Bush and Britain Worlds Apart on Climate Control ; GLOBAL WARMING Cabinet Think-Tank's Environmental Report Backs Alternative Power as US Puts Its Faith in the Status Quo

By Michael McCarthy Environment Editor | The Independent (London, England), February 15, 2002 | Go to article overview
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Bush and Britain Worlds Apart on Climate Control ; GLOBAL WARMING Cabinet Think-Tank's Environmental Report Backs Alternative Power as US Puts Its Faith in the Status Quo


Michael McCarthy Environment Editor, The Independent (London, England)


ONE EARTH; one atmosphere; one future; but yesterday, the Governments of the United Kingdom and the United States set out two very different approaches to protecting the world from the threat to us all posed by global warming.

In London, a detailed blueprint demonstrated how we could cut massively the emissions of carbon dioxide from power stations and motor vehicles which are causing the world's climate to overheat; in Washington, capital of the country which produces vastly more of these emissions than any other, a plan was put forward to let them increase.

Not that President George Bush would want the latter proposal to be taken that way; but that will be the undoubted effect of his long- awaited climate change policy, offered up last night nearly a year after he withdrew America from participation in the 1997 international treaty to combat global warming, the Kyoto Protocol.

Last March, Mr Bush, the oilman son of an oilman father, kicked Kyoto into touch on the grounds that the legally-binding CO2 emissions cuts it required would harm US industry in general, and the energy sector in particular. He echoed the words of ExxonMobil, the world's biggest oil firm (Esso in the UK) and Kyoto's most determined opponents, saying the treaty was "fatally flawed".

Last night, after 11 months of polite disapproval from other governments, and harsh opprobium from environmentalists around the world, he offered his alternative: and the Dubya answer to climate change turned out to be remarkably similar to the ExxonMobil one, as advocated over recent months.

Its cornerstone is simple: don't do much. The new Bush climate- change policy rules out all idea of binding emissions targets, and relies on US industry to do what it can, voluntarily, with some tax breaks to help it along the way. It does try to limit the future rate of growth of US carbon emissions, already a quarter of the world total, from 4 per cent of the world population; but in allowing them to grow alongside economic growth, it will promote an increase in absolute terms.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, the US would have had to cut back its emissions, by 2010, to 7 per cent below where they were in 1990; which would have meant a real cut, in the 2010 US economy, of about 35 per cent. A tough job. But that's what Al Gore, then the US Vice President, agreed in Japan in 1997.

Even if all the Kyoto cuts were fully implemented - including Britain's 12.5 per cent - world carbon emissions as a whole would only drop by about 5 per cent, and this would reduce the expected climate change of up to 6C in the coming century - likely to bring famine, flooding and disease on a global scale - by a mere one- twentieth of a degree.

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