The World from Berlin 'George W. Bush Is Isolated on Climate Protection'

With the world meeting on the Indonesian island of Bali this week to come up with an all-encompassing climate protection treaty, attention is increasingly turning the US. Will Washington finally do something about global warming? German commentators aren't so sure.

That finger is pointing squarely at the US.

That finger is pointing squarely at the US.

The pressure on the United States to take a strong position on the reduction of greenhouse gases is growing. With the world meeting on the Indonesian island of Bali this week to begin hammering out a treaty to succeed Kyoto, US President George W. Bush and his negotiating team are finding it difficult to ignore the voices demanding that Washington commit to binding cuts in emissions.

On Thursday, the US struck back. Nicolas Burns, the US undersecretary of state, said that his government would not follow new Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's example -- Rudd finally signed his country on to the Kyoto Protocol this week.

"We do not see eye-to-eye with Australia or many other countries on the wisdom of signing the Kyoto regime. That's obvious," Burns said. He reiterated US concerns about an emissions reduction treaty that does not require large polluters in the developing world such as China and India to cut their carbon dioxide emissions, but did say that Washington was committed to reaching a post-Kyoto agreement.

"America is going to be in this struggle," Burns said. "We are going to have disagreement on some of the tactics -- we already do. But I think the important thing is not to demonize each other in the process."

But with the US as the last industrialized country left still shunning the Kyoto Protocol, pressure is growing around the world for the country to clearly demonstrate its commitment to combating climate change. Commentators in the German media on Thursday take a closer look at the US position and at climate protection policy in Germany.

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes about the letter sent by leading US Congressional Democrats to UN representatives leading the Bali talks. The letter spoke of Bush's "avoidance of action" and said that much of America was prepared to make sacrifices for climate control.

"The letter, though, is little more than a provocation; it can't be seen in any way as guidance for the negotiations on Bali. At the earliest, it will be 2009 before a different -- likely Democratic -- government can take part in climate negotiations. It would, however, be naïve to expect the US to join a treaty negotiated by other countries without American participation -- even if Washington appears increasingly to be bowing to public pressure. Not for nothing did the American delegation declare itself to be 'open and flexible' and the White House speak of 'a new phase in climate diplomacy.' Australia's 180 degree reversal on the Kyoto Protocol is likely to put even more pressure on Washington to change its position. George W. Bush is increasingly isolated when it comes to climate protection."

At the same time pressure is growing on the US in Bali, however, the German cabinet on Wednesday passed a wide-ranging package of laws and regulations aimed at cutting German emissions by a whopping 40 percent by 2020. Chancellor Angela Merkel wants to make sure her country remains at the forefront of climate protection policy.

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"The good thing about (Germany's) integrated climate and energy policy is that Germany has finally moved beyond the debating stage and has begun making decisions. Even the last government (under Chancellor Gerhard Schröder which included the Green Party as a junior partner) never presented an overall energy concept that reliably met the economic and ecological challenges …. The question is whether the resources have been correctly applied and whether this package, as promised, offers investors a "reliable framework" for investment."

Left-leaning Berliner Zeitung doesn't think the new Berlin climate package goes far enough.

"Without a doubt, Chancellor Merkel's coalition government deserves praise for its ambition when it comes to climate policy, and for the speed with which they reached a decision …. The government can likely count on the support of most German citizens."

"But that also has to do with the fact that the new measures hardly place a burden on anybody. Hardly any energy saving requirements have been placed on the shoulders of homeowners and renters. The power industry has been granted generous assistance in expanding the electricity grid and in installing climate-friendly technology -- and energy firms are allowed to continue building coal-fired power plants despite such plants being some of the worst polluters around. The auto industry can likewise relax now that they are no longer faced with stricter guidelines regulating exhaust and fuel efficiency. The climate package is, also in this sense, very friendly to the environment -- the environment of voters and interest groups."

Conservative daily Die Welt stays on point Thursday and uses Merkel's plan as an excuse to write about the perils of relying on evil countries for oil.

"A policy of replacing fossil fuels with alternative energy sources" -- an element of Merkel's emissions reduction package announced on Thursday -- "makes a lot of foreign policy sense, because high oil prices bring authoritarian and anti-Western regimes together. It further makes sense because the Putins, Ahmadinejads and Chavezes of this world can only make such big waves because their regimes are doped by billions in oil and gas money."

-- Charles Hawley, 12:30 p.m. CET


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