Bush's euroscepticism

If you read the US press over the weekend, you came away with a much more sober assessment of George Bush's climate-change diplomacy.

It is striking how the media coverage of the G8 deal on climate change has differed in Britain and the US as the text of last week's joint statement has been chewed over on both sides of the Atlantic.

Much of the British press echoed the Downing Street line that the statement was a breakthrough. The reaction in the US, after reporters were briefed by the White House, was far more sceptical, emphasising what was not agreed in Heiligendamm. In particular, the American coverage underlined President Bush's refusal to endorse a specific goal for reducing global emissions.

A commentary in the conservative Wall Street Journal went as far as to hail the final communique as a victory for the US approach to climate change - voluntary targets and economic incentives for technological innovation - over the European prescription of mandatory caps and carbon trading. The column was triumphantly titled: "Bush 1, Greens 0".

The actual text of the statement is deliberately hard to interpret, but it makes it clear that those two very different approaches to global warming remain unreconciled. The pledge to "consider seriously" the goal of halving global emissions by 2050 sounds vaguely encouraging but does not commit anyone to anything.

Downing Street made much of the statement's reference to the leading role of the UNFCCC (the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) suggesting US acquiescence to that framework. But when the UNFCCC was mentioned in the joint statement following the Gleneagles agreement in 2005, it also included a group "commitment" to UNFCCC. In the eyes of the Bush administration's lawyers, it reflected little more than a requirement to pass on emissions figures to the UN.

Bush, meanwhile, won endorsement for his proposal to host its own meeting of 15 of the biggest polluters ahead of the next UN climate conference in Bali at the end of this year. That meeting is likely to see another US attempt to rally support for an American-led approach to climate change, which emphasises voluntary targets and technological evolution.

In effect, it clears the way for twin-track negotiations - one based on a US agenda, the other on a European agenda.

What is new in the Heiligendamm statement is an end date for the negotiations of 2009. It does nothing to make that deadline any more realistic, but it does leave up to a year for Bush's successor to put his or her own stamp on any final deal.


Julian Borger

The GuardianTramp

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