A cool reception
George Bush's climate change plan merely creates the impression of action. The G8 must not allow this procedural torpedo to hit its target.
So this is it. After years of denial, evasion and hostility George Bush has finally been forced to play defence on climate change. It's good news, right? Tony Blair called the president's speech yesterday "a big step forward". Well I call it a disaster. Last week George Bush committed a squalid street mugging on the G8 process and the Kyoto protocol, and Tony Blair just stood behind him grinning.
Bush's proposal - to develop a non-binding set of global emissions reduction targets by the end of 2008 - is a classic spoiler, intended to show his domestic audience and the wider world that the US is taking the issue seriously. The administration knows it has no place to hide and so, like so many times before, it has announced a plan to create the impression of action, a pathetic attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of the world and an increasingly concerned US electorate.
The Bush administration's "new climate initiative" ignores both the scientific facts and the hard-earned experience of the last 15 years: voluntary measures do not work. The physics of the task we face is clear: global emissions must peak in the next 10 to 15 years and be drastically cut after that. In terms of the politics, the G8 are responsible historically for over 80% of the climate change we witness today and still emit over 40% of all global emissions now. They are therefore morally and legally bound to act first and act firmly. In order to achieve a global emission cut of 50%, the G8 must cut their own emissions by at least 80-90% by 2050 (compared to 1990 levels). Anything less will be neither adequate nor fair and certainly not safe.
This makes the US response all the more inadequate. Setting up yet another talking shop at a time when the world has a real chance of making progress at the G8 in Germany this month is an irresponsible move. For Blair to welcome the initiative is a similarly devastating indictment of the level of success he believes is achievable while Bush is still in office.
So where does the world go from here? The G8 must not allow this attempt at a procedural torpedo to hit its target. It still remains the only existing forum in which to mobilise action on a global scale, and the urgency of the problem demands that the leaders of the industrialised countries do not wait for the US to wake from its torpor. If all seven G8 countries that have ratified the Kyoto protocol declared their determination to cut their emissions by 30% by 2020 and 80-90% by 2050, this would be a major success. Kyoto-member countries can and must state clearly at the G8 meeting in Heiligendamm, that they will agree to these binding cuts under the protocol by 2009 at the latest. Bush, not having signed Kyoto and leaving office next year anyway, should be ignored.
It is amazing that the US administration is still claiming that technology and research can deliver the cuts necessary to stop the planet from suffering the worst effects of climate change. We already have the technology we need to make these cuts - renewable energy, decentralised power like combined heat and power, and massive energy efficiency programmes that could dramatically reduce the amount of greenhouse gases we pump into the atmosphere. What is required is a transformation in the way we think about energy usage, a massive overhaul of the ways in which we power the world's economies. The urgency of this problem is hard to overstate, and by delaying global action Bush is leaving the darkest of all presidential legacies.