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US officials clarify climate policy – or do they?

Judging by the press coverage, it would appear that the Bush administration just turned green. A flurry of stories has hit the press after James Connaughton, a senior environmental advisor, suggested the White House would be willing to “enter into an international agreement” on climate change, “if other countries do, too.” That’s according to the New York Times. The BBC focused on three words – “binding international obligations” – uttered by Daniel Price, a national security advisor to President George W. Bush.

Although it remains unclear what, exactly, this means, it is perhaps telling that such statements could grab headlines around the world. The administration seems eager to clarify what it considers misunderstandings about its position on global warming (namely the general perception that it will stop at nothing to quash or at least cripple any international treaty to protect its industry friends). Bush’s critics aren’t going to buy it, of course, but they appear to be more than happy to watch the president try to wiggle out of what has become an increasingly lonesome political corner.

The problem here is that there isn’t much new. In trying to explain the president’s call for “aspirational” climate goals last year, Connaughton used similarly vague language. Under Bush’s plan, countries could institute various voluntary and regulatory measures at the national level. Those commitments would become binding under an international treaty, he said.

So are those the same “binding international obligations” that Connaughton discussed this week? The answer would appear to be no: Most stories suggest that “binding obligations” refers to various proposals to reduce emissions by some percentage by a specific date.

If that were the case, this might be newsworthy. But Connaughton’s suggestion that major developing nations (think China and India) would have to do the same is, if interpreted literally, a tad unrealistic. It also goes against the administration’s entire strategy for global warming, which has up until this point emphasized a decentralized approach based on various national strategies that could be developed by countries according to their specific needs and resources.

Oddly enough, this is one area where the Bush administration’s arguments seemed to (quietly) resonate. Following the principle of “common but differentiated” responsibilities for poor and wealthy nations, many in the climate community had already come to accept the idea that a one-size-fits-all approach simply would not work. If, on the other hand, Connaughton meant to say that major developing nations could sign up for various national policies as opposed to strict emissions targets, the question is then whether the United States would be able to do the same thing. If that were the case, nothing would have changed.

Where does all this leave us? I’m not sure. Connaughton says he is trying to reframe the administration’s position on climate change by emphasizing what it is willing to do, rather than what it is not willing to do. If would be easier to evaluate if the administration would offer some numbers.

Cross posted from Jeff Tollefson on The Great Beyond


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    Trinifar said:

    We have to wait for the 2008 US elections to play out to see what the US position will be.

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    Steven Earl Salmony said:

    Dear Trinifar, Jeff Tollefson and All,

    Please consider a few open questions related to the ominous potential for mass devastation that could result from human-induced climate change between now and 2025.

    Is it somehow harmful to ask direct questions like this one regarding good scientific evidence of the potential for either apocalyptic climate change or pernicious impacts from the rapidly growing, colossal presence of the human species on Earth?

    Are willful blindness, hysterical deafness or elective mutism ever acceptable “defenses” for scientists who choose to deny evidence derived from good science?

    Is there some reasonable, sensible or moral foundation upon which faithful scientists can stand upright and say, “I refuse to acknowledge carefully and skillfully gained scientfic evidence if I cannot refute it?”

    Are scientists who present good evidence of climate change and human population dynamics, even though their research is plainly unforeseen and surely unwelcome, entitled to have their evidence openly discussed by professional colleagues with established expertise?

    If the global challenges looming before humanity are as formidable as the best available scientific evidence indicates, then is the family of humanity not well-advised to begin widely sharing in open discussions in the mass media, not just in blogs like this one, what is to be done in order to avoid whatsoever is unmanageable, while managing and mitigating everything else?

    Steven Earl Salmony

    AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population,

    established 2001

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