United States and Post-Kyoto Protocol negotiations on greenhouse gas emissions

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Main article: Annex I Parties and Post-Kyoto Protocol negotiations on global climate change agreements

Key background information

  • Status under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC): The United States has ratified the UNFCCC but not the Kyoto Protocol. [1]
  • Member of which negotiating group(s): Umbrella Group [2]
  • Total greenhouse gas emissions: In 2006, total U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions were 7,054.2 Tg CO2 Eq (teragrams of CO2 equivalents). [3]
  • Per capita greenhouse gas emissions: Per capita greenhouse gas emissions in 2006, based on U.S. census figures, [4] were 23.6 Mg CO2 Eq (megagrams of CO2 equivalents), or roughly 24.5 tons of carbon dioxide per person per year. [5]
  • Greenhouse gas emission reduction target: (see Greenhouse gas emission reduction targets for background information on the range and implications of emissions reductions scenarios).
    • under the Kyoto Protocol: Reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 7% compared to its 1990 baseline levels, by 2012. [6]
    • for 2020: U.S. greenhouse gas emissions "are projected to rise from 6,982 Tg CO 2 Eq. in 2000 to 8,330 Tg CO 2 Eq. in 2020, a growth of 19 percent," under the "full implementation of climate programs and measures" scenario presented by the Bush administration in 2007. [7]
    • for 2050:
      • The Bush Administration: The 2007 Bush administration plan didn't include a national goal for emission reductions by 2050, but at least two states have set 2050 goals: New Mexico's plan calls for reductions of 75 percent below 2000 levels by 2050, and Oregon's plan calls for reductions of 75 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. [8]
      • The Obama Administration: The Obama administration has pledged to reduce GHG emissions by 80% by 2050, partially through the implementation of a cap and trade system. [9]

Greenhouse gas emissions profile and trends

The Bush administration's 2007 report projected that U.S. greenhouse gas emissions will "rise by 11 percent to 7,709 Tg CO2 Eq" (teragrams per CO2 equivalent), from 2002 to 2012. However, the administration presented this as an 18 percent reduction in "emissions per unit of economic activity," or "GHG intensity." [10]

As of 2007, the UNFCCC reported that the United States' 2004 greenhouse gas emissions were at 116.3% of 1990 levels, calculated without the "carbon sink" effects of Land use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF). [11]

In 2006, greenhouse gas emissions by sector were: [3]

  • Energy sector (total): 6,076.9 Tg CO2 Eq, or 86 percent of total emissions
    • Stationary energy: 2,377.8 Tg CO2 Eq, or 34 percent of total emissions
    • Transport: 1,969.5 Tg CO2 Eq, or 28 percent of total emissions
    • Fugitive emissions from fuel (from coal mining, natural gas and petroleum systems): 189.3 Tg CO2 Eq [12]
  • Industrial processes: 320.9 Tg CO2 Eq
  • Solvent and other product use: 4.4 Tg CO2 Eq
  • Agriculture: 454.1 Tg CO2 Eq
  • Land use, land use change and forestry: 36.9 Tg CO2 Eq
  • Waste: 161.0 Tg CO2 Eq

History in negotiations on the convention to 2008

The United States signed the UNFCCC on June 12, 1992 and ratified it on October 15, 1992. [13] The treaty went into force on March 21, 1994. [14]

Then-Vice President Al Gore signed the Kyoto Protocol for the United States, on November 12, 1998. [15] However, the Clinton administration did not send the treaty to the U.S. Senate for ratification. In 2001 -- early in his first term -- President Bush declared his opposition to the treaty, claiming it "exempts 80 percent of the world, including major population centers such as China and India, from compliance, and would cause serious harm to the U.S. economy." [16]

National policy performance

Ranking in Climate Change Performance Index 2008

The Climate Change Performance Index 2008 (CCPI) developed by Germanwatch ranked the United States next to last -- 55 of 56 Annex I Parties (industrialized countries or countries in transition), along with other countries responsible for more than one percent of global CO2 emissions. The ranking takes into account countries' absolute greenhouse gas emissions, their emissions trends and climate change policy. [17]

"The United States' blocking of climate policy lowers its ranking position significantly," the report explains. "If the U.S. government actually took a leading role in global climate politics as claimed by President Bush, the country could improve by up to 20 positions." [17]

Ranking in Climate Change Performance Index 2009

In 2009, the United States was ranked as 58 out of 60 in the CCPI in terms of climate protection performance of the countries that are together responsible for 90% of the world's energy related CO2 emissions. The report remarked that this evaluation was still based on policies implemented by the Bush administration, and that it "will be very interesting to see how the new US administration will change the national and international climate politics." [18]

National government policies and programs

  • The Bush Administration (2001-2008): Under the Bush administration, the U.S. national government addresses greenhouse gas emissions mostly through industry incentives, public-private partnerships and voluntary programs, along with research and development funding and tax breaks. The government's 2007 UNFCCC report states that its policies "provide a comprehensive approach for the near term, and a foundation for climate science and technologies that will reduce uncertainties and deliver even greater emission reductions in the future." [8]
  • The Obama Administration (2009-present): The Obama administration has proposed taking a tougher approach on climate change than that instituted by the Bush administration. President Obama made campaign promises to reduce U.S. GHG emissions through a cap-and-trade program. Carol Browner, President Obama's advisor for energy and climate change, has called the President's economic stimulus package, with its commitments to renewable energy, a "significant down payment toward those commitments." [19] Congress has also begun attempts to implement new climate change policies through legislative proposals. Representative Henry Waxman, now chair of the House Energy Committee, is proposing "comprehensive energy legislation containing provisions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions," including a mandatory cap-and-trade program. [20]


  • Energy Efficiency: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's "Energy Star" program promotes "energy-efficient commercial buildings, homes, and appliances. ... EPA estimates that in 2002, ENERGY STAR in the commercial building market helped businesses reduce GHG emissions by 35 Tg CO 2 Eq. and save $3 billion in energy costs." The U.S. Department of Energy runs a "Weatherization Assistance Program" that has provided "cost-effective energy efficiency improvements to more than 5.5 million low-income households through the weatherization of homes." [8]
  • Electricity generation:
    • Renewable energy target:
      • The Bush Adminstration: Under the Bush administration, the U.S. had no overall target for how much of its energy should be derived from renewable sources. The federal government said it supported solar energy, wind power, biopower, and hydrogen, along with nuclear power. "Tax credits have helped increase domestic investments in renewable energy and continue to accelerate the cost-competitiveness of these emerging technologies," according to its 2007 UNFCCC report. [8] The 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act required "fuel producers to use at least 36 billion gallons of ethanol and other biofuels by 2022, a fivefold increase over the current standard, to reduce the dependence on oil," reported the Washington Post. [21]
      • The Obama Administration: The Obama administration has promised to "ensure that 10 percent of our electricity comes from renewable sources by 2012, and 25 percent by 2025." [22]
    • New coal-fired power stations:
      • The Bush Administration: The Bush administration actively promotes coal as a low-cost energy alternative. Early in his first term, President Bush abandoned his campaign promise to force coal plants to reduce carbon emissions, appointed Irl Engelhardt of Peabody Energy as an energy advisor to his transition team, and named former coal industry lobbyist J. Steven Griles Deputy Secretary of the Interior. [23] The Energy Policy Act of 2005 also included tax breaks for new "clean coal" facilities. [8]
      • The Obama Administration: The Obama administration, however, is not nearly as supportive of the use of coal. Under this new administration, the Environmental Protection Agency will "reopen the possibility of regulating carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants, tossing aside a December Bush administration memorandum that declared that the agency would not limit the emissions." EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson told the press that this memorandum, issued by her predecessor, Stephen A. Johnson, two months ago "should not restrict states weighing air pollution permits for new coal plants," and that it is not the "final word on the appropriate interpretation of the Clean Air Act." Josh Dorner, a spokesman for the Sierra Club, noted that while still fairly ambiguous, Jackson's comments throw all of the coal plant permit procjets "up in the air. A coal plant was already a bad bet for ratepayers and investors, and now it's a huge gamble." [24]
    • Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS):
      • The Bush Administration: The Energy Policy Act of 2005 allows the U.S. Energy Department to make federally-guaranteed loans in support of projects advancing carbon capture and sequestration practices and technology. [8]
      • The Obama Administration: While the Obama administration seems less inclined to support clean coal than did the Bush administration, in light of the fact that coal burning is "responsible for 40 percent of the 30 billion metric tons of CO2 emitted by human activity every year," President Obama has included $3.4 billion in the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for "clean coal" power. [25]
    • Nuclear power:
      • The Bush Administration: The Bush administration strongly supports the construction of new nuclear power plants. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 included some $12 billion in subsidies for the nuclear power industry, according to Public Citizen. The subsidies include a "production tax credit of 1.8-cent for each kilowatt-hour of nuclear-generated electricity from new reactors during the first eight years of operation," "risk insurance" for six new nuclear reactors, loan guarantees for new nuclear plants and federal funding for various training, research and development programs. [26] The 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act included more funding for loan guarantees for new nuclear power plants. [27] The U.S. government also supports the building of new nuclear plants through the Nuclear Power 2010 program, which subsidizes the cost of required permits, among other measures. [8]
      • The Obama Administration: Although the Obama administration pledged its support of nuclear power, with Energy Secretary Stephen Chu stating that he believes "in nuclear power as a central part of our energy mix," pro-nuclear members of Congress are worried that such rhetoric may not bring with it the funding necessary to support the industry. Democrats in the Senate are pushing for the next energy bill to include a national "Renewable Electricity Standard" that would "require utilities to generate a significant percentage of their electricity from renewable sources, including wind, solar, and geothermal. Under the current proposal, nuclear energy would not qualify." The Obama administration also released a statement this month against storing nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. Yet Secretary Chu claims the worry is overblown. Chu points out that a comprehensive energy bill "could include the industry's coveted loans," and that the renewable standards bill is supposed to be for renewable energy only; "nuclear can get help elsewhere." The policy that would "do the nuclear industry the most good would be federal legislation that would cap emissions," says Tom Cochran, former director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's nuclear program. "It would actually change the underlying economic competitiveness of nuclear." [28]


  • Fuel-efficient cars: Since 1975, the United States has had Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, which set "the average fuel economy, as weighted by sales, that a manufacturer's fleet must achieve, with exceptions." The 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act directed the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to develop a proposal for raising CAFE standards to at least 35 miles per gallon (mpg) by 2020. [29] In 2008, NHTSA proposed increasing fuel efficiency requirements by 4.5 percent a year, starting with the 2011 model year, which would bring fleetwide average to 31.6 mpg by 2015 and to 39.4 mpg by 2020. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and individual auto companies oppose the proposal. [30] Under the Obama administration, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson is moving to dismantle the Bush administrations policies on vehicle emissions standards. She "directed EPA officials to reconsider California's languishing request to impose stricter greenhouse gas emissions limits on motor vehicles," a request that the Bush administration denied. [31] The new administration also plans to "put 1 million Plug-In Hybrid cars -- cars that can get up to 150 miles per gallon -- on the road by 2015." [22]


Among the U.S. federal government's industry-focused energy policies are the Energy Star for industry program, which helps manufacturers increase their energy efficiency, and the Industrial Technologies Program, which promotes energy efficiency and funds "high-risk, high-return" research and development programs. [8]


Among U.S. residential-focused energy policies are the Energy Star program, public-private partnerships promoting home energy efficiency through the "Rebuild America" and "Building America" programs. [8] The Obama administration also plans to "weatherize one million homes annually," as a method of both becoming more energy efficient and saving families money. [22]

  • Photovoltaic solar power rebate: In October 2008, as part of legislation authorizing the $700 billion Wall Street bailout (the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008), the federal solar tax credit was extended for eight years. Without the extension, the credit would have expired in December 2008. The bailout legislation also dropped the previous $2,000 limit for residential solar projects, instead setting the tax credit at 30 percent. Businesses that add solar panels also receive tax credits. [32] Numerous states and municipalities also have rebates, tax credits, grants or other incentives for solar power. [33]

Key Positions in the negotiations of a post-Kyoto agreement

Because the United States is not a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol, it has not weighed in on many of the issues surrounding the negotiation of a follow-up agreement. Newly elected President Obama, however, has made statements regarding post-Kyoto negotiations and the stance that the United States will take. President Obama has proposed the implementation of an "economy-wide cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050." [34]

  • Targets and timetables: (See Greenhouse gas emission reduction targets for more information). As part of his campaign promise, now President Obama pledged to engage in post-Kyoto negotiations and "establish strong annual targets that set [the US] on a course to reduce emissions to their 1990 levels by 2020 and reduce them by an additional 80 percent by 2050." [35]
  • Coverage of all greenhouse-inducing gases: Unknown.
  • Clean Development Mechanism: Unknown.
  • The inclusion of HFC-23 projects in the Clean Development Mechanism:
    • The Bush Administration: In an August 2006 submission to the UNFCCC's Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA), the United States identified as its "principal concern" that "we will undermine our collective efforts under the Montreal Protocol by creating a perverse incentive for the production of HCFC-22. However ... if we were to provide no incentives for the destruction of HFC-23, any new HCFC-22 facilities that may be built would simply emit HFC-23 to the atmosphere, adversely impacting the climate system." The United States suggested limiting carbon credits "to the incremental cost of installing and operating an incinerator at a new facility," limiting eligibility to efficient HCFC-22 facilities with limited HFC-23 production, and promoting the use of HCFC-22 alternatives. [36]
  • Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF):
    • The Bush Administration: In a February 2002 submission to the SBSTA, the United States wrote, "The U.S. believes that sequestration activities will be an important component of climate change mitigation strategies. ... Since afforestation and reforestation projects can provide significant reductions of pressure for harvest of natural forests, by providing sources of fuelwood, timber and other services, changes in off-site carbon stocks should also be included. ... LULUCF projects offer significant local and national environmental and socioeconomic benefits that contribute to their potential to nurture sustainable development." [37] In a December 2003 submission to the SBSTA, the United States objected to including whether trees are genetically-engineered as part of the environmental evaluation of LULUCF projects. "Genetically modified organisms do not present unique risks that would warrant specific mention," the United States argued. [38]
    • The Obama Administration: The Obama administration is taking different track on land use than pursued under the Bush administration. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, for example, recently announced a decision to delay or cancel oil and gas leases on public lands. Salazar commented that the Interior Department "is moving forward with business as usual with the exception of those areas where we think that the Bush administration overreached," Salazar said. He cited a recent decision to cancel 77 leases to drill for oil and gas in wilderness areas of Utah, leases that were offered in the waning days of the Bush administration. [31]
  • Emissions trading:
    • The Obama Administration: The Obama administration plans to implement a national cap and trade system that will help reduce GHG emissions by 80% by 2050. President Obama believes that "cap-and-trade will not only help create thousands of "green collar" jobs, but also will generate significant amounts of revenue" for the federal government. [39]

Role played in the negotiations of a post-Kyoto agreement

The Obama administration is prepping for an active role in the post-Kyoto Protocol climate change negotiations. For a start, the Obama White House has "invited the leaders of 16 major economies - and major emitters of greenhouse gases, like the United States - to a forum on energy and climate in Washington. The United Nations leader also is invited. And today at U.N. talks in Germany, the U.S. rolled out its climate-change negotiating team." The April 27-28 Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate to be held in Washington is designed to "generate the political leadership necessary" for a successful outcome at U.N. climate change negotiation in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December. The conference will "advance the exploration of concrete initiatives and joint ventures that increase the supply of clean energy while cutting greenhouse gas emissions," the White House said. In addition to the U.S., "the other parties are Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, the European Union, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Russia, South Africa and the United Kingdom." [40] The White House has made clear that this conference aims to "augment U.N. talks that are meant to culminate in an agreement in Copenhagen in December." It will play "an important piece of the puzzle of how we get from [where we are] to Copenhagen."[41]

Accra climate change talks August 2008

In a September 2008 submission to the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action (AWG-LCA), the United States wrote, "In Accra, we were encouraged by Parties’ interest in reducing emissions from deforestation -- and reporting these actions in a measurable and verifiable manner." [42]

COP14 talks in Poznan, December 2008

Books on national climate change policy

  • Paul G. Harris (Editor), Climate Change and American Foreign Policy, Palgrave Macmillan (September 30, 2000). ISBN 0312233418 ISBN 978-0312233419
  • David G. Victor, Climate Change: Debating America's Policy Options, Council on Foreign Relations Press (July 2004). ISBN 0876093438 ISBN 978-0876093436
  • Ross Gelbspan, Boiling Point: How Politicians, Big Oil and Coal, Journalists, and Activists Have Fueled a Climate Crisis -- And What We Can Do to Avert Disaster, Basic Books (July 20, 2004). ISBN 046502761X ISBN 978-0465027613
  • Arjun Makhijani, Ph.D., Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free: A Roadmap for U.S. Energy Policy, IEER Press and RDR Books (November 15, 2007). ISBN 157143173X ISBN 978-1571431738
  • Lester R. Brown, Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization, W.W. Norton & Company (Third edition, January 16, 2008). ISBN 0393330877 ISBN 978-0393330878


Main government agency websites


Official national government reports to UNFCC and UNFCCC reviews of them

Annex I countries are required to submit "national communications" to the UNFCCC, to report on progress in implementing the convention, as are those that have ratified the Kyoto Protocol.

The United States' reports and the UNFCCC response to them can be found at:

The Fourth U.S. climate action report to the UNFCCC is also available in html format, at:

Key organizations promoting strong greenhouse policies

Key organizations promoting weak greenhouse policies

Articles and resources

Related SourceWatch articles


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  2. "Glossary of climate change acronyms", accessed September 2008.
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