Climate debate heats up G-8
President Bush's new global warming plan greeted with skepticism at this week's world summit in Germany.
This week's meeting of the world's eight top economic powers is set to become a battle over whether future efforts to combat global warming will continue to require binding international commitments or turn the clock back to 1992, when nations agreed to a less rigorous approach that the international community has long since rejected as ineffective.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The choice came into stark relief with President Bush's May 31 call to build a new international framework for action on global warming. The framework would shape efforts to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions after 2012, when the 1997 Kyoto Protocol's first five-year commitment period ends.
Under Mr. Bush's plan, the United States would gather leaders of 15 developed and developing nations that are the leading emitters of heat-trapping gases and the largest consumers of energy. Their objective: Develop a long-term emissions-reduction goal that, according to administration officials, is "aspirational" rather than binding. Countries would then develop their own sets of internal programs to achieve the overall goal.
Bush unveiled the plan on the eve of this year's Group of 8 summit, set to start Wednesday in Heiligendamm, Germany. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who will chair the meeting, has put out drafts of a final communiqué that commit G-8 members to doing their "fair share" to reach specific emissions goals by 2050.
Her effort is driven in no small part by three recent reports on global warming, its effects, and strategies for reducing emissions of greenhouse gases – mainly carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuel. The reports, which aim to inform policymakers as they craft ways to reduce human influence on climate, were issued earlier this year by the UN-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
During the run-up to the G-8 meeting, the Bush administration has come under intense criticism from environmental groups and some European officials. The White House rejected the wording of large sections of the draft's climate provisions. It argued that the offending elements run counter to Bush's policy on dealing with global warming.
For example, Washington's proposed changes to the draft G-8 document virtually wipe out any reference to various emissions-reduction goals by 2050 or an objective of trying to hold global average temperature increases to about 2 degrees C. These are based on IPCC projections of possible emissions trends and approaches that could avoid what the UN agreements refer to as "dangerous human-made influence on climate."
It would now appear that the White House may have been trying to adjust the draft communiqué text in ways that brought it into closer conformity with the plan Washington was preparing to announce. The White House has long rejected mandatory targets and timetables.
Fewer friends in US's corner
Either way, some analysts say, the Bush plan is merely trying to defuse the barrage of criticism aimed its way.
"This is a transparent effort to divert attention from the president's refusal to accept any emissions-reductions proposals at [the] G-8 summit," says Philip Clapp, head of the National Environmental Trust in Washington. "The White House is just trying to hide the fact that the president is completely isolated among the G-8 leaders by calling vaguely for some agreement next year, right before he leaves office."
As if to underscore that isolation, long-time Bush ally on climate, Australian Prime Minister John Howard, announced over the weekend that his country would set an emissions target next year and set up a carbon-trading system by 2012 to help achieve it. Both approaches have been anathema to the White House.
Others suggest the White House is attempting an end-run around any United Nations-based process for dealing with climate. Sigmar Gabriel, the German environment minister, said Friday that the G-8 should not allow the Bush plan to become "a Trojan horse to get past Heiligendamm and basically torpedo the international climate-protection process."