Editor’s note: More in this excellent series, The politics of climate change, published by openDemocracy Ltd developed in partnership with the British Council as part of their ZeroCarbonCity initiative. For the full series go to http://www.opendemocracy.net/climate_change/index.jsp
The challenge of global climate change forces the world to ask: what to do about the
To have a fighting chance to keep global warming within safe levels, industrialised countries must reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases by 80% below 2000 levels by 2050 – and we must begin to make those reductions right away. Under the Kyoto Protocol,
In stark contrast, US emissions are projected to increase 14% over the next decade, and the administration of President George W Bush has made it crystal clear that it will not engage in negotiations – or even informal discussions – about mandatory emissions limits.
President Bush has proposed no meaningful alternative to
Fifty years from now, the Bush presidency will likely be remembered for two things: the war in
And while 43 senators voted for the McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act, which would establish mandatory economy-wide emissions caps, 55 senators, including most Republicans, opposed it. One of them, who by luck would have it chairs the Senate’s Environment Committee, called global warming the “greatest hoax every perpetrated on the American people”.
Beyond the Beltway
Fortunately, all is not doom and gloom in
Many business leaders are also stepping up to the plate, setting emissions reduction goals for their companies. DuPont, for example, set out to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 65% from 1990 levels by 2010; by 2002, the company had exceeded this goal, achieving actual reductions of 67 percent. Others are speaking out on the need for mandatory national emissions limits. John Rowe, chairman of Exelon Corporation, one of the nation’s largest electric utilities, recently endorsed a call to regulate global warming emissions, saying “the science on climate change has become overwhelming.”
Another major utility, Cinergy Corporation, has stated that a “well-constructed policy that gradually and predictably” reduces global warming emissions can be managed “without undue disruption to the company or the economy.” Many other corporate leaders share these views, but are reluctant to speak out, afraid of retaliation if they publicly disagree with the Bush administration on this issue.
Meanwhile, other voices are joining the debate, such as evangelical Christian leaders motivated by the likely severe impact of global warming on the world’s poor and the Bible’s call for stewardship of God’s creation. As the Rev. Rich Cizik, vice-president of governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals, recently put it: “I don’t think God is going to ask us how he created the Earth, but he will ask us what we did with what he created.” As evangelical Christians are widely seen as a core component of the Republican Party’s political base, their engagement on this issue is quite significant.
While these are all hopeful signs, there is little chance they will produce a change of heart in President Bush in his remaining years in office. It is more likely that this mounting pressure will cause the next president, whether Republican or Democrat, to reverse course and restore American leadership in the fight against global warming.
The world’s choice
With negotiations due to start later this year on emissions reductions beyond the end of Kyoto’s first commitment period in 2012, the rest of the world has three options in responding to current US intransigence.
First, try to engage the Bush administration on post-2012 climate policy. Given the administration’s posture, this would be like talking to a brick wall.
Second, wait for the next administration to take office in January 2009 to start negotiations on what comes next. Given the urgent need to minimise the impacts of climate change, the world can’t afford such a delay. Moreover, this would create uncertainty amongst the world’s businesses, just now starting to adjust to the reality of binding emissions limits under the Kyoto Protocol, as to whether those limits will in fact continue and deepen post-2012.
Third, enter into these negotiations without any expectation of meaningful participation by the
This last option is far from ideal, but is the only one that holds out any prospect for progress.
The European Union must take the lead in these negotiations, by engaging major developing countries such as
In fact, it’s the
It may seem a paradox that the best way to ultimately draw the
Copyright ©Alden Meyer 2005. Published by openDemocracy Ltd. You may download and print extracts from this article for your own personal and non-commercial use only.