June 4, 2007News AnalysisBush Climate Plan: Amid Nays, Some Maybes By ANDREW C. REVKINPresident Bush’s shift last week toward cutting worldwide emissions linked to global warming was greeted with widespread skepticism. But mixed in with the doubts was a substantial dose of support, albeit conditional. To some scientists, officials and experts immersed for years in troubled treaty talks under the United Nations, the president’s new plan is a potentially useful tool for gaining new consensus. The plan calls for rounding up the world’s biggest emitters of greenhouse gases and, in 18 months, settling on nation-by-nation programs for slowing emissions and on a long-term common goal for reducing them.The value, those supporters say, comes from working with relatively small groups of countries and industries to iron out particular issues — say, how to limit tropical deforestation or clean up heavily emitting industries. Such talks could make it easier to find consensus in the formal rounds of United Nations treaty negotiations among nearly 200 nations, they say.But supporters say that will work only if Mr. Bush sticks to his administration’s pledge to have its efforts feed into United Nations climate discussions, which resume in Bali in December. They say that the formalized process of treaty making is the only way of assuring accountability. For the moment, skepticism about Mr. Bush’s commitment still rules. After all, for six years Mr. Bush insisted the science was too iffy and the costs of change too high to justify more than mild steps to blunt growth in greenhouse gas emissions, which come mainly from using coal and oil, the fossil fuels that underpin modern economies. And his representatives in international climate talks, as recently as last month, rejected any new negotiations under international climate treaties. Nonetheless, David G. Victor, a law professor and director of Stanford University’s program on energy and sustainable development, said he was cautiously optimistic that the president’s project could help end policy deadlocks. The main forum for common climate policy is the 1992 Framework Convention on Climate Change, which set nonbinding goals for cutting emissions to avoid “dangerous” climate change, but never defined how much warming was too much. Emissions rose relentlessly, leading to fresh talks culminating in the Kyoto Protocol, negotiated in Japan in 1997 and enacted in 2005, which has binding limits on emissions for three dozen industrialized countries. But those limits expire in 2012. The Kyoto pact was signed under President Clinton but never sent to the Senate for approval, then rejected outright by Mr. Bush in 2001. And the Kyoto Protocol looks easy compared with what comes next. The idea was that after the Kyoto pact each subsequent step in the treaty process would bring stricter and broader limits on emissions. “Much of the world is skeptical because the Bush administration has such a poor track record on this topic,” Professor Victor said. “But on the face of it, this initiative does not undermine Kyoto. If the initiative leads to more serious efforts by the U.S. and by key developing countries, it will in fact breathe life into the whole enterprise aimed at protecting the planet, including Kyoto.”Mr. Bush’s new proposal starts with a summit meeting in the United States this fall, gathering up to 15 countries responsible for 85 percent of the emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases. Mr. Bush plans to invite several developing countries, including China and India, to the talks; developing countries will soon be the main source of greenhouse emissions.By the end of 2008, he said, the countries would forge national plans for slowing emissions from 2012 through 2030 or so, devise uniform methods for measuring progress, increase research and testing of nonpolluting energy options, and settle on a common, but nonbinding, target for eventual large reductions in emissions decades out.It is a piecemeal strategy that, in theory, builds the means for curbing the gases from the bottom up.In contrast, the strategy pursued by European leaders and environmentalists for the period after 2012 works from the top down, framed around a broader Kyoto-style cap on emissions. European officials have largely panned Mr. Bush’s offering, saying it could well undercut talks aimed at new, binding restrictions.But some important figures in Europe are tentatively embracing the move by Mr. Bush. Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, the chief climate adviser to Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, said the president’s bottom-up approach has legitimacy among scientists.“Each nation tries to set up its own road map, with short- and midterm goals for decarbonization,” he said last week. “You collect these road maps into a global atlas.” He and some other climate-policy experts said that both approaches would probably be needed given the wide range of conflicting interests, emissions sources, economic circumstances and energy choices in countries contributing to the greenhouse buildup; deforestation is the main concern in Brazil and Indonesia, vast heaps of coal the main issue in the United States and China, and fast growth in emissions in poorer parts of Europe.And on Friday, the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon — who plans his own push on climate action within the United Nations this fall — endorsed Mr. Bush’s proposal, particularly if it is tied into talks aimed at invigorating the treaty. “I think it is a positive statement, in the sense that the United States, at the level of President Bush, has realized the urgency and importance of climate change,” Mr. Ban said. “I hope such an effort by the United States will be mutually reinforcing the international community’s efforts, particularly led by the United Nations.”James L. Connaughton, the chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said the world should embrace several simultaneous efforts to avoid dangerous climate change and at the same time boost nonpolluting energy supplies.“We need it all,” he told reporters last week. “And those who suggest there’s one approach versus another, they’re not facing reality.”Still, many say Mr. Bush will have to work hard to overcome strong doubts.Michael K. Dorsey, an assistant professor of environmental studies at Dartmouth College, said Mr. Bush would have to show concrete progress in the fall to overcome “a legacy of stalling, back-pedaling and undermining of international talks.” “Give us a press conference to say what you’ve done yesterday,” he said. “Don’t tell us any more what you’re going to do tomorrow.”Mark Landler contributed reporting from Frankfurt.
Post a Comment