The British Government is deeply disappointed that President George Bush has not made a greater commitment to tackling climate change before the G8 summit, the Environment Secretary has disclosed. In a rare, outspoken critique of the US position on global warming, Margaret Beckett told The Independent of the Government's frustration at the lack of "common ground" with Washington on the need for action on the environment. The US has consistently blocked attempts by Britain to put progress on tackling climate change alongside G8's moves to scrap African debt at the Gleneagles meeting of the leading industrialized nations next month.
Mrs Beckett added that signing the Kyoto protocol was clearly "off the agenda" for President Bush, who was "coming from a different place in the dialogue" on the issue of global warming. She said the Government had made no secret that it wants the White House to be "more engaged" on climate change. "Certainly there is a degree of disappointment that there isn't more common ground than there already is," she said.
The US Contribution in Figures
- The United States constitutes 4 per cent of the world population
- It is responsible for a quarter of all carbon dioxide emissions - an average of 40,000 pounds of carbon dioxide is released by each US citizen every year - the highest of any country in the world, and more than China, India and Japan combined
- Americans use 50 million tons of paper annually - consuming more than 850 million trees
- There are more than 200 million cars and light trucks on american roads
- According to the Federal Department of Transportation, they use over 200 million gallons of petrol a day
- Motor vehicles account for 56 per cent of all air pollution in The United States
- A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2002 concluded that people living in the most heavily polluted metropolitan areas have a 12 per cent increased risk of dying of lung cancer than people in the least polluted areas
- 32 of the 50 busiest US airports currently have plans to expand operations
- Every year US industries release at least 2.4 billion pounds of chemicals into the atmosphere
- Despite having just 2 per cent of known oil reserves, the US consumes 25 per cent of the world's oil production
- 16 per cent of world oil production goes into american cars alone.
- Approximately 160 million people living in 32 US states live in regions with smog and soot levels considered dangerous to health
- The new clear air interstate rule aims to cut sulphur dioxide by 73 per cent and nitrogen oxide by 61 per cent in the next 10 years
- Around 50 million new cars roll off US assembly lines each year
- There are already more than 20 million four-wheel-drive vehicles on US roads
- More than 1.5 million gallons of oil were spilled into US waters in 2000 alone
- Only 1 per cent of american travel is on public transport, an eighth of that in the UK and an eighteenth of that in Japan
- As much as 5.99 tons of carbon dioxide is emitted per American per year, compared with 0.31 tons per Indian or 0.05 tons per Bangladeshi.
- The US had 16 major oil spills between 1976 and 1989, whereas France suffered six and the UK five
- The average american produces 864kg of municipal waste per year, almost three times the quantity of rubbish produced annually by an Italian
Her remarks come days after Mr Blair returned from talks with President Bush about global warming in Washington.
At Westminster, Mrs Beckett's criticism will be interpreted as a sign of growing frustration with the White House over an issue that the Prime Minister wants to see given top billing at the summit in Glenagles. Mrs Beckett said that President Bush was fully aware of the importance Mr Blair had attached to a breakthrough on climate change during his presidency of the G8. "He [Bush] has known for a long time. He has known since before it was in the public domain that Tony had every intention of making climate change as well as Africa a top priority for our G8 year."
But the Prime Minister's inability to gain concessions from his closest ally, following his backing for military action against Iraq, will be seen by some as a sign that Mr Blair does not have the influence he would like.
Tony Juniper, executive director of Friends of the Earth, said America was a "Neanderthal" when it came to the environment. "As an absolute minimum, George Bush must acknowledge the work of his own scientists that climate change is caused by people," he said.
Mrs Beckett acknowledged Britain had no hope of persuading the US to sign up to Kyoto."The US signing up to Kyoto is off the agenda," she said.
The focus now was on creating a dialogue with the US and other major energy users, including India and China, about the way forward.
Her remarks came as Mr Blair headed to Russia to seek the support of President Vladimir Putin for a breakthrough on climate change at the G8 conference. On a flying visit to Moscow and three European capitals, Mr Blair will try to build on the Russian acceptance of the Kyoto targets for tackling climate change to put more pressure on the US to come on board.
As the Prime Minister prepared to fly out at the start of a hectic 48 hours of diplomacy, his official spokesman raised the prospect that Mr Bush could sign up to a more limited agenda, dubbed "Kyoto Lite'', at the Gleneagles summit. "Russia has signed up to Kyoto," he said. "We said as far back as our talks in Johannesburg that we did not expect the US to sign up to Kyoto. The important point is not to make Kyoto into something you sign or there is nothing.
"The important thing is to recognize concerns about climate change. We agree with the US about the need to bring into the fold some emerging countries, India and China, and we believe we will see it at Gleneagles."
The differences between the US and Britain were starkly illustrated in a leaked G8 document seen by The Independent. President Bush said last week that he wanted more international co-operation on "clean nuke." But a draft of a G8 communiqué shows disagreement over the US's wish for separate section on the role of nuclear power. The draft, Powering a Cleaner Future, says a "UK red line" - area not for negotiation - was the US's singling out of nuclear power as a clean energy source.
It said: "UK red line: Avoid US suggestion for a separate nuclear heading. This would be quite a serious jump in political attention from previous ... texts. Any statement should be couched in language that leaves it up to individual governments to decide whether nuclear is a suitable part of their energy mix."
Mrs Beckett gave a strong indication that she did not support the revival of nuclear power, and construction of new plants, believed to be favored by Mr Blair, to tackle global warming.
She said new power stations were not the answer to meeting the goal of a 20 per cent cut in carbon dioxide emissions by 2010 or a 60 per cent cut by 2050.
She admitted CO2 emissions were rising in Britain, along with the rest of the Northern hemisphere, and said she was "very" disappointed that the UK was in danger of missing those targets.
© 2005 Independent News & Media (UK) Ltd.