Published on Tuesday, June 4, 2002 in the Guardian of London
It's Official, Global Warming Does Exist, Says Bush
by Matthew Engel in Washington
In an extraordinarily secretive maneuver, the Bush administration has subtly altered its position on global warming, officially admitting that there is a crisis while still declining to offer policies to combat it.
A government report to the UN says that global warming exists, that it is man-made, and that it will transform the environment - all points that the current US government, while never actually denying, has been reluctant to accept.
However, the report suggests that the country will have to accept the changes, rather than take any action to try to avert them.
"Adapting to a changing climate is inevitable," it says. "The question is whether we adapt poorly or well."
The new attitude was signaled in the US climate action report, which was published last week on the government's environmental protection administration website, www.epa.gov.
No press release was issued to highlight the report, and its existence only became widely known yesterday.
Countries are obliged to issue such reports at regular intervals under a UN convention which the US signed when George Bush Sr was president.
The report was immediately condemned by environmental campaigners. John Sohn of Friends of the Earth said: "The Bush administration is continuing its 'don't worry, be happy' approach to climate change, and it's reckless."
There was, though, a sense that Washington was at least moving away from denial. "They're saying, 'it's true, it's happening and it's going to be bleak, but we're not going to do anything about it,'" said Susanne Moser of the Union of Concerned Scientists. "However, there's a recognition of the dire outlook, so it's a step."
Among the report's predictions are warnings of drought, damage from melting snow and permafrost, public health dangers caused by extreme heat and air pollution, and the disappearance of many unique ecosystems.
Worst affected will be coral reefs, the alpine meadows of the Rockies and the low-lying barrier islands of the south-east coast, which may well be engulfed by the Atlantic. Forests are expected to experience "major species shifts". Improved crop productivity and better tree growth are listed as potential pluses.
The US has been criticized since Mr Bush took office 17 months ago for its refusal to join in international action over climate change, most notably the Kyoto Protocol.
Instead, the US has relied on two policies of its own. One is the clear skies plan, under which it agrees to reduce three pollutants - sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxide and mercury - but not carbon dioxide, the one considered most dangerous by scientists.
The second measure is the climate change plan, which says the US will reduce the "carbon intensity" of economic growth, but without reducing the amount of emissions.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2002