Climate talks face uncertainty over US strategy

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Ice breaker: Bush wants to drill for oil in the Arctic, but could he also be a positive force for change? Credit: AP/GREENPEACE

The question of who will be in the White House come January will cast a heavy pall over this week's climate treaty talks in The Hague. And, ironically, some observers think that George W. Bush would be better placed than Al Gore to break the political stalemate in the United States on global warming.

At first glance, a Bush presidency would seem to be the environmentalists' worst nightmare. He and running mate Dick Cheney are both oilmen, and their energy strategy calls for opening up part of the protected Arctic wilderness to drilling.

Yet Bush is not as combative on these issues as many members of the Republican-controlled Congress, and he understands that a modern politician must at least sound like an environmentalist. Early in his campaign, Bush expressed doubt about the science behind climate-change predictions, but later recanted, stating: “I believe there is global warming.”

Although he opposes the Kyoto guidelines as “ineffective, inadequate and unfair to America”, so do many other US politicians in both parties. The 1997 protocol, which called for sharp reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions by 2008, was dead on arrival in Congress, and the body has not stirred since.

That leads Henry Jacoby, an environmental economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan School of Management, to contend that “if you wanted to see progress on the climate issue, you would have voted for Bush. Gore has so much opposition, and is so locked in to [the Kyoto] strategy” that it may not be possible for him to break the impasse.

The US delegation to the Sixth Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, led by under-secretary of state Frank Loy, will represent the Clinton–Gore administration. As of early this week, Bush was not planning to send a representative to the talks.

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