The Kyoto Protocol and Environmentalism

by Abigail Pfeiffer

Grand Canyon University


During George W. Bush’s first term, his administration declined American participation in the Kyoto Protocol, which had been negotiated in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997. The Protocol formed part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), created to address the challenge of climate change on a global level. In 2001, Bush expressed particular displeasure with the Protocol’s principal of “common but differentiated responsibilities,” which placed more responsibility on developed countries. Additionally, the United States, through the Byrd-Hagel Resolution in 1997, had affirmed that it would not support any treaties that “would result in serious harm to the economy of the United States.”1

In March 2001, shortly after taking office, Bush officially removed the United States from participation in the Kyoto Protocol. In a March 2001 letter to the Senate, Bush stressed the Protocol’s potential to harm the American economy and its exclusion of the most highly populated countries in the world:

As you know, I oppose the Kyoto Protocol because 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. The Senate’s vote, 95-0, shows that there is a clear consensus that the Kyoto Protocol is an unfair and ineffective means of addressing global climate change concerns.2

Even though the United States never ratified the Kyoto Protocol treaty, and Bush withdrew support from it in 2001, the issues associated with it played a role in the Election of 2004. Interestingly, the Protocol was not mentioned once in the Democratic Party official platform, and only once in the Republican Party platform, as a reiteration of Bush’s earlier analysis that participation in the protocol would negatively affect the American economy and jobs. However, the protocol, and the U.S. decision not to participate, did place a renewed focus on the subject of global climate change, and how the U.S. would respond to it on a national and global level. These issues did appear in the Democrat and Republican 2004 campaigns in the form of addressing United States dependence on foreign energy, carbon emissions, and the desire to create renewable energy sources.

The Republican platform on climate and environmental issues supported efficient energy technologies, investment in hydrogen cars and infrastructure, development of domestic oil resources with minimal environmental impact, and eliminating barriers to domestic natural gas production. Furthermore, they supported the development of nuclear power, tax credits for clean energy production, and modernization of the country’s power grid. The Democratic Party platform addressed the issues similarly. They supported renewable energy sources, energy efficient vehicles, more efficient electricity, and a decrease on the amount of energy used by the government.3

It is important to note that both party platforms trumpeted the economic advantages of cleaner environmental measures, which resonated with a voting public concerned with rising gas prices. For example, in the Republican platform they indicated that “Republicans support developing new technologies for more efficient generation and use of power. New technologies will allow us to create new job-producing industries and save jobs in industries that have long been staples of America’s economy.” Additionally the platform touted the economic benefits of expanding natural gas production in areas like Alaska and the Rocky Mountains in order to bring “needed relief to consumers and make America’s businesses more competitive in the global marketplace.”4

The Democratic Party also put an economic spin on their energy platform. Their official platform pointed out that “the American economy depends on oil controlled by some of the world’s most repressive regimes. This leaves our economy dangerously vulnerable to nations that do not share our interests.” The Democratic platform also supported fuel standard improvements and would “offer needed incentives for consumers to buy efficient vehicles, and for manufacturers to build them.”5

The U.S. Government had rejected the Kyoto Protocol, acknowledging its potential environmental benefits, but decrying the potential negative effect it would have on the American economy.  In the environment of 2004, this meant that both parties found themselves needing to support actions which would cover these issues of environmental protection and economic prosperity, with or without an international treaty.

1United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. accessed 20 May 2014; US Congress. n.d. Byrd-Hagel Resolution., accessed 20 May 2014.

2George W. Bush, “Letter to Members of the Senate on the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change,” 13 March 2001. The American Presidency Project,, accessed 20 May 2014.

32004 Republican Party Platform: A Safer World and a More Hopeful America, 30 August 2004. The American Presidency Project., accessed 20 May 2014; Democratic Party Platform of 2004, 26 July 2004. The American Presidency Project., accessed 20 May 2014.

4Republican Party Platform of 2004. The American Presidency Project.

5Democratic Party Platform of 2004. The American Presidency Project.