The greening of Bush
The US climate change summit is a clear attempt to undermine UN talks and a deliberate move to wreck our last chance to avoid disaster.
President George Bush today embarks on the second of his two-day climate change summit to which he has invited a group of "major emitters", including not only large industrialised country polluters, but also large developing countries such as China and India.
The plan, he says, is to stage a series of top-level talks that will feed into UN talks later this year and beyond, to develop a new consensus of what the shape of a new global deal could look like.
A huge shift in US policy; finally an emphasis on the real challenge of the 21st century; the world saved? Sadly not I fear, or at least not yet.
Far from signalling a fundamental change of heart, to many eyes the meeting is just the latest phase in the Administration campaign to block orchestrated international action on global warming.Environmental campaigners, including my colleagues from Friends of the Earth USA, will today demonstrate outside the meeting in Washington DC to mark the apparent change of direction from Bush with the slogan "wrong turn".
From the start of his presidency, Bush put in place anti-environmental policies on everything from protected areas to pollution control.
The star in the crown for the old "free"-market corporate ideologues was, however, his deep opposition to taking action on climate change.
In 2001 he loudly announced how he would never allow the USA to implement the Kyoto Protocol, or indeed anything like it. He objected to official internationally-agreed targets and timetables that set out who would reduce pollution by what amount by when. He also believed that the fact that India and China and others didn't have binding reduction targets was unfair (despite the per capita emissions of these countries' mainly poverty-stricken citizens being only a tiny fraction of his own wasteful population).
It was even worse than this though. Not only did he reject the logic of the Kyoto-style policy response,
he even disputed that there was a problem. The science was not proven he said, it was too early to make a clear conclusion, and therefore there was no need to act.Backed up and influenced by corporate interests, including companies such as Exxon and lobby groups including the Competitive Enterprise Institute,
Bush resisted the scientific information coming from all sides, including an increasing number of US scientists. That science has said with increasing certainty and confidence there was a major threat and urgent action was warranted.
Tony Blair saw this as the first hurdle to getting US participation and during the early stages of his G8 presidency in 2005 focused on persuading the Administration that they had to face facts and accept the science. There were grudging moves from Washington, leading more recently to a fuller acceptance of the scale of the problem.
On the back of the recent reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and because of intense diplomatic pressure not only from the UK but also Germany and others, Bush was forced to move. He was also forced to shift his views because of changes at home.
Not only had be become isolated internationally, he was more and more alone at home. States, city leaders, his own scientists, the public, even the religious right, a big part of his power base, had moved and called for action. Katrina was an additional and very practical demonstration of what his denial meant and was a further rallying point for pressure.
By 2007 it was all too much and Bush had to signal a change of heart, and on the science he has now done that, with officials from his Administration setting out the potentially dire consequences of inaction.
Fundamentally, however, his position remains the same: no targets, no timetables, every country does what it wants, and let's rely on technology, remains his core message.
Posing the false choice between technology and targets is a familiar Bush ploy, and again it is on the table at this meeting. In reality though without both we can't do either. Targets are needed to force technology, while technology is essential for meeting targets. And if we are to do enough emissions reductions in time, then we need a clear science-based route forward that is the basis for the international agreement. This is the real challenge, not as Bush seeks to do in putting blind faith in voluntary moves toward an unspecified role for technology (some of which won't work anyway - such as nuclear and over-reliance on biofuels).
The UN climate talks in Bali later this year must set the scene for the industrialised countries collectively agreeing a new round of emissions reductions to come into effect in 2012.
It will need to be a round of talks leading to more Kyoto-style reductions. And that is what Bush does not want: hence today's meeting. By starting up a parallel track with talks about voluntary approaches to technology, he hopes to draw energy out of the UN and to undermine the prospects of new targets being agreed.
He has been forced to move on the science, but his basic position has not changed.
He is also playing a domestic game. Should the Republicans lose the presidency (as looks increasingly likely), then the Democrats will certainly improve US policy on climate change. The more he can do to block them, even after he has gone, the better. By setting in place a weak framework at home as well as undermining international target setting, he can leave the US well behind the pack and thus protect the backward-looking corporate interests who wrote his policy in the first place.
The US could be a world leader in a rapid shift toward a low-carbon future, but not with the present policy and leadership.
Today's meeting is a transparent attempt to undermine UN talks and as such amounts to a deliberate move to wreck humanity's collective last chance to avoid disaster. The sooner he is gone the better.