It looks like Bush is feeling the heat. No, not on Plamegate; on climate change. And apparently he’s about to do something about it. It remains to be seen if this is a fig leaf or something more substantive (probably the former, of course), but it is a sign that the wall of denial is rapidly crumbling as far as climate change is concerned:
A group of countries including the United States, Australia, China, India and South Korea have agreed a secret pact on greenhouse gas emissions to replace the Kyoto climate protocol, a report said Wednesday.
The alliance, which is yet to be announced, will bring together nations that account for more than 40 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, The Australian newspaper said.
A government source told AFP that the general thrust of the report was correct, but that the line-up of countries involved had not been finalised. A formal announcement is expected this week.
The Australian said the group, to be known as the Asia-Pacific Partnership for Clean Development and Climate, will aim to use the latest technologies to limit emissions and make sure they are available in the areas and industries that need them most.
The agreement was expected to be announced Wednesday night by U.S. President George W. Bush in Washington and on Thursday morning by officials from signatory countries meeting at an Association of Southeast Asian Nations security forum in Laos.
While 140 countries ratified the 1997 Kyoto agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Australia and the U.S. have refused because developing countries weren’t required to adopt emission targets.
[Australian] Environment Minister Ian Campbell said Canberra and Washington had for the past 12 months been negotiating a new multilateral agreement targeting rapidly developing countries which pump out large amounts of greenhouse gas.
Labeling the Kyoto Protocol ineffective and a failure, Campbell said it was vital for developed countries to create and deploy modern technologies to help energy-hungry Asia-Pacific economies such as China and India slash emissions.
“We know that this is the answer; we know that the Kyoto Protocol is a failure in terms of saving the climate — we have to do better,” Campbell told reporters.
Campbell was commenting after a newspaper reported that the five nations, which account for 40 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, had struck a U.S.-driven secret alliance called the Asia-Pacific Partnership for Clean Development and Climate.
Prime Minister John Howard discussed the strategy with U.S. President George W. Bush and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice when he visited Washington last week, The Australian newspaper reported Wednesday.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh held a meeting with Bush on the same subject on the same day, the newspaper said.
But suspicions abound in Australia (where the story seems to have broken) that Bush and Howard are offering only smoke and mirrors. From AFP:
The leader of the opposition Australian Greens party, Bob Brown, said the agreement was “a coal pact” involving four of the world’s biggest coal producers.
It was designed to “defend the coal industry in an age where it’s the biggest industry contributing deliberately to the global warming threat to Australia and the planet,” he told reporters.
“This is the blinkered view, the ostrich approach by prime minister Howard to arguably the biggest common threat to the planet in 2005, which is global warming.
“It won’t fool the Australian people and it won’t fool world opinion,” Brown said.
The opposition Labor Party called on the government to immediately ratify the Kyoto pact. Its leader, Kim Beazley, dismissed the new agreement, saying, “It is nothing. It’s spin.”
Greenpeace, which blockaded an Australian coal port Wednesday to protest Australia’s reliance on fossil fuels, agreed the Kyoto Protocol was the best option.
“Environment Minister Ian Campbell concedes a comprehensive agreement involving all major emitters is needed,” Greenpeace energy campaigner Catherine Fitzpatrick said in a statement.
“Skulking around making secretive, selective deals will not accomplish this. Signing up to the Kyoto Protocol will,” she added.
Certainly I’m tempted to agree with the cynics, but I’m also very glad to see that they’re finally being forced to do something. The years of stonewalling have finally failed. Now that even the Bush administration has admitted that there is a problem that requires more than just “additional study,” the discussion moves on to “What are we going to do?” and “What policies are most effective?” Despite the record heat, I’m breathing a little easier today.
The battles are by no means over; I’m sure Bush will need to have his feet held to the fire, kicking and screaming. But the tide may finally be turning in our favor on this one…
UPDATE: 11:25 EST
Reuters is now reporting this story as well.