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President Bush sends mixed signals on climate treaty ahead of G8

Date
01 June 2007

US President George Bush sent out mixed messages on climate change yesterday as he appeared to be joining the international mainstream on climate change by signalling the need for emissions targets and an international agreement covering the world's largest emitters. In a speech on international development to the US Global Leadership Campaign, President Bush stated that the US would "work with other nations to establish a new framework on greenhouse gas emissions for when the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012" and that "by the end of next year, America and other nations will set a long-term goal for reducing greenhouse gases....In addition to this goal, each country would establish mid-term national targets". He also underlined the need for a "strong and transparent system for measuring each country's performance [with a] new framework that would help our nations fulfill our responsibilities under the UN Framework Convention". To achieve this, President Bush proposes an 18 month process, involving the world's largest emitters leading to agreement by the end of 2008.

However, while this seemed to suggest that the White House was moving back into the international fold on the climate issue, the speech also contained hints that the US government may still be prevaricating when it comes to taking real action to cut emissions. For example, there was no mention in the speech of an absolute emissions reduction target for the US itself or any indication that the proposed agreement will either reflect the emissions cuts that the science shows that are needed or be legally binding. For example, President Bush once again reiterated his commitment to a technology-led approach: "the way to meet this challenge of energy and global climate change is through technology, and the US is in the lead", no different from the line the White House has taken throughout the Bush administration. Likewise, while it is clearly essential that all countries be involved in an international agreement, the Kyoto Protocol requires industralised countries to act first, both because of their much higher contribution to global emissions and their greater ability to invest. President Bush's explicit mention of India and China's participation could, as in the past, simply be an renewed get-out clause - like the Senate resolution before the Kyoto negotiations - that conditions US action on equivalent steps by large developing countries and enables the country to withdraw if nations like India and China do not make the same cuts as the US. The speech also cast doubts over whether the President is trying to sidestep the established negotiating process within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which all other OECD countries are committed to, and undermine the G8 summit next week.

The Climate Group's CEO, Steve Howard, said: "While it is certainly a step in the right direction that President Bush is now finally talking about international agreements based on medium- and long-term emissions targets, it is by no means the same as taking on the deep absolute emissions reductions that the science so clearly indicates we need. As the largest emitter, real leadership by the US means implementing ambitious emissions caps at home, something that many US businesses have been calling for for some time."

"The President should take the opportunity of the G8 summit in Heiligindamm next week" Howard continued "to show that he is really serious by agreeing to text that has been proposed by the German government - a commitment to keeping temperature increases below 2 degrees, an absolute cap on emissions and strengthening of the global carbon market. Technology certainly has a role to play but only binding caps like those already adopted by most OECD countries and a growing number of US states and cities and a firm carbon price will provide sufficient incentive for rapid uptake of low carbon solutions."

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