Friday, June 1, 2007

EU skeptical of US climate change plans

The President George W Bush’s call for the world’s worst polluters to join the US in agreeing a global target to reduce CO2 emissions has been met with widespread scepticism. Bush’s announcement that "by the end of next year, America and other nations will set a long-term global goal for reducing greenhouse gases," and that the "United States is in the lead [on tackling global warming]" were labelled as nothing more than a ploy by the US to derail the upcoming G8 summit in Germany.

German chancellor and EU presidency chief, Angela Merkel had hoped that the summit, in Heiligendamm on 6-8 June, would be the launch pad in preparing the ground for a new global climate change agreement to replace the Kyoto protocol – which the US has always refused to sign up to and which expires in 2012.

But the surprise move by Washington means that Merkel’s plans for the summit – to get G8 members to agree on a global strategy to take forward to a UN climate protection meeting in Bali in December, are effectively scuppered. Greenpeace called the move a “classic spoiler…designed to kick the issue into the long grass until [Bush] leaves office".

“The White House is just trying to hide the fact that the president is completely isolated among the G8 leaders by calling vaguely for some agreement next year,” FT Europe reported Philip Cap of the National Environmental Trust as saying. Scepticism over the announcement increased as it became clear the president’s plans had little of concrete value. Bush gave no details on the size of emission cuts that the US would be prepared to sign up to and gave no indication of any timeframe.

At the heart of the transatlantic spat is disagreement over how the world should tackle global warming. The EU favours binding emission caps and the wider use of its flagship emissions trading scheme, while the US argues that the solution lies with the development and spread of new technologies.

Commission president José Manuel Barroso welcomed Bush’s apparent volte face accepting the evidence of global warming – the US president said that “science had deepened our understanding of climate change” - but the Portuguese EU chief said Washington was still not ambitious enough in facing up to its responsibilities.

“The US is relying strongly on market mechanisms in battle against climate change, and rightly so…but market mechanisms only work when one has binding targets.” UK daily The Telegraph said that Merkel had put a brave face on the president’s announcement, saying that it provided her with some “common ground” with the US.

But Merkel’s climate change envoy Bernd Pfaffenbach reacted strongly to Washington’s plans that would see global climate change talks being undertaken outside a UN framework. “That is crossing a red line for us,” he said.

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