Friday, June 08, 2007

Bush 1, Greens 0

June 8, 2007

Just call him George W. Bush, star international diplomat. Don't snicker, don't spit out your coffee. Instead, read over the final document on climate change released yesterday by the Group of Eight.
Yes, it's a major shift in how the world will address the supposed threat of global warming. It's also largely the vision put forth years ago by none other than George W. Bush -- that international cowboy -- even if few European politicians will admit it.
Don't expect anyone to admit it. When Mr. Bush unveiled his new climate framework last week, calling on the world's powers to reduce greenhouse emissions, it was portrayed as a capitulation. He'd removed the last "obstacle" to world unity on this issue, and seen the error of his ways. At this week's Democratic presidential debate, every candidate vowed to fix the damage Mr. Bush had done to America's international reputation, his Kyoto failure the obvious example.
There's been a capitulation on global warming, but it hasn't happened in the Oval Office. The Kyoto cheerleaders at the United Nations and the European Union are realizing their government-run experiment in climate control is a mess, one that's incidentally failed to reduce carbon emissions. They've also understood that if they want the biggest players on board -- the U.S., China, India -- they need an approach that balances economic growth with feel-good environmentalism. Yesterday's G-8 agreement acknowledged those realities and tolled Kyoto's death knell. Mr. Bush, 1; sanctimonious greens, 0.
Not that the president's handling of the climate issue has been stellar. The science of global warming is still unsettled, yet Mr. Bush in 2002 caved and laid out a voluntary emissions-reduction program. Instead of getting credit, he's spent the ensuing years getting shellacked for not doing more. This has laid the groundwork for today's calls for mandatory curbs that would harm the economy. It's also given Washington an excuse to re-micromanage the energy sector. Think ethanol.
But compared to Kyoto, Mr. Bush's vision has been sublime. The basic Kyoto philosophy is this: Set ever lower mandatory targets, ratcheting down energy use, and by extension economic growth. The program was viewed by environmentalists and politicians as a convenient excuse for getting rid of unpopular fossil fuels, such as coal. In Kyoto-world, governments exist to create draconian rules, even if those dictates are disguised by "market" mechanisms such as cap-and-trade.
President Bush's approach is opposite: Allow economies to grow, along the way inspiring new technologies and new forms of energy that lower C02 emissions. Implicit is that C02-control technologies should focus on energy sources we use today, including fossil fuels. In Bush-world, the government is there to incentivize industry, coordinate with it, and set broad goals.
Take your pick. Under the vaunted Kyoto, from 2000 to 2004, Europe managed to increase its emissions by 2.3 percentage points over 1995 to 2000. Only two countries are on track to meet targets. There's rampant cheating, and endless stories of how select players are self-enriching off the government "market" in C02 credits. Meanwhile, in the U.S., under the president's oh-so-unserious plan, U.S. emissions from 2000 to 2004 were eight percentage points lower than in the prior period.
Europeans may be slow, but they aren't silly, and they've quietly come around to some of Mr. Bush's views. Tony Blair has been a leader here, and give him credit for caring enough about his signature issue to evolve. He began picking up Mr. Bush's pro-tech themes years ago, as it became clear just how much damage a Kyoto would do to his country's competitiveness. By the end of 2005, he admitted at a conference in New York that Kyoto was a problem. "I would say probably I'm changing my thinking about this in the past two or three years," he said. "The truth is, no country is going to cut its growth or consumption substantially in the light of a long-term environmental problem." He doubted there would be successor to Kyoto, which expires in 2012, and said an alternative might be "incentives" for businesses. Mr. Bush couldn't have said it better.
Or consider nuclear plants. President Bush has pushed hard for more nuclear, with its bountiful energy at zero C02 cost. This was long anathema to British and German politicians, whose populations are virulently anti-nuke and who balked at any official recognition of nuclear benefits. As Kyoto has ratcheted down other energy sources, nuclear has looked better. By 2005, the G-8 document out of Gleneagles contained an explicit acknowledgment that nuclear energy mattered. The EU's energy pact, signed earlier this year, also contained a nod to nuclear. Europe has also gone from trying to banish coal, to using tech to make it cleaner.
Then there's Mr. Bush's insistence that any "global" program must include big emitters such as China and India (Kyoto doesn't). Though it received little press, the U.S. in 2005 started the Asia-Pacific Partnership, a voluntary climate pact between it and Australia, Japan, South Korea, China and India. Unlike Kyoto -- in which a government sets a national target for emissions, and then forces a few unlucky industries to make cuts -- the Partnership gets industry execs from every sector across the table from relevant government ministers, and devises practical approaches to reductions. This parallel diplomatic approach has proved far more acceptable to countries like China, and played a role in that country's own recently released climate plan.
Pride is pride, and the Europeans haven't entirely given up on Kyoto principles. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has spearheaded these climate talks, went into this G-8 meeting in Heiligendamm advocating binding reductions. Yet she admitted earlier this week that her plan was off the table, as the U.S. held firm.
Yesterday's declaration, far from mandatory targets, instead sets a "global goal" of halving emissions by 2050. It invites the "major emerging economies" to join in this endeavor. It acknowledges that different approaches across the world can "coordinate rather than compete." It reports that "technology is a key to mastering climate change" and lauds government "incentives." It admits that "over the next 25 years, fossil fuels will remain the world's dominant source of energy," and talks up the "peaceful use of nuclear energy." It even explains that any program "must be undertaken in a way that supports growth in developing, emerging and industrialized economies." Close your eyes, and you might think this was President Bush in the Rose Garden.
Will congressional Democrats prove as pragmatic? Even as Europeans have wised up, the left has been pushing for a Kyoto here. Should Democrats start to stumble on the difficulties, they could always ask Mr. Bush -- that new international climate ambassador -- for some advice.

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