US close to climate change concessions
Ewen MacAskill and agencies
The United States is edging towards important concessions on climate change at this week's G8 summit, it has been revealed.
US President George Bush is now ready to concede that climate change has scientific basis, and that collective action is required over global warming. Until now, Mr Bush has adopted an intransigent position, insisting there is no scientific basis to conclude that there is such a phenomenon as global warming.
The move was signalled during last weekend's "sherpas" meeting at Lancaster House in London, where officials met to work on a draft agreement ahead of this week's summit in Gleneagles. One of the diplomats involved in the negotiations confirmed today that the US sherpa had moved and accepted a draft text in which the existence of the problem is recognised.
The foreign secretary, Jack Straw, said he hoped for a "satisfactory outcome both in respect of aid to Africa and in respect of climate change" at the G8 talks later this week.
"Each country comes to these negotiations ... with its own national perspective," Mr Straw said. "It is, I think, remarkable how far sentiment has moved in the period since the prime minister identified aid to Africa and climate change as the key (issues) of this G8 summit."
Mr Bush's stance will be underlined in an interview to be shown this evening on ITV's Tonight With Trevor McDonald. He will describe climate change as "a significant, long-term issue that we've got to deal with", acknowledging that human activity is "to some extent" to blame.
But Mr Bush will also warn that he will not make major concessions on climate change in return for Tony Blair's staunch support over Iraq. In particular, he will rule out committing the US to a Kyoto-style binding agreement on greenhouse gases.
In the interview, recorded last week before the sherpas meeting, Mr Bush made clear he regarded new technology as the key to halting global warming. He indicated he believes Mr Blair is also ready to "move beyond the Kyoto agenda" and focus on techniques like the sequestration of carbon dioxide in underground wells, rather than on a regime of limits on emissions.
Environmental activists immediately voiced dismay at Mr Bush's comments, which they said could block any progress on climate change at Gleneagles. They urged leaders of the other seven G8 countries to sign a communiqué excluding the US rather than accept a watered down statement which avoids calling for cuts in CO2 emissions.
But the environment secretary, Margaret Beckett, said she was deeply reluctant to try to interpret Mr Bush's words. "I think it's been clear for some days that negotiations were likely to go to down to the wire and that appears still to be the case," she told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
"What we wanted and what we do still want is to try to end up going in the same direction, that wherever people come from there is a recognition about the urgency of the problem and there is agreement. What we hope for is quite an ambitious action plan on steps that the international community can take, and also agreement to try to take forward discussion and dialogue about the future."
Downing Street said that Mr Blair had never seen his relationship with the US president in terms of a "quid pro quo".
"G8 is not about drawing the US into Kyoto or setting new standards," a spokeswoman said. "Because they take a different view doesn't mean that the US cannot work with Europe and others to take forward measures to tackle climate change."
Mr Bush's comments will be broadcast as thousands of protestors continue a week of protest in Edinburgh and around Scotland, following the weekend's huge Live 8 concerts and the Make Poverty History march in the Scottish capital.
On the issue of Africa, the president brushed off campaigners' complaints that his decision to double US development aid by 2010 was too little, too late.
The US gives 0.2% of its GDP in overseas aid - well below the UN's 0.7% target, which EU states are committed to reaching in the next few years. But Mr Bush insisted America was "leading the world when it comes to helping Africa".
He expressed readiness to abandon farm subsidies which make it difficult for African economies to compete, but only if the EU was also prepared to scrap its common agricultural policy. "We've got agricultural subsidies, not nearly to the extent that our friends in the EU have," he said. "And so the position of the US government is, we're willing to do so and we will do so with our fine friends in the European Union."
Asked if he would make a special effort to help Mr Blair at the summit, which begins on Wednesday, in return for his support over Iraq, Mr Bush replied: "I really don't view our relationship as one of quid pro quo.
"Tony Blair made decisions on what he thought was best for keeping the peace and winning the war on terror, as I did. So I go to the G8 not really trying to make him look bad or good, but I go to the G8 with an agenda that I think is best for our country."
He made clear that he was not ready to sign up to an agreement to reduce carbon emissions: "If this looks like Kyoto, the answer is no. The Kyoto treaty would have wrecked our economy, if I can be blunt."
Instead, he said he wanted to talk with fellow G8 leaders about developing new technologies to limit climate change without reducing the availability of energy to individuals and businesses. He highlighted his administration's £11.3bn investment in developing technologies like hydrogen-powered cars, zero-emission power stations and carbon sequestration.
"I think you can grow your economy and at the same time do a better job of harnessing greenhouse gases," he said.
Edinburgh will see further demonstrations today to put pressure on the leaders of the UK, US, France, Germany, Italy, Canada, Japan and Russia ahead of the summit. There are fears of violence around an anti-capitalist demonstration planned for Edinburgh city centre.
Meanwhile a G8 bicycle protest caravan is due to arrive in the Scottish capital from London, while anti-nuclear weapons campaigners are attempting a blockade of the Faslane nuclear submarine base. Schoolchildren will debate the issues facing the G8 leaders at the J8 Youth Summit in Edinburgh.