U-turn on emissions clouds hopes of global deal

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Series Details Vol 7, No.11, 15.3.01, p19
Publication Date 15/03/2001
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Date: 15/03/01

By Simon Coss

US PRESIDENT George W. Bush's strong links with his country's energy industry have clouded the chances of securing a global deal on reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, say many EU analysts.

Bush was governor of Texas, the spiritual home of the US oil industry, before he moved into the White House. Since taking office he has put together what many commentators have described as one of the most 'business friendly' administrations Washington has seen in years.

That was underlined this week when Bush declared that his administration will not be seeking mandatory reductions in carbon dioxide - a greenhouse gas - from power stations.

His reversal of a campaign pledge came in a letter to Nebraska Republican Senator Chuck Hagel. Bush told him that limits on carbon dioxide emissions, produced by the burning of coal and other fossil fuels, would lead to higher energy prices. In addition, the President's aides pointed out that carbon dioxide is not listed as a pollutant under the US Clean Air Act.

Environmental campaigners in Europe are not impressed.

"In relation to the new US administration, we are rather pessimistic," said Carla Schoeters of green lobby Climate Network Europe, which was already fearing the worst before this week's announcement.

Aides to EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström are similarly pessimistic.

"The Commissioner has already said publicly that she is a bit wary about the new administration," said one senior advisor. "It was difficult enough with Clinton, so I can't imagine that it will be any better with Bush."

Last November, United Nations-sponsored talks in The Hague failed to produce a deal on how the developed world should meet greenhouse gas reduction targets set in Kyoto in 1997. The Japanese accord was signed by the US, but it has not been ratified by Congress and Bush opposes it.

The Hague negotiations broke down largely because the EU and the US could not agree on how so-called 'flexible mechanisms' could be used to tackle global warming. Critics say flexible mechanisms would allow developed countries like the US to pump out the same amount of greenhouse gases as they do now if they agreed to pay poorer states to cut emissions.

The EU argued that the as-yet-untested policy instruments should only be used as a complement to domestic moves to reduce emissions. But Washington insisted on the right to use them as much as it wanted to.

The deadlocked climate change talks were initially due to get under way again

in May, but the Bush administration asked for them to be postponed. "They said they needed time to prepare for the meeting, which seemed like a fair request," says one EU expert. The negotiations are now scheduled to restart on 16 July in Bonn, Germany. But many climate change experts fear the chances of success at the forthcoming meeting are looking as slim as ever.

"I'd want some fairly substantial odds before I bet on a deal," senior UN climate expert Professor Tom Heller said recently.

The Wallström aide is equally downbeat. "Everybody is aware of the stakes but it is true that at the moment the positions are very far apart," he said.

Nevertheless, the new head of the US Environmental Protection Agency, Christie Whitman, told a recent meeting of G8 environment ministers in Trieste that Bush is committed to dealing with the problem.

Article forms part of a survey on EU-US relations.

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