Because of its environmental, political and economic implications, global warming has become the subject of an unprecedented process of international negotiations, even though its causes and its consequences remain controversial. This has led to the drafting of a protocol under which several countries have made commitments to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by 2008-2012. One of these is the United States, despite considerable resistance in some quarters to implementing these cuts.
Eugene Skolnikoff examines here the principal factors hindering the adoption of the necessary policies. He picks out six main ones:
- the continuing uncertainty of scientists as to the precise impact of human activities on the climate. These doubts have been cleverly exploited by people whose political and economic motives are quite different;
- the structure of the American government and the way it operates. The government is paralysed by its own contradictions, and is under pressure from lobbies that tend to judge the quality of the scientific arguments according to their own political or ideological biases. In addition, the government has difficulties in balancing the short, medium and longer term;
- the doubts still surrounding the evaluation of the long-term impact of the greenhouse effect, the economic costs that it may generate and, more generally, the costs and benefits of the measures that might be adopted in response to it;
- the international institutional context, the special commitments made by the countries that signed the Kyoto agreement. These commitments are perceived as "limiting American sovereignty" without any reciprocal commitments on the part of the developing countries;
- the role of the media and public opinion, which relish controversies and doom-laden issues and which, as long as there is no major event to bring everyone together, continue to foment confusion;
- political infighting, and the fact that the greenhouse effect has become an issue dividing Democrats and Republicans.
This article is a good illustration of the vagaries of decision-making by the authorities on matters where the scientists disagree. Eugene Skolnikoff shows clearly the obstacles to implementing policies that would allow the United States to fulfil its commitments with regard to climate change; the uncertainty that this causes then undermines international negotiations over a matter of "good governance".