Dubya breaks into climate policy discussions

George Bush has a knack for rubbing environmentalists the wrong way: he’s drawn fire time and again for his climate change skepticism, support of big business, and brusque tendency to dismiss critics as greener-than-thou ideologues. Now, though, the green brigade have got a fresh beef: Dubya is muscling in on their turf.

Last week, the President declared himself a climate change believer, announcing that he would host a rolling summit of the world’s biggest polluters to thrash out solutions to global warming. You’d think Bush’s change of heart would have had environmentalists dancing in the streets; after all, a genuine global consensus, backed by America and supported by the world’s major developing economies, could spur more meaningful change than anything we’ve seen to date. Unfortunately, though, the devil is in the details - and especially the timing - of Bush’s announcement.

World leaders are gathering in Germany today for the G8 summit, where they intend to forge a major new climate change deal, setting global emission targets and establishing an international carbon trading program. Bush had already made it clear he wanted no part in the scheme; now, by announcing a parallel process for tackling climate change, he has wrong-footed the G8 leaders and defused much of the criticism he would have otherwise have faced for snubbing their proposals.

All this might not matter so much if Bush meant to broker a genuine alternative to the G8 deal. Unfortunately, there’s little prospect of that. Though his new summit will begin this fall, few results are expected before the end of 2008; even then, members will be free to determine their own targets and strategies, and won’t be asked to commit to anything more onerous than “aspirational goals”. With Europe and the UN already working to extend Kyoto by setting mandatory global targets, Bush’s plan looks less like a credible attempt to find a solution than a bid to undercut processes that are already in place. 

Shifting domestic currents - take a bow, Al Gore - mean Bush can’t ignore global warming. But waking up to a new political reality doesn’t make the president a climate change convert. Instead of embracing the G8 summit as an opportunity for action, Bush has drafted a vague and toothless plan that will achieve little, but will give him an excuse to talk - and talk, and talk - about his commitment to climate change until the clock runs down on his presidency. Sadly, it seems there’s rather less to George’s environmental volte-face than meets the eye.