Bush’s warm to climate change heats European debate before G-8 summit

Publish date: June 3, 2007

Written by: Charles Digges

NEW YORK – In an apparent climb-down from six-year's worth of denying that global climate change is a reality, US President George Bush announced that the United States would gather the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases to seek a long-term global reduction in emissions.

The surprise announcement by Bush – a staunch supporter of some of the world’s most polluting industries, and who takes much of his council on eschewing the data supporting the reality of global warming from leaders in the American evangelical Christian movement – was a clear move to mollify other G-8 leaders of the world’s richest nations that he will meet in Germany next week.

The consensus among G-8 nations – all of which, except for the United States, are signatories of the Kyoto Protocol, which obliges an average cut in emissions of five percent below 1990 levels by 2008-12 – is that hard scientific evidence of man-made global warming is overwhelming.

United Nations reports this year have projected ever more heat waves, floods, desertification and rising seas because of rising temperatures linked to greenhouse gases from fossil fuel combustion. The EU aims to cut its emissions by 20 percent by 2020.

The hot topic at the summit will therefore be assessing measures to combat climate change, and most G-8 nations have already long ago outlined their own national strategies for reducing emissions of greenhouse gasses and adopting technologies that would make existing energy and transport less polluting.

European surprise gives way to scepticism
Surprise at Bush’s remarks, however, quickly gave way to scepticism, as European leaders weighed in after Bush’s vague announcement last week.

"The declaration by President Bush basically restates the US classic line on climate change – no mandatory reductions, no carbon trading and vaguely expressed objectives," European Union (EU) Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said, according to his spokeswoman.

"The US approach has proven to be ineffective in reducing emissions."

Bush’s vaguely worded proposal — which has so far steered clear of introducing emissions caps — has muddied what had been shaping up as a black-and-white showdown between Europe and the United States.

Bush’s announcement crashing Germany’s party?

In his announcement, Bush called for a long-term deal on cuts among 15 top emitters led by the United States, China, Russia and India – a shift from an existing US policy lasting to 2012 that will allow US greenhouse gas emissions to actually rise.

Bush’s remarks have also stolen some of the gusto of planned proposals by German Chancellor Angela Merkel – who currently holds the rotating EU presidency – which aim for many of the same goals as Bush, but specifically require reductions in emissions by about 50 by 2050.

German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel, called Bush’ announcement a “Trojan Horse” and said the announcement could be seen as progress only if it prepared the way for a United Nations pact to extend the Kyoto Protocol past 2012.

"If it is an attempt to hamper such an international climate change agreement, then it is dangerous," he told reporters.

"The European Union and also the G-8 should not be content with initiating a process that just means that we’ll have some vague agreements between 10 or 15 countries in the world."

But for. Merkel’s chief climate advisor, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, Bush’s plan was a welcome sign that the United States had re-engaged in the debate, even if he disagreed with its approach, the New York Times reported.

“It’s clearly an indication that the Bush administration wants to contribute to solving the problem,” Schellnhuber said. “It’s a steep learning curve, and when you are on a learning curve, you may not come up with the right solution the first time.”

And European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and Merkel had emphasized that Bush’s plan did at least create more chances for dialogue, European media reported.

Local media jeer Bush for upstaging Merkel

Many European newspapers cast Bush’s plan as a defeat for Merkel, who wants the G-8 to agree now on a need for world cuts of about 50 percent in emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050.

"One of the customs at G-8 summits is that the other participants grant the host a success on their big issue," the Financial Times Deutschland said in an editorial.

"The fact that Bush has not kept to this is an affront, and he’s made Merkel’s defeat even worse," it said.

“Bush torpedoes Merkel’s climate plans,” announced the German paper Handelsblatt.
In Britain, the Guardian said, "Bush kills off hopes for G-8 climate change plan."

Washington pleads innocence
But in Washington, Stephen Hadley, Bush’s top national security adviser, insisted Bush’s plan is not an effort to upstage Merkel, The Washington Post reported.

"It is not a competitor to anybody’s proposal. It is an effort to make a contribution to an ongoing dialogue," said Hadley. He added that Bush had spoken with his European counterparts before making his announcement.

Outcome tough to predict

Merkel’s spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm said it was too early to predict the outcome of the G-8 summit.

"I think we can say at this stage that it’s going to be tough, that we face very intense discussions," he said.