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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Bush vision on climate change under fire at Paris meeting

The Sydney Morning Herald, April 17, 2008

US President George W. Bush's new blueprint for tackling global warming came under attack on Thursday from other carbon emitters, with some branding his scheme a step backwards in the battle against climate change.

Leading the charge at a meeting in Paris was South Africa, which lashed the proposals Bush outlined on Wednesday as a retreat by the planet's No. 1 polluter and a slap to poor countries least to blame for today's warming crisis.

The European Union (EU) -- which had challenged the US to follow its lead on slashing greenhouse-gas emissions by 2020 -- voiced disappointment.

Bush's speech came on the eve of the two-day Paris meeting, which gathers ministers from 16 economies accounting for 80 percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions.

He called for the growth in US greenhouse gas emissions to be stopped by 2025 "and begin to reverse thereafter, so long as technology continues to advance."

He described these as "realistic goals," whereas "the wrong way is to raise taxes, duplicate mandates, or demand sudden and drastic emissions cuts that have no chance of being realised and every chance of hurting our economy."

And he insisted that any future emissions-cutting deal under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) includes "meaningful participation" by fast-growing populous nations and that it "gives none a free ride."

Some delegates at the so-called Major Emitters Meeting (MEM) were dismayed by the tenor of Bush's speech.

They said it reminded them of the fierce opposition to the UNFCCC's Kyoto Protocol that has been a hallmark of the Bush presidency and remains the biggest obstacle in building a new global treaty beyond 2012, when Kyoto's present commitments run out.

"There is no way whatsoever that we can agree to what the US is proposing," South African Environment and Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk said in a statement.

"In effect, the US wants developing countries that already face huge poverty and development challenges to pay for what the US and other highly industrialized countries have caused over the past 150 years," he said.

"(...) On this issue, the current US administration is isolated. It is them against the overwhelming majority of the world, developed and developing countries alike."

The representatives of the European Commission and the EU's presidency said they were disappointed, while Germany described the US plan as a step backwards as time was running out and urged Washington to reconsider, delegation sources said.

UNFCCC Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer, though, said he saw some positive aspects, in that Bush's proposal would help spur real negotiations for a post-2012 deal. These marathon, fiendishly complex talks are scheduled to conclude in Copenhagen in December 2009.

The talks are the third MEM, a process launched by Bush last September that had won grudging applause and helped ease the US's years-long pariah status on climate change.

The aim of the MEM is to identify a global emissions goal and explore how smart technology and "sectoral" efforts by energy-intensive industries could be harnessed to achieve it.

The forum gathers Australia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Russia, South Africa and the United States. The UNFCCC and EU are also represented.

Bush walked away from the Kyoto Protocol in 2001, arguing that Kyoto was too costly for his oil-dependent economy and unfair as only rich nations -- and not big developing countries such as China and India -- had to make legally-binding curbs on their greenhouse-gas emissions.

The emerging giants, though, are firmly against signing up to mandatory targets in the post-2012 Kyoto commitments.

They argue that they are not to blame for today's warming and say stringent pledges could threaten their rise out of poverty.

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© 2008 AFP

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