As a United States Senate committee approved massive emissions reductions in the US and leading climatologists called for immediate international action, the administration of US President George W. Bush came under mounting pressure this week to support drastic and binding international greenhouse gas emissions reductions.
Yet US negotiators at the ongoing UN Climate Change Conference in Bali are maintaining their opposition to the Kyoto Protocol, an existing emissions reduction pact, and are holding firm in their insistence that developing countries must also be required to make emissions cuts on par with wealthy nations.
"It will not alter our position here," said Harlan Watson, the lead negotiator representing the Bush administration in Bali. Watson was reacting specifically to news that the Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee endorsed a plan Wednesday to cut US emissions 70 percent from 2005 levels by 2050. The plan, approved 11-8 in a vote among committee members, would implement a cap-and-trade system among US manufacturers, electric power generators and transport companies. The bill is headed for debate in the full Senate.
Yvo de Boer, head of the UN Climate Change secretariat and a leader of the Bali conference, praised the senate's plan at his morning press briefing on Thursday. "That's a very encouraging sign from the United States," said de Boer.
'A Future without Global Warming'
This week de Boer also received a letter signed by 10 US congressmen and written by US Rep. Edward J. Markey that condemned the Bush administration's environmental policies.
"As world leaders and the United Nations meet in Bali to plan a future without global warming, the world must know that President Bush's avoidance of action is not the status quo here in America," he wrote. Markey, a Democrat, is chairmen of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.
Criticism of the Bush administration's approach to climate change policy comes just one day after the German government announced a major plan to cut emissions and encourage the development of alternative energy in Europe's largest economy. On Wednesday, the cabinet of German Chancellor Angel Merkel approved a €3.3 billion ($4.8 billion) package that will aim to reduce emissions in Germany by 40 percent by 2020 and increase energy consumption from renewable sources from 14 to between 25 and 30 percent by 2020. German politicians praised the plan as the kind of investment that rich countries worldwide need to make in emissions reduction.
The international scientific community is also challenging the United States, with over 200 climatologists filing a petition on Thursday with UN leaders in Bali stating that to head off massive climate changes, green house gas emissions need to be cut 50 percent by 2050.
"We have to start reducing greenhouse gas emissions as soon as we possibly can," said Mathew England, an Australian climatologist and spokesmen for scientists who signed the petition. "We're talking about now."
Most scientists who signed the petition were from rich nations such as Australia, the US, and European states, and many helped write the foreboding IPCC report, released last spring, that made dark predictions about the fate of world climate systems if emissions are not reduced.
Watson said that the petition would not influence the US's position in Bali.
"There are thousands of scientists involved in the IPCC. This is the opinion of two hundred. I haven't seen the statement and its content, so, no, I can't endorse something that I haven't seen," said Watson.
World climate change scientists and representatives from over 180 nations are currently meeting in Bali to draft a successor to the Kyoto Protocol. The protocol binds 35 of the world's largest polluters to reduce global emissions to five percent below 1990 levels by 2012. Australia's newly elected prime minister, Kevin Rudd, ratified the Kyoto Protocool on Monday, leaving the United Sates as the lone major world economy not to commit to the pact.
"We do not see eye to eye with Australia or many other countries on the wisdom of signing the Kyoto regime, that's obvious," said Nicholas Burns, US undersecretary of state. But the Bush administration has stressed its intent to participate openly in the Bali conference, which runs through Dec. 14, and has invited representatives from 17 of the world's leading economies to participate in a separate conference in Hawaii next month.
Those 17 governments represent 80 percent of global emissions, and the US hopes to forge a mutual agreement on how to proceed with international treaty negotiations. US and Japanese officials have suggested that an international treaty must include commitments to mandatory emissions reductions from fast-growing economies like China and India, which are not bound to make cuts under the Kyoto Protocol. Leaders from those governments, meanwhile, have balked at constraining their rapidly growing economies with mandatory cuts. US officials are hoping to establish a binding agreement between the world's rich governments by early 2009, when Bush leaves office. The negotiations that began this week in Bali are also scheduled to continue into 2009.