London ~~ Saturday May 19, 2007
As Blair leaves Washington, US hardens stance on climate change
By Daniel Howden
As Tony Blair left Washington yesterday for his last visit as Prime Minister, the Bush administration was acting to scupper international efforts to combat climate change.
The final Bush Jnr/BLiar Rose Garden charade
Less than 24 hours earlier, Mr Blair had basked in the apparent support of President George Bush for his stated aim of avoiding catastrophic global warming. But it seems his appeals have fallen on deaf ears. While Mr Bush was eulogising his friend in the White House rose garden, the President's delegation at a United Nations meeting in Bonn was working to stop any progress on setting up a carbon trading scheme and emissions caps.
Harlan Watson, President Bush's chief climate negotiator, rejected any caps on US emissions or participation in carbon trading. "That's not our agenda," he said.
Leading scientists and policy makers have been meeting in Germany over the past two weeks to lay the foundations for a new international agreement - a "son of Kyoto", the landmark protocol designed to reduce harmful emissions of greenhouse gases. The negotiations came after economists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported earlier this month that greenhouse gas emissions, which are causing the atmosphere to warm, can be brought under control - but only if governments act decisively.
Mr Blair has long been engaged in attempts to win over the climate change sceptics in the Bush administration. But progress so far has been restricted to a change in rhetoric.
Speaking on Thursday Mr Bush said he and Mr Blair had talked about climate change: "We spent a lot of time on climate change. And I agree with the Prime Minister, as I have stated publicly, this is a serious issue, and the United States takes it seriously." Mr Blair welcomed the comments and said in response: "The important thing is that we see that it's possible for people to come together on an agreement for the future that will allow us to reduce greenhouse gas emissions."
Meanwhile away from the cameras, the US delegation to Bonn was scotching any prospect of the emissions caps and carbon trading that are needed to realise the rhetoric. "We don't believe targets and timetables are important, or a global cap and trade system," he said. "It's important not to jeopardise economic growth."
Speaking on condition of anonymity a senior climate negotiator, party to the talks, said that the US was even stalling progress on negotiations on a successor to Kyoto which had been due to get under way at a summit in Bali later this year.
"We were not expecting a big change of stance but we need them to stop obstructing all progress across the board," said the source.
But once again Mr Watson, described off-the-record by international colleagues as a "climate change dinosaur", said it would be "premature" to open talks on amending the rules of how Kyoto works, a vital step to extending the pact which expires in 2012.
Kevin Conrad, the chief negotiator for Papua New Guinea, which has emerged as a leading voice among poorer nations, said the US was "impotent" on climate change and that the impotence came from the top.
"There is a huge gap between rhetoric and reality," said Mr Conrad. "Saying 'we're taking it very seriously' but not putting any serious tools in place to do anything. The missing link is the White House, where there's no vision and no direction."
There is now a broad consensus that markets - in the form of a globally regulated trade in carbon - are the way to achieve the reductions in emissions. However, the US delegation has this week insisted that further technical work is needed before talks can begin on a son-of-Kyoto agreement, a move that could delay any progress for a further year. Such a delay could be disastrous for efforts to halt deforestation, which was highlighted this week in The Independent as one of the main causes of global warming. The world's forests, which are being destroyed to feed our markets with cheap timber, palm oil, soya and beef, contain twice as much CO2 as that already in the atmosphere but were not included in the Kyoto agreement. The Bonn meetings had been intended to make the first step to creating incentives to halt that destruction.
Andrew Mitchell, director of the Global Canopy Programme, an alliance of leading rainforest scientists, said: "This is a climate change cop-out. America must stop using technical objections to obstruct the process and concentrate on visionary means of reaching our goal. Each year that agreement is not reached raises the stakes on global warming and is a tragedy for the world's rainforests with a further 8 billion tonnes of CO2 and biodiversity going up in smoke."
The truth about PM's 'special relationship' with BushIraq
Britain disagreed with the US over two key decisions in May 2003, two months after the invasion - to disband Iraq's army and "de-Ba'athify" its civil service. Geoff Hoon, on 2 May 2007, said: "Sometimes ... Tony (Blair) had made his point with the President, I'd made my point with Don [Rumsfeld] and Jack [Straw] had made his point with Colin [Powell] and the decision actually came out of a completely different place. And you think: what did we miss? I think we missed (Vice-President Dick) Cheney."
Britain's Foreign Secretary at the time, Jack Straw - now Gordon Brown's campaign manager - led calls for Iran to be drawn into talks. The White House rejected the calls, even when they were backed up by the President's Iraq Study Group. The US this week opened talks with Iran.
The White House rebuffed repeated requests by British ministers, led by the Attorney General Lord Goldsmith, for the release of UK nationals held in Cuba as part of the "war on terror". Eventually, nine Britons were freed by the US - but none of those men have been charged in this country. At least three British residents remain in custody at Guantanamo and MPs have launched a campaign to win their freedom.
Conditions at the camp have been condemned by human rights activists worldwide, and British ministers have called for it to be closed.
The Middle East
Mr Blair pleaded for an "even-handed approach" to the Middle East in April 2004 and called for greater priority to be given to the "roadmap" to peace. Within 48 hours, his call was rejected by President Bush. Jack Straw underlined Britain's unease, saying: "President Bush ... has to make his own judgments. We make our own." Last year, the Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott said Bush had been "crap" on the road map.
The Natwest Three
The US demanded the extradition of three ex-NatWest bankers, using a treaty it had not ratified, in relation to the collapse of the energy giant Enron. Mr Blair was reduced to pleading for the accused to be released on bail.