WASHINGTON: With the scientific evidence on global warming increasingly undeniable, US President George W. Bush has publicly embraced the issue of climate change.
But on policy, his administration remains reticent to take any of the costly actions to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that scientists say are the root cause of warming, analysts say.
Yesterday the Bush administration saluted the conclusions of the newest comprehensive report on global warming, in which UN scientists delivered their starkest warning yet that fossil fuel pollution would raise temperatures this century, worsen floods, droughts and hurricanes, melt polar sea ice and damage the climate system for a thousand years to come.
In its first assessment in six years, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) dealt a crippling blow to the shrinking body of opinion that claims higher temperatures in past decades have been driven by natural, not man-made, causes.
“The report will contribute to the body of knowledge that we have to study and understand the best way to meet the challenges of climate changes,” deputy White House spokesman Tony Fratto said.
On Feb 23 in his annual State of the Union address Bush acknowledged for the first time the problem of global warming, and implicitly recognised the human responsibility.
Bush said that the United States needed to reduce its dependence on imported sources of energy, and pointed to ways to do so with new advances in technology. In saying so, Bush noted that new technologies for doing so could also help with the environment.“America is on the verge of technological breakthroughs that will enable us to live our lives less dependent on oil. And these technologies will help us be better stewards of the environment, and they will help us to confront the serious challenge of global climate change,” he said.
But Bush gave no hint of forcing a reduction of greenhouse gases and other damaging emissions through tough government regulations or by adhering to the Kyoto Accord.
“I think fundamentally it’s simply a change of emphasis, not a change in substance,” said Bryan Mignone, a specialist in climate issues at the Brookings Institute think tank.“Before there was still some uncertainty in the science. Now, in order to claim that an action is not necessary, all the burden falls on the economic cost argument,” Mignone said of the Bush administration approach.
“If you are not going to dispute science but you are still much more against regulations ... it’s really about questioning the economic cost to mitigate climate change,” he said of the evolved policy.
Richard Newell, a senior fellow at Resources for the Future and a former energy economist in the Bush White House, said there has been a sharp change since a key Bush speech in 2001 that steadfastly refused to give ground to global warming arguments.“My sense is that there has been a very gradual and slight evolution over time which has gradually accepted and stopped debating a., that earth is warming and b., that this is connected to green house gas emissions.” Nevertheless, the growing concern over global warming inside the United States and around the world, and the acceptance of the science behind it, has pushed the Bush government and its allies in industry to modify the way they address the issue, Newell said.
Congress, which fell into the hands of the opposition Democrats in the November 2006 elections, is likely to pass some legislation aimed at forcing cuts in greenhouse gases in the manner of the Kyoto protocol, which Bush has refused to ratify.
California, the country’s most populous and economically powerful state, has already by itself adopted such measures.
In this context, said Mignone, “It’s getting harder and harder to dispute the science” and the argument that humans are the main cause of warming, noting that the United States is the source of a quarter of the world’s emissions tied to climate change.
If presented with legislation on global warming that he does not like, Bush will have to deliver some highly convincing arguments to get away with vetoing the legislation, experts say.
Mignone said the government will continue to argue that anti-warming legislation will cost jobs and will be “too expensive to implement in any practical way” in order to defeat it.
Bush and his supporters in industry also still point to China and India, two of the largest polluters, as not having signed onto the Kyoto agreement and as not having made real commitments to cutting their own rising greenhouse gas emissions.