Blair may snub US on climate
Leaked papers reveal huge gulf between Europe and Bush as PM ponders political gamble
Paul Brown, environment correspondent
Tony Blair is contemplating an unprecedented rift with the US over climate change at the G8 summit next week, which will lead to a final communique agreed by seven countries with President George Bush left out on a limb.
The alternative is to face a "catastrophic failure" of his plan to get concerted action to combat global warming, which he has long said is the greatest threat the world faces.
Mr Blair's cabinet colleagues have described him as showing great courage in sticking to his guns, despite being advised that it is "a very dangerous thing to do politically".
It would be the first time that the G8 has faced a "split" communique - and with the world's most powerful country in a minority of one.
The size of the task facing the negotiators became apparent yesterday when the Guardian was leaked the disputed text on climate change which is to go before the G8 leaders next week in Gleneagles. So far apart are the US and the rest of the G8 that the senior civil servants from all eight countries are meeting today and tomorrow to try to avoid a showdown.
The text, described as "the base for Friday, Saturday meeting", shows that the US refuses to accept either the science surrounding climate change or that the burning of fossil fuels is contributing to it.
The US is objecting to these words: "Climate change is a serious and long-term challenge that has the potential to affect every part of the globe. There is now strong evidence that significant global warming is occurring and that human activity is contributing to this warming."
All the G8 countries accept the next sentence: "Global energy demands are expected to grow by 60% over the next 25 years. This has the potential to cause a significant increase in greenhouse gas emissions associated with climate change." However, the US disputes the next sentence: "But we know that we need to slow, stop and then reverse the growth in greenhouse gases to reduce our exposure to potentially serious economic, environmental and security risks."
One possible compromise Downing Street has considered is to drop the climate change clauses in return for agreement to discuss action on greenhouse gas emissions. This would let the US refuse to acknowledge climate science while encouraging Mr Bush to discuss measures to combat its causes. Up to now, the US has refused to do even this.
The fact that heads of state are being left to discuss these fundamentals demonstrates that "the prime minister is prepared to go down to the wire", colleagues said.
The environment secretary, Margaret Beckett, hinted at a compromise by responding to Mr Bush's remarks about uncertainties in the science.
"The UK is in no doubt about the strength of scientific evidence on climate change," Ms Beckett said. "But the theology is less important than action. It would be really worthwhile if we could get an action plan that moves us all towards a shared goal of a low carbon economy."
It became clear yesterday that France and Germany favour a split rather than a communique that would be so weak their leaders would be mocked when they returned home. This leaves Mr Blair with a choice of siding with Europe as he assumes the EU presidency or with an increasingly isolated US president.
He also has the embarrassment of having personally invited the leaders of China, India, Brazil, South Africa and Mexico to discuss climate change, only to find there might be nothing to discuss.
Jennifer Morgan, the climate campaigner for the WWF, said: "Without the words objected to, this latest text is unacceptably weak, and does not even accept the basic science. There can be no compromise on that, otherwise we are going backwards."
The problem for the Bush administration is that if it concedes that the science is right and the risk is great, then action to curb emissions must be taken. This is politically difficult in a country that emits 25% of the world's carbon dioxide and is wedded to cheap petrol and big cars.
Mr Bush acknowledged last night that economic factors played a large role in guiding US environment policy. "Kyoto would have wrecked our economy," he said."
In a frank admission of the US thirst for oil, he added: "We're hooked on oil from the Middle East, which is a national security problem and an economic security problem."
Source: The Guardian