Bush and the Climate Saving the World at the 11th Hour

On the eve of the G-8 summit in Heiligendamm, the Americans and Germans toned down their adversarial rhetoric on the issue of climate protection. United States officials said they expect to reach a consensus, but the Germans remain skeptical.

By and in Berlin

US-Praesident George W. Bush and his wife Laura arrived in German on Tuesday evening ahead of the start of the G-8 summit. Preliminary talks on tackling climate change are continuing right up to the start of the summit Wednesday.

US-Praesident George W. Bush and his wife Laura arrived in German on Tuesday evening ahead of the start of the G-8 summit. Preliminary talks on tackling climate change are continuing right up to the start of the summit Wednesday.

US President George W. Bush sent not one but three senior advisors to a press conference at the Berlin Hilton Tuesday shortly before the beginning of the G-8 summit to set the record straight. When all the rhetoric is stripped away, the core message to journalists was simple: It was all just a misunderstanding.

The American officials suggested that Bush's recent initiative on the issue of climate protection is not actually a counteroffensive against German Chancellor Angela Merkel's G-8 agenda, as most observers in the German media have speculated, but instead a constructive contribution to the process that will succeed the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.

"Can we define a process for creating a new framework post-2012 when Kyoto expires?," asked James Connaughton, Bush's senior climate advisor. "I think the answer is going to be 'yes.'"

Connaughton's was the most optimistic prognosis for the summit yet. The United States clearly wants to prevent the summit from being a failure as a result of the climate controversy. Chancellor Merkel, the host, had recently increased pressure on Bush by leaving no doubt as to who she would make the scapegoat if the summit were to fail.

The White House's emissaries feigned surprise over the accusations coming from Europe. The criticism of Bush's climate plan is not justified, Connaughton said, adding that Bush, like Merkel, wants to set long-term climate protection targets. At the same time, the White House climate advisor said, it must be clear that each country will develop its own national plan. The process must respect national differences, Connaughton warned. For example, the United States has the "world's most aggressive program" for the development of alternative fuels, he said.

Rhetorical Rapprochement

Effective climate protection strategies cannot be developed without the cooperation of the largest emerging economies, Connaughton said. The goals that have already been set "by others," he said, are the "right way to start." He was apparently referring to the decisions reached at the recent EU summit to set specific emissions limits. But these limits, the Bush advisor argued, would be ineffective if emerging economies continued to increase their emissions unchecked.

Connaughton stressed that Bush's proposal to include the world's largest emitters of greenhouse gases in the climate talks would not be a "separate process" from Kyoto. Instead, he suggested that the results of this discussion would be incorporated into the UN discussion process. "The US is a party to the UN's framework convention on climate change," he said. "That is the forum where we would take action together on climate change."

Rhetorically at least, Bush and Merkel, who supposedly represent opposite extremes in the climate change debate, are moving closer together. Bush's representatives were falling over themselves with praise for the summit's host. The fact that the United States wants to be involved in the post-Kyoto process is a new position that has resulted from Bush's conversations with Merkel, said Deputy National Security Advisor David McCormick. McCormick hastened to add, though, that this admission should not be construed as a retroactive acknowledgement of the Kyoto Protocol, which the Bush administration continues to view as being unfeasible.

The Germans were also keen to exude a sense of optimism in the wake of a recent series of increasingly skeptical comments coming from the German government. A Merkel advisor, speaking at the German government's press and information office Tuesday, explained the change as follows: Only a few weeks ago, the United States had not even acknowledged that climate change is in large part attributable to human activity. According to the advisor, there is a "good chance that there will be even more convergence."


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