The recent G8 meeting seals President Bush's legacy as the president who blindly blocked all serious efforts aimed at domestic and international action on greenhouse gas emissions. For more than seven years, Bush has used every tool at his disposal to stop states like California from reducing their emissions, to stop Congress from adopting greenhouse gas controls and to stop the international community from developing a serious follow-on to the Kyoto protocol.
No surprise that climate scientists have become increasingly desperate for action. In November, for instance, the head of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Rajendra Pachauri, said: "If there's no action before 2012, that's too late. What we do in the next two to three years will determine our future. This is the defining moment." And remember that Pachauri was handpicked by the Bush administration to replace the "alarmist" Bob Watson.
Now compare his alarm call to the nonchalant language of the Declaration on Environment and Climate Change from the G8: "We recognise the importance of setting mid-term, aspirational goals for energy efficiency." Translation: hit the snooze button.
Some people seem excited by the fact that Bush signed a G8 deal to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. But here are three reasons this won't keep any insomniacs awake.
First, the G8's statement on the matter was:
We seek to share with all Parties to the UNFCCC the vision of, and together with them to consider and adopt in the UNFCCC negotiations, the goal of achieving at least 50% reduction of global emissions by 2050, recognising that this global challenge can only be met by a global response, in particular, by the contributions from all major economies, consistent with the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities."
The language couldn't be any more watered down than if it had been in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.
Second, what is the baseline for this 50% reduction? Today's level of emissions? The text doesn't say. In fact, we probably need a 50% cut from 1990 levels.
Third, who really cares if the G8 pledges to share their vision and to consider and adopt a global "goal" of a 50% cut in emissions by 2050? What we need to know is not what the G8 thinks the world must do but rather what the G8 itself is prepared to do by 2050 - and by 2020. At a minimum, the G8 needs to establish firm targets and timetables that return to 1990 levels by 2020 and 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. If the state of California can make such commitments, the G8 can.
The world knows that Bush has been feverishly working behind the scenes for years to block any new international emissions accord. And, of course, Bush famously reneged on his 2000 campaign pledge to regulate utility greenhouse gas. Judging Bush on his seven years of global warming denial and obstructionism, he has made a major step forward at the G8. Judging Bush on the basis of what he has done for our children, their children and the next 50 generations, he has solidified his record of helping ensure that billions and billions of people suffer the grim consequences of catastrophic climate change.
Bush will have one of two historical legacies. First, the next president of the United States, together with Congress and the American people and the rest of the world, could sharply reject and reverse Bush's energy and climate policies. That might save the climate and leave Bush's administration as a small historical footnote - an utterly irrelevant anti-science president.
Alternately, the US and the world might fail to overcome Bush's lost decade. Then future generations will view him bitterly as the man who, more than anyone else on the planet, ruined their health and well-being. Let's all hope and pray we end up with the irrelevant Bush.
Joseph Romm is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress where he runs the blog ClimateProgress.org. He was acting assistant secretary of energy in 1997.
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