In a speech in Washington, Bush softened his past opposition to setting global goals to cut pollution, calling for talks between the U.S. and major emitters such as India and China to establish a new framework for when the Kyoto Protocol treaty on emissions expires in 2012. That prompted criticism from environmentalists that he was bypassing global talks hosted by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
``I was initially concerned that this was a new track outside the UN system involving only a very limited number of countries,'' UNFCCC Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer said today in a telephone interview. After a phone call from the White House, ``I was very emphatically reassured that this is not intended to replace the formal negotiations, that it's intended to feed into the UNFCCC climate change negotiations,'' he said.
Scientists say that emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide are ``very likely'' the main cause of global warming, which may cause an increase in floods, droughts and extinctions. That's prompted politicians in the European Union to say emissions should be halved by 2050 in order to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) from the 18th century.
``By the end of next year, America and other nations will set a long-term global goal for reducing greenhouse gases,'' Bush said in the speech. ``In addition to this long-term global goal, each country would establish midterm national targets.''
Countries including Japan, Germany and the U.K. welcomed Bush's proposals, with U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair hailing it as a ``huge step forward'' for the U.S.
Environmentalists criticized Bush's proposal. Greenpeace's climate campaigner Robin Oakley yesterday called the plan a ``classic spoiler,'' while Tony Juniper, director of Friends of the Earth, said Bush remains a ``block'' on reaching a global agreement. Saleemul Huq, head of climate change at the London- based International Institute for Environment and Development, said Bush was trying to detract from the UN talks.
``It's derailing the ongoing UN process, trying to stop it from taking place rather than actually trying to come to a solution,'' Huq, who is also a member of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said today in a phone interview. ``It's bypassing the multilateral process, taking a few countries on board and making deals behind the scene: totally unacceptable.''
Bush has historically been opposed to emissions reduction targets and in 2001, he rejected Kyoto, which would have required the U.S. to cut emissions by 7 percent from 1990 levels by 2012.
The administration has also been seeking the removal from a draft Group of Eight declaration of targets for reducing greenhouse gases and language stressing the need for urgent action to fight climate change.
The G-8 meeting takes place June 6-8 in Heiligendamm, Germany. Items the U.S. wants deleted from the text include a reference to limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), targets for a reduction of greenhouse gases to half of 1990 levels by 2050, and language that says tackling climate change is an ``imperative not a choice.''
De Boer said the White House officials he spoke with didn't give an assurance the U.S. will commit to absolute emissions reductions targets. Bush didn't indicate what the targets might be, or whether they will be compulsory.
``President Bush's proposal is flawed on all counts,'' former U.K. Environment Minister Michael Meacher said. ``The proposed U.S. long-term target is unspecified, but will almost certainly be based on voluntary targets which have always been ineffective and prevent carbon markets operating -- the only realistic way of cutting carbon emissions on the global scale.''
De Boer also expressed concern that Bush's initiative doesn't mention a role for the carbon market.
Under carbon trading, companies are set caps on the amount of greenhouse gases they can emit. If they exceed those caps, they're able to offset by buying carbon permits assigned to other companies that undershoot their targets, or by purchasing UN credits that guarantee emissions are cut by investments in projects that reduce emissions in developing nations.
``The thing that is at least at the moment evidently lacking in Bush's proposal is this notion that you also need a carbon market that puts in place incentives that will allow developing countries to be more ambitious'' in reducing emissions, de Boer said. ``The notion of subsidizing the Chinese to act on climate change is politically difficult for the U.S.''
China has said it's up to developed countries to act, because they are responsible for the bulk of historic emissions. The country's State Council, or cabinet, today approved a resolution to curb its emissions. The statement didn't mention the Bush initiative.
``Climate change has no borders,'' a panel including Premier Wen Jiabao said in the statement. ``In reacting to global climate change, the world faces a huge challenge, and it depends on the hard work of every country.''
It isn't realistic to immediately require developing nations to set compulsory emissions reductions targets, though a number of other goals could be set, De Boer said.
``There could be national targets to limit emissions growth, there could be targets to improve energy efficiency in certain industries, there could be targets to put in place renewable energy policies,'' he said.
De Boer, who as a member of the Dutch government helped to negotiate Kyoto, said Bush's talks may be similar to those that preceded the protocol, which also didn't involve all countries.
by Alex Morales and Mathew Carr
United Nations, George Bush, co2, climate change, Carbon Markets, G-8, Protocolo Kyoto
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