United States goes it alone on global warming

In our New Year issue, commenting on President George W Bush’s assumption of power, we gave the new incumbent in the White House the benefit of the doubt over environmental issues, but warned, ‘don’t hold your breath’.

Not for long in any event, as the man from Texas soon ran up his lone star colours over green issues, making it crystal clear that he does not support the Kyoto agreement on the grounds that it exempts the developing nations around the world and is not in the United States’ economic best interest.

The only clue to the President’s view of tackling the issue was his statement that he was worried about emissions and that the United States would work with its friends ‘to achieve efficiencies through new technologies.’

All of which leaves most of the rest of the world, and Europe in particular, in disarray over how to proceed to keep up the momentum over global warming.

Only days before the US President’s dramatic announcement, Tony Blair had reaffirmed his own green credentials by making a personal commitment to attend the Rio+10 Conference in South Africa. By the time that meeting takes place next year the Prime Minister said he hoped that Kyoto would have been ratified. ‘We should use Rio+10 to take forward the climate change and sustainable development agendas.’

However, as the new US administration has rather awkwardly pointed out, only one state has ratified Kyoto and any prospect of the US Congress taking a different line to that of its new President has always been remote.

It seems, at this early stage of absorbing the shock that George Bush has inflicted on the always fragile consensus over implementing Kyoto, that the only practical approach to winning over the President will be through persuasion.

Talk of imposing economic sanctions on the United States to impose a global policy over environmental issues seems unlikely to sway political leaders, given, for example, Europe’s inability to impose its will on such issues as GM foods.

Perhaps the best prospect of a compromise will be if Tony Blair can indeed exercise the ‘special responsibility’ he says Britain has to find a way through between the US and the EU’s now quite opposed stances on global warming.

In his recent speech the Prime Minister said of the moves to implement Kyoto commitments; ‘We have invested too much in it now to see it fail.’

Even if Mr Blair does stem the tide of foot and mouth disease on the home front, and wins another election along the way, he could find shifting the new US President’s policy of defending his country’s economic self-interest on the eve of a possible recession, a very much harder nut to crack.

Editor, Alexander Catto


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