Climate change redux

Kyoto is dead, the White House says. But the climate change issue is neither gone nor forgotten for the Bush administration.

Kyoto is dead, the White House says. But the climate change issue is neither gone nor forgotten for the Bush administration.

"The president's statement has been incorrectly portrayed as a major setback on climate change policy," said Larry Goldstein of Petroleum Industry Research Foundation Inc. "Such a view assumes Kyoto was on track to becoming an operationally viable process." Goldstein says that unrealistic targets, a poor starting point (1990 emission levels that used demand data from the US recession of that time), the absence of developing country commitments, and US domestic policy constraints killed Kyoto long before Bush was even elected.

No excuses

Nevertheless, none of the above reasons is an excuse for doing nothing, Goldstein says. That's a view shared by the administration, although the White House now admits it did a poor job selling that point when it announced it would not regulate carbon dioxide emissions.

A timetable to unveil a climate change plan before Earth Day, Apr. 22, proved too ambitious. But US officials are now hoping to roll out a proposal before the next round of world climate talks in Germany this July.

Goldstein says the most sensible first steps policymakers should look at involve making greenhouse gases economically visible and rewarding to reduce or sequester.

Officials can build on private experiments already under way, Goldstein adds.

Earlier this month, the New Orleans-based utility Entergy Corp., said that its 25 fossil-fueled power plants will voluntarily hold the line on CO2 emissions for 5 years.

And five other large utilities that have already made large investments in reducing CO2 said they would accept a government-imposed CO2 emissions limit if the Bush administration endorsed a national emissions trading system that let companies pick which clean technology works best for them.

More time

The White House is also keenly aware that the world is watching what unfolds in Washington, DC.

US Ambassador to the European Union Richard Morningstar, in a May 2 speech in Brussels, said the US and Europe can be partners on climate change, although the US needs time to reach its own consensus.

"Making the effort to build that consensus is an indication of how seriously this administration takes climate change. But it does take time," he said to European Union officials.

What exactly is the next step?

The White House and some congressional leaders have suggested they may consider an emissions credit trading program that has already proven to be successful in curbing sulfur dioxide. Details are still sketchy, but any plan the US presents to the international community will have an eye on flexibility and cost, officials say. And without considering the economic impacts, there may never be a climate agreement, Bush officials say.

"Dealing with climate change will be very expensive–and for a very long time. It will be essential to emphasize new technologies, market approaches, and other innovative solutions," Morningstar said to his European counterparts "...And if our publics come to believe that our policies are causing substantial harm to their living standards and jobs in the short run, it will be hard to sustain the popular support we will need over the long run."

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