The world's most powerful nations have been pumping up their image as fighters of global warming in the days leading up to the meeting of the influential G-8 countries in Heiligendamm, Germany, that ends Friday.
Last week, President Bush announced that he had invited leaders of the 15 nations that emit the most heat-trapping gases and are the largest consumers of energy to gather to discuss solutions.
China followed Monday by laying out steps it said it would take to curb its emissions, largely through greater energy efficiency and developing alternative energy sources. Neither the US nor China, which rank No. 1 and No. 2 in greenhouse-gas emissions, committed to cutting emissions by any certain percentage, something that European Union countries, such as G-8 host Germany, have been urging.
That means that G-8 leaders continue to be sharply divided over how to go about reducing greenhouse gases. Despite some sunny talk, any quick or substantial agreement at this week's summit seemed unlikely.
One way to cut emissions, at least in theory, is to fund programs elsewhere that reduce emissions, such as reforestation projects or biofuel plants that replace fossil-fueled ones. The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), part of the 1997 Kyoto accord agreed to by most countries (but not the US), is one such program.
But in a two-part series in Britain's The Guardian newspaper June 2, that program came up looking drastically flawed and far from ready to be held up as a model. The newspaper charged that it had found "serious irregularities at the heart of the process the world is relying on to control global warming" – the CDM. The program, the newspaper said, "has been contaminated by gross incompetence, rule-breaking, and possible fraud by companies in the developing world...."
A related Guardian report went on to say:
"[E]vidence collected by the Guardian suggests that thus far [the CDM and a similar carbon-offset scheme] have earned fortunes for speculators and for some of the companies which produce most greenhouse gases and yet, through a combination of teething troubles and multiple forms of malpractice and possibly fraud, they have delivered little or no benefit for the environment."
If Mr. Bush is serious about fighting warming – and there's no agreement at the G-8 – the onus, at least in the short term, is back on the White House and Congress to make progress on their own. But the Bush administration faced a new domestic global warming flap this week when the Associated Press unearthed a confidential report to the White House that cautioned the US was losing much of its ability to track climate change from space as older satellites leave service. New satellites will lack the equipment for long-term climate study and focus only on short-term weather prediction. US scientists will be forced to rely on European satellites for climate data, the report said.
Climate Science Watch, a nonprofit advocacy group, posted the 76-page report and its own seven-page summary (PDF) of the findings on its website. Rick Piltz, founder of Climate Science Watch, told ABC News:
"It is a kind of attack I think on the integrity of our whole climate science program with budget cutting.... And yes, I call that criminal negligence."
At the same time, Democrats who control Congress also faced problems creating a consensus around climate change. A draft of an energy bill put forward by Rep. Rick Boucher (D) of Virginia included a provision that would bar states from setting their own, higher standards for carbon emissions from vehicles. California and 11 other states are eager to require a 25 percent cut in carbon emissions from cars and an 18 percent cut from SUVs by 2009.
Congressman Boucher's bill, expected to be voted on later this month, would bar the Environmental Protection Agency from granting waivers to them.
BreAnda Northcutt, spokeswoman for California's Environmental Protection Agency, told the San Francisco Chronicle:
"We're concerned that Congress is trying to take away the state's right to clean our air and protect our citizens. [The bill] appears to be singling out California's climate action efforts, and the 11 additional states that have adopted our standards, and tying our hands."
Boucher's draft may never see the light of day. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a fellow Democrat whose district is in northern California, issued a statement picked up by the AP that seemed to quash the idea. Said Pelosi:
"Any proposal that affects California's landmark efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or eliminate the EPA's authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions will not have my support."
The energy bill, as currently constituted, also contains another controversial measure – a subsidy to promote coal-to-liquid fuel schemes. Turning coal into liquid fuels would emit about twice as much carbon as making traditional petroleum fuels, the Chronicle article says, unless companies would switch to new technologies – still untested – for pumping the resulting carbon dioxide underground, thereby keeping it out of the atmosphere.