The United States and Global Climate Change Master thesis: Cand ling merc. – International Market Communication & pr, English Author: Trine Gram Nielsen Instructor: Annemarie Backmann



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The United States and Global Climate Change

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Master thesis: Cand.ling.merc. – International Market Communication & PR, English

Author: Trine Gram Nielsen

Instructor: Annemarie Backmann

Department of Language and Business Communication

Aarhus School of Business, Aarhus University

December 2010





Abstract

Ever since the United States (US) refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, the country has remained isolated in the international climate change negotiations. The refusal has had severe consequences for the global environment as well as the country’s relationship with the rest of the world. Therefore, the aim of this thesis is to investigate what made the US refuse to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, as well as what has changed in the US that might make the country commit itself to a future internationally binding agreement on climate change to take over when the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012.

In order to investigate this, the thesis starts by documenting how the US is affected by climate change and what the country is doing on its own to cope with the effects of it. It furthermore introduces the American political system so as to demonstrate what a document like the Kyoto Protocol will have to go through to be ratified, and it describes the Kyoto Protocol negotiations and the American political situation during the negotiations in order to clarify the background for the US’ decision not to be part of the Kyoto Protocol.

The thesis analyses the US’ arguments for not ratifying the Kyoto Protocol and assesses whether these arguments can be considered to be valid. Two of the main concerns in the US’ objection to the Kyoto Protocol were the economy and that fact that it did not include developing countries, which meant that these were not forced to lower their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. As the US is experiencing an increased competition from especially China - which as a developing country is not included in the Kyoto Protocol - the US felt that being part of a protocol that did not also include one of its main competitors would give the country an unfair disadvantage in the global market. Therefore, as a result of extensive lobbying from the oil, coal and auto industries, the US Congress passed the Byrd-Hagel Resolution, which meant that a protocol could never be ratified in the US unless it included developing countries or it could be proven that the American economy would not be harmed by doing so.

The argument that it would hurt the American economy if the US ratified the Kyoto Protocol has been furthered by the oil, coal and auto industries, as these were very aware of the impact that lowering the country’s GHG emissions would have on their bottom-lines, and so this thesis documents how these industries joined forces and created the Global Climate Coalition (GCC). Through the GCC, these industries launched maybe the greatest disinformation campaign ever seen – a campaign that has had a huge influence on the public, policy-makers and media’s views about climate change. The aim of the campaign was simple: to reposition global warming as theory rather than fact. Although the GCC does no longer exist, lobbying on climate change is still widespread in the US, and has lead to a general scepticism towards global warming among the American public. In general, not much appears to have changed in the US since its refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, and therefore the question remains what it will take to get the US to be part of a future international agreement on climate change.

The thesis argues that for the US to become part of a future international agreement on climate change, the country will first have to pass a domestic climate and energy bill, as it is argued that if the US is to commit to an internationally binding agreement, it will be one that basically extends US’ climate policies to other countries. Al Gore signed the Kyoto Protocol without the support of the Senate, which meant that the Senate never ratified it. Therefore, in order not to make the same mistake, President Obama will have to get the support of the US Senate before he can commit to an international agreement. Ever since he took office in January 2009, creating a domestic climate and energy bill has been one of the President’s top priorities. However, so far he has not succeeded, and with the Republican Party’s victory in the 2010 midterm election, the chance of making this happen in the next couple of years now seems slim.

Keywords: The United States; Kyoto Protocol; Climate change; International climate change negotiations.

Number of characters excl. blanks: 3.455




Abstract 3

Content 5

Acronyms 5

Explanation of concepts 7

1. Introduction 10

1.1 Research approach and structure 13

1.2 Empirical data 15

1.3 Delimitations 16

2. The US and climate change 18

2.1 An energy-dependent economy 18

2.2 Vulnerability to climate change 19

2.2.1 Recent effects of climate change 20

2.3 Reluctance to act on climate change 21

2.4 Climate change policy at state level 22

3. American politics 24

3.1. Doing politics in America 25

3.1.1 Political Parties 27

3.1.2 American ideology and foreign policy 30

4. The Kyoto Protocol 35

4.1 The UN 36

4.1.1 The UN/US relationship 36

4.2 Earth Summit 41

4.3 COP 1 42

4.4 COP 2 44

4.4.1 Meetings leading up to Kyoto 44

4.5 COP 3 45

4.6 COP meetings following 1997 46

4.7 The US political situation during the Kyoto Protocol negotiations 48

4.7.1 The Bush senior administration 48

4.7.2 The Clinton administration 49

4.7.3 The Bush administration 54

5. US arguments for not ratifying the Kyoto Protocol 55

5.1 Exemption of developing countries 57

5.1.1 Developing countries’ arguments 58

5.2 Harm to the US economy 59

5.3 Insufficient state of scientific knowledge 61

5.4 US attitudes towards climate change 62

5.4.1 The media and climate change 63

5.4.2 Media coverage from 1988 and onwards 65

5.4.3 Public opinion on climate change around 1997 67

5.5 Lobbying 69

5.5.1 Why lobby against climate change legislation? 70

5.5.2 Who are the climate sceptics? 70

5.5.3 The Global Climate Coalition 71

5.5.4 The powerful fossil fuel group 74

6. Prospects for a future international climate treaty with US participation 76

6.1 President Obama – will he make a difference? 77

6.1.1 Climate legislation passed under the Obama administration 77

6.1.2 A clean energy future? 79

6.2 The importance of a US climate and energy bill 82

6.3 Factors influencing the climate debate today 85

6.3.1 Developing countries 86

6.3.2 The US economy 92

6.3.3 Scientific knowledge 95

6.3.4 Public opinion on climate change – a partisan issue 97

6.3.5 Lobbying 103

6.3.6 Midterm election 106

6.4 The climate debate in an international perspective 110

7. Conclusion 113

7.1 Putting it all into perspective 117

Books 119

Literature 119

Articles 121

Surveys 124

Reports 124

Appendix 1 – The Kyoto Protocol 126

Appendix 2 – The Byrd-Hagel Resolution 165

Appendix 3 – Letter from President Bush 169





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