburton Co., the Dallas-based oil company and Eagleburger is on the board of Phillips Petroleum. Haig has promoted oil company investments in China and Turkmenistan, according to newspaper accounts.

The Kyoto agreement already contained a provision allowing the armed forces of signatory nations to emit greenhouse gases during international police actions and humanitarian missions. This exemption was pushed through by U.S. negotiators in the final hours of climate change negotiations last year, at the U.S. Defense Department’s insistence.

Yet, COMPASS supporters believed this exemption did not go far enough and actively opposed the agreement.

“By signing the treaty, the administration has agreed to scale back fuel use by the U.S. military – a dangerous commitment that could have a disastrous impact on force readiness,” wrote Carlucci in the Washington Times.

While COMPASS argued the treaty undermined national security, environmental groups and think tanks said that protecting the global climate would substantially lower other U.S. security risks – namely energy.

With domestic oil production continuing its long-term decline and oil imports filling the gap the United State’s “energy and economic security is increasingly at risk, said James Mackenzie,” a senior associate with the Washington-based World Resources Institute.

Pointing to the 1991 war where the United States went to war to ensure continued access to Persian Gulf Oil, Mackenzie noted that conflict over fossil fuel could be avoided if the United States implemented the Kyoto Protocol and reduced its dependence on such fuel.

By investing and subsidising renewable energy technologies, such as solar cells and wind turbines, the United States could reduce emissions while benefiting national security interests, he said.

Even without ratification of the Kyoto treaty, President Clinton has sought to implement a federal programme of tax incentives and subsidies for such renewable energy technologies and more efficient fossil fuel use.

This attempt has come under fire by Congress who claimed that the impacts of such a plan would have a negative impact on the U.S. economy. About 45 Congress members have proposed a bill that would “prohibit the use of federal funds to implement the Kyoto Protocol unless or until the Senate has given its advice and consent to ratification.”

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