White House Outflanks Dems, Germans, Everybody on Global Warming

The President is arguing that any real solution to climate change has to include more than just the G-8 countries.  To that end, he’s rejecting the G-8 plan, but helpfully pushing an alternative: he wants a larger meeting of 15 established and emerging industrial economies, aiming for negotiated limits or reduction targets that would vary by country in place of mandatory binding emissions caps. 

Is he casting a wider net because he’s committed to real results, or is he just cynically outmaneuvering European diplomats with a smokescreen of faux proposals and time-killing debate?  Smart money is on the smokescreen.  But as emerging economies show increasing reluctance to cap or reduce their emissions, the question of American commitment will make the difference between great success! and a short-sighted, self-centered game of you-go-first-no-YOU-go-first.

The Commander in Chief hardly deserves appreciation from the green crowd.  His approach has been breathlessly servile to boardroom interests:  from within his administration, ideologues gutted the EPA and the BLM from within, sold off resources for pennies, waged an assault on ANWR, rolled back enforcement, and poured forth dishonest pseudoscience on everything from forestry to global warming to the safety of lower Manhattan after 9/11.

So it’s natural that everyone’s first impulse on hearing the words “Bush Climate Plan” is to look behind the curtain.  And the plan does smell of red herring — there would be talks, but not until later; countries would have goals, but no commitments, and no consequences (so far) if they never lifted a finger to back up their big talk.   

The 2nd reason to doubt: his plan is also very friendly to the corporate boardrooms of America (wouldn’t be W if he wasn’t looking out for his boys; as we said before, taking care of business interests has been his prime directive).  In fact, the only commitment he asks for doesn’t have to do with emissions reductions, clean energy, efficiency, or anything environmental at all: instead, he’s asking for a promise to reduce tariffs on green-technology products. 

The third reason for suspicion is the timing: the G-8 summit is starting, and the Germans are putting forth a proposal for binding reductions (50% by 2050, a cap-and-trade setup, all aimed at an absolute cap on allowed temperature increases).  The White House is dead set against all that, but doesn’t want to be seen fighting Europe here when we need their help on other things.  So this plan offers political cover, giving what looked like stubborn refusal the veneer of constructive debate

(Also note that having lost the global-warming-science-is-unclear argument, we’re seeing the first of its replacement campaign: a we-need-to-talk-forever-about-how-to-respond campaign designed to prevent political consensus, and thus delay real action.)

So really, the Bush Plan to “include emerging economies” is most likely a green label on a do-nothing set of no-obligation negotiations, providing political cover for a battered administration and serving as a trojan horse for a pro-business trade agreement.  Also, it will effectively slow down political progress toward real efforts on climate change, which is another plus for the business lobby.  Must give props; the Democrats would never have been so skillful.

But nevertheless, Kyoto and the G-8 proposals are ignoring the truth that China and India will soon be huge producers of greenhouse gases.  By its own admission, China is consuming 10% more fossil fuels every year, and will soon leapfrog the US in total emissions.  Its energy production is dirtier, and its economy is far more energy-intensive than ours, using 40% more energy per dollar of GDP.  India’s economy is also booming, and its energy needs are so severe that any generation is good generation.  Just as Kyoto was devastated by the US’s refusal to participate, the German proposal to establish mandatory reduction targets will eventually be woefully inadequate if they ignore the 400-pound panda and the 350-pound tiger in the figurative room.

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