When British Prime Minister Tony Blair announced to the world that he was going to make global warming a focus of his G8 chairmanship, few would have expected that the likely result would be agreement with President Bush. Yet staunch and principled diplomacy from the president and his team, combined with Blair’s willingness to listen, have resulted in the draft declaration on the subject, as widely reported, endorsing the president’s policies rather than any of the economy-destroying Kyoto-like policies embraced by Jacques Chirac and his cronies for decades. Unfortunately, at the very last minute it is possible that Republicans in the U.S. Senate could stab the president in the back by endorsing the Chirac stance for trivial reasons. The president and the American economy deserve better treatment from our most senior elected representatives.
Blair, it seems, came to the negotiating table hoping to persuade the President that some form of global mandatory energy suppression was needed to stifle the growth in greenhouse gas emissions. Yet, as the president (and the U.S. Senate for that matter) have long argued, energy suppression is directly harmful to the economy, destroying growth and jobs. A poorer world will be less able to deal with any potential harmful effects of global warming if it does turn out to be a serious problem. A far better approach, as the president has long argued, is to encourage better understanding of exactly what we are facing (the current official estimates for temperature increase have a 400-percent error range) and to provide incentives for the development of new technology.
The prime minister now seems to accept this, on the global stage at least. The draft joint declaration to be released at the Gleneagles G8 summit very much takes the president’s line. Tony Blair told Britain’s Channel Four news (April 25), “I don’t believe the way to tackle global warming is by introducing policies that will undermine our prosperity or economic growth.” He had already told the World Economic Forum at Davos, “Political leaders worry they are being asked to take unacceptable falls in economic growth and living standards to tackle climate change. My view is that if we put forward, as a solution to climate change, something which involves drastic cuts in growth or standards of living, it matters not how justified it is, it simply won’t be agreed to.”
By contrast, back in 2000, Jacques Chirac hitched his star to the Kyoto-protocol approach that mandates greenhouse-gas-emission reductions. He even called it “the first component of an authentic global governance.” Yet the Europeans have been unable to back their rhetoric up with actions. EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs told the German newspaper Tagesspiegel on June 20 that the EU would miss its Kyoto targets. This came just a couple of days after the Guardian revealed that EU emissions actually increased last year by 1.1 percent owing, irony of ironies, to an especially cold winter. Meanwhile, as energy prices increase around the continent, a review by banking group UBS into German electricity prices concluded that a quarter of the current price was directly attributable to greenhouse-gas policies.
With the Europeans in disarray over this as in so many other areas, who should ride to their rescue but Republicans in the U.S. Senate? Amazingly, some Senate Republicans are seriously considering cosponsoring an amendment to the energy bill offered by Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D., N.M.), which incredibly almost got the backing of Energy Committee Chairman Sen. Pete Domenici (R., N.M.). This amendment seeks to tackle global warming by controlling and limiting the use of fossil fuels. Like Kyoto, it would set caps on energy use and set in place a vast bureaucracy to manage the new centrally planned economy. The amendment even assumes that jobs will be lost as a result, as it includes language aimed at increasing unemployment assistance.
So why on earth would Senate Republicans consider backing a growth-destroying, job-wrecking, welfare-creating measure? It cannot be because of its effect on global warming, as its effect would be unmeasurably small. The proposal is opposed vehemently by House Republicans, and as such if the Senate were to insist on the measure it would kill the energy bill outright. So the only plausible explanation is that it is being considered as a bargaining chip, to give the Senate conferees something to drop in exchange for the House dropping something the Senate doesn’t like when the bill enters conference–most likely the liability protection the House bill gives to manufacturers of gasoline additive MTBE, now banned but once the darling of the environmental movement.
If this is what senators are thinking, it is the height of irresponsibility. Not only would Senate approval of the measure, even in the knowledge that it will never be enacted, establish the principle that Kyoto-like measures are acceptable to the U.S. Senate, but it gives the President’s European foes a chance to wreck the Gleneagles agreement and to revive a dying Kyoto treaty that Europeans are currently helping to kill. Former British Foreign Secretary Nye Bevan famously said that the Labor party approving of unilateral nuclear disarmament would send him “naked into the conference chamber.” It is no surprise that Democrats want to see an embarrassed president, but it is a galling sight to see leading Senate Republicans ready to tear the clothes off the president’s back.
The newspaper that many residents of Gleneagles read, The Scotsman, on June 19 called the draft declaration a “new era for environmentalism” and “Kyoto for grown-ups.” It will be a crying shame if Senate Republicans wreck that hope by such infantile behavior.
–Iain Murray is a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute