US policy may change after Bush leaves office

EXPECT a new US policy on climate change in 2009 after the presidential elections.

Mr George W. Bush, who has staunchly opposed the Kyoto Protocol, has become increasingly isolated at home just as he is abroad. But his administration is unlikely to waver as a major United Nations conference on climate change gets under way in Bali today.

Instead, the President is expected to press for a “Bali road map” that will lay out steps to begin after the Kyoto Protocol ends in 2012. He remains opposed to accepting binding limits on greenhouse gases.

Just last week, he said: “Our guiding principle is clear; we must lead the world to produce fewer greenhouse emissions, and we must do it in a way that does not undermine economic growth or prevent nations from delivering greater prosperity for their people.”

A total of 172 countries have ratified the protocol, which requires them to meet targeted curbs in their greenhouse gas emissions. It exempts developing countries such as China and India even though they are expected to surpass the US as the world’s biggest polluter.

The US has made their absence a central argument for not signing the protocol, which was established in 1997. Describing it as “fatally flawed”, Washington believes that it would cripple the US economy.

Harvard Professor Robert Stavins, one of the world’s leading experts on environmental economics, told The Straits Times that there is considerable justification for Washington’s opposition to Kyoto.

The US target under the agreement of a 7 per cent reduction for the period 2008-2012 – relative to the 1990 emission baseline – appears moderate, but is actually “very aggressive, ambitious and quite costly”, given that the American economy had grown significantly through the 1990s.

Senior US administration officials who are attending the two-week Bali conference said they hoped it would lead to a road map for further negotiations in which all countries, including developing nations, will address climate change.

“We want a framework that is global in nature so that it can be environmentally effective and economically sustainable,” said Undersecretary of State Paula Dobriansky, who is leading the US delegation to Bali.

Mr Bush believes that new technology – such as clean coal technology and biofuels – could help reduce greenhouse gases. He has also called for more use of nuclear, wind and solar power.

In September, at a US-sponsored climate change conference here, he proposed the creation of an “international clean technology fund”.

But his call for each country to decide for itself how to rein in pollution and his refusal to embrace mandatory measures have clearly set the US apart from other countries.

And at home, the ground is shifting against him.

Several US states, such as California, New Jersey and New York, have taken steps to regulate their own emissions.

Indeed, the Bali conference takes place against a backdrop of moves in the Democrat-controlled Congress to push ahead with measures that support mandatory caps. What is striking is that the support for emission ceilings is now growing even among lawmakers of Mr Bush’s Republican Party.

Observers believe that should any of the Republican presidential candidates win, it is very likely he will not want to be bound by Mr Bush’s policy, given the current mood in the country.

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