Bill Emmott - International Author & Adviser

Article

On climate, Bush and history
Corriere della Sera - June 2nd 2007

One of the Bush administration’s favourite put-downs, used generally to dismiss opponents of its efforts to export democracy, is the idea that someone is “on the wrong side of history”. By that, they mean that time (and thus history) will inevitably prove the critic wrong and the Bush administration right. Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, should use exactly that same phrase against George Bush if he continues to drag America’s heels over how to deal with climate change when she chairs the annual G8 summit on June 6th-8th. Even though President Bush has now surprised everyone by producing his own proposals on global warming for discussion at the summit, his plan is unimpressive and weak. He remains not only on the wrong side of history, but also on the wrong side of American political trends.

Mrs Merkel wants, in line with the policy agreed at the European Council, to achieve a consensus among the rich, industrialised countries about the need to set targets and a timetable for the reduction of emissions of the “greenhouse gases” that are believed to be raising the global temperature. She wants the G8 summit to set a goal of slowing the rise in average temperatures during the 21st century to just 2 degrees Celsius, by setting a target of cutting global greenhouse-gas emissions to 50% below 1990 levels by 2050.

Leaked copies last week of an official American document sent in response to this proposal suggested that the Bush administration was disputing both Mrs Merkel’s diagnosis and her proposed cure. In a way, this was reassuring to European critics of George Bush: it showed him to be the same unthinking, stubborn fool that they have said he was all along. As a result, many were disappointed on May 31st when he announced that he had in fact changed his mind: “new scientific evidence” showed that global warming is indeed occurring and is caused by human activity. But they need not have worried: even if he now accepts the diagnosis, he is still resisting the cure.

President Bush has proposed that no target for emissions cuts should be agreed at the G8 summit, but that instead special summits should be convened, to include China, India and other big developing countries, with the objective of agreeing a target by the end of 2008, which happens to be when President Bush leaves office. It is perfectly sensible to propose that the big developing countries should be brought into this process: it was their exclusion from the Kyoto Protocol on climate change that caused the American Senate to reject that agreement unanimously in 1998, under President Bill Clinton, even before President Bush rejected it himself in 2001. This year, China is likely to overtake America as the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases.

Yet the need to bring China and India in to the process is not a good reason for refusing to set targets among the G8. The rich industrial countries will have to make the biggest cuts in emissions, for they can afford to more easily than can the developing countries and they produced virtually all of the emissions that have caused the problem so far. If America truly wants to be the world’s leader, as President Bush always says it does, then it should be showing leadership on this issue too: it should be declaring its intention to make big cuts in emissions during the next few decades. Only once that pledge has been made will China and India be persuadable to make their own efforts.

President Bush is reluctant to take that approach for fear of opposition in his own country. But the mood in American politics has changed. All the leading presidential candidates are vying to come up with proposed measures to deal with climate change, for they believe that to do so is now popular. The Democratic Party’s candidates are giving global warming an especially high priority.

President Bush should be offering genuine leadership on this issue. He is on the wrong side of history. Soon, fortunately, he will be history.


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