So this is it. After years of denial, evasion and hostility George Bush has finally been forced to play defence on climate change. It’s good news, right? Tony Blair called the President’s position yesterday “a big step forward”. Well I call it a disaster. Yesterday afternoon George Bush committed a squalid street mugging on the G8 process and the Kyoto Protocol, and Tony Blair just stood behind him grinning.
Bush’s proposal to agree to more meetings with no agreed targets on cutting CO2 emissions and plenty of caveats is a classic spoiler, intended to show his domestic audience and the wider world that the US is taking the issue seriously. The administration knows it has no place to hide and so, like so many times before, it has announced a plan to create the impression of action, a pathetic attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of the world and an increasingly concerned US electorate.
The Bush administration’s “new climate initiative” ignores both the scientific facts and the hard earned experience of the last 15 years: voluntary measures do not work. The physics of the task we face is clear: global emissions must peak in the next 10 to 15 years and be drastically cut after that. In terms of the politics, the G8 are responsible historically for over 80% of the climate change we witness today and still emit over 40% of all global emissions now. They are therefore morally and legally bound to act first and act firmly. In order to achieve a global emission cut of 50%, the G8 must cut their own emissions by at least 80-90 percent by 2050 (compared to 1990 levels). Anything less will be neither adequate nor fair and certainly not safe.
This makes the US response all the more inadequate. Setting up yet another talking shop at a time when the world had a real chance of making progress at the G8 in Germany is an irresponsible move. For Blair to welcome the initiative is a similarly devastating indictment of the level of success he believes is achievable while Bush is still in office.
So where does the world go from here? The G8 must not allow Bush's attempt at a procedural torpedo to hit its target. It still remains the only existing forum in which to mobilise action on a global scale, and the urgency of the problem demands that the leaders of the industrialised countries do not wait for the US to wake from its torpor. All seven G8 countries that have ratified the Kyoto Protocol must declare their determination to cut their emissions by 30 per cent by 2020 and 80-90 per cent by 2050. Kyoto-member must agree to these binding cuts under the Protocol by 2009 at the latest. Bush, not having signed Kyoto and leaving office next year anyway, should be ignored.
It is amazing that the US administration is still claiming that technology and research can deliver the cuts necessary to stop the planet from suffering the worst effects of climate change. We already have the technology we need to make these cuts - renewable energy, decentralised power like combining heat and power, and massive energy efficiency programmes that could dramatically reduce the amount of greenhouse gases we pump into the atmosphere. What is required is a transformation in the way we think about energy usage, a massive overhaul of the ways in which we power the world’s economies. The urgency of this problem is hard to overstate, and by delaying global action Bush is leaving the darkest of all presidential legacies.