Politics & Policy

Bush Takes the Lead

From the early days of the Kyoto Protocol, one of the not-so-hidden agendas of the Europeans was to use climate-change agreements to hobble the American economy, so much so that even the Clinton administration felt compelled to push back. Now, with President Bush politically weak and relentless fearmongering over climate “catastrophe,” this week’s G-8 meeting has been shaping up as another attempted mugging of Uncle Sam. Tony Blair is triumphant in his pronouncements that “there’s a change in mood in America,” making possible “a new binding international agreement to come into effect when the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012 . . . one which is more radical than Kyoto and more comprehensive.”

President Bush’s announcement last week that he will convene a conference of the Big 15 greenhouse-gas emitters is a fair bid to turn the tables on the Europeans and slam the door on Son of Kyoto. As the New York Times put it: “For six years, Europeans have pleaded with President Bush to seize the initiative in the campaign against global warming. Now that he has, many [in Europe] are even more frustrated.”

Bush has firmly rejected hard emissions caps and international tradable-emissions schemes (cap and trade). In his recent remarks, he emphasized that emerging nations such as China and India should be able to set their own emissions goals relative to their economic circumstances, and press above all for technology transfer. Translation: Any realistic greenhouse-gas-emissions program will have to recognize that developing nations such as China and India must grow. This is true also of the U.S., whose economy continues to expand even as Europe stagnates. At least for the intermediate term, the emissions of such nations will grow too. By proposing to convene the Big 15 emitters under U.S. leadership, Bush threatens to eclipse the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, which brought us Kyoto. Not bad for a day’s work.

Bush has a strong card to play. For the last several years he has been ridiculed for his emphasis on reducing “emissions intensity” — i.e., the amount of greenhouse gases (GHG) emitted per dollar of economic output — and for the United States’ voluntary emissions strategy to lower GHG intensity. Two weeks ago the Department of Energy released preliminary figures showing that U.S. GHG emissions declined by 1.3 percent in 2006 while the economy grew by 3.3. percent. This is significant: It is the first time U.S. GHG emissions have fallen in a non-recessionary year. In most European nations, GHG emissions went up last year; in fact, the U.S. has improved its energy efficiency faster than Europe over the last six years. By the time Bush leaves office in 2009, U.S. GHG emissions will have risen only about half as much as they did during the Clinton years. China and India could accept a GHG-intensity goal, for it is in their economic interest to improve their energy efficiency in cost-effective ways.

Even if one accepts the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s midpoint prediction of a 3-degree-Celsius increase in global temperature 100 years from now (we’ll save that argument for another day), the Bush approach is clearly more sensible than the regulation-happy, growth-stifling path of the Europeans.


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