The skunk at his own garden party

After years of denial, the US White House-sponsored summit on climate change ended Friday with President Bush admitting that global warming was real and humans were responsible and asking for heads of state to join him at yet another summit next year. It’s doubtful if anyone of consequence will attend that future gab-fest since President Bush continues to push voluntary cuts to greenhouse gas emissions when the rest of the world, including much of the business sector, has already said that approach simply doesn’t work.

‘President Bush has so little credibility on climate change,’ said Chris Flavin, president of the Worldwatch Institute, a US-based environmental group. Only mid-level officials from 16 countries, the European Union and the United Nations participated in the meeting Thursday and Friday.’ There is a strong international consensus on the need for mandatory emissions cuts,’ Flavin said.

The Bush administration has been under enormous pressure from the international community, the US public, some of the US business sector and from within the conservative Republican Party itself to do something on climate change, said Elliot Diringer, director of International Strategies at the Pew Centre on Global Climate Change.

Many businesses actually want a mandatory cap and trade system for carbon and clear rules about mandatory reductions, Diringer said in an interview. ‘The White House summit was simply a change in tactics, not a change of heart,’ he said. Some of those tactics included public expressions of support by the head of the UN process for dealing with climate change, which gave birth to the Kyoto Protocol. ‘It is an attempt to derail the UN process (on climate change),’ said Lo Sze Ping, campaign director for Greenpeace China, about the Washington summit.’ The US and Australia should stop finger-pointing and take action,’ Sze Ping said at a press conference, noting that China has automobile fuel efficiency requirements, a commitment to 15% renewable energy by 2020, and other concrete emissions reduction initiatives that far surpass US and Australian efforts.

The UN summit this week was intended to create a higher profile and momentum for the upcoming UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) conference in Bali, Indonesia in December. The UNFCCC is an international treaty that arose from the Rio Earth Summit to reduce the emissions of GHGs ‘to prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference in the climate system’.

Diringer worries that President Bush’s call for a “leaders’ summit” in 2008 will be used as an excuse by some to delay any serious negotiations in Bali, noting that decisions will be made by consensus there. It’s also possible that the US is trying to drive a wedge between the EU, which wants a 50 percent cut in global emissions by 2050, and China and India, said Flavin.

“It’s important that the White House doesn’t try to create a separate process,” said Hans Verolme, director of the WWF”s Global Climate Change Programme. It’s also clear that this administration will not agree to any limits in Bali despite the ample evidence that carbon regulation is very good for the economy, Verolme said in an interview. “Everyone is getting ready to move as soon as there’s a change in the White House,” he said. — IPS