British prime minister Tony Blair hopes to make significant progress on climate change at the upcoming G8 summit. The United States is standing in his way, but his efforts may at least benefit climate research.
You could forgive Tony Blair for wishing he had never made climate change a priority for the G8 summit in July. The British prime minister's proposals for emissions targets got a frosty reception when he put them to US President George W. Bush last week. And mounting claims that the Bush administration manipulates climate science suggest that the United States is still some way from agreeing to concrete action (see ‘Increasing the uncertainty‘).
But Blair's efforts have not been a complete washout. There is still talk of significant investment in climate-related research and technology. And Britain has a plan on the table to address one major scientific concern: Africa's lack of input to the global network of weather stations (see ‘Solving Africa's climate-data problem’).
Blair initially had three broad climate-related aims for the meeting of the Group of Eight industrialized nations, to be held in Gleneagles, Scotland, over 6–8 July. He planned to rely on science to set emissions targets; to agree on new technologies that could help to achieve that goal; and to build a climate consensus with the world's emerging economies.
Such lofty goals were always going to be a long shot, and a document leaked late last month seemed to confirm what many had believed to be the most likely outcome — there was as yet no agreement on setting stricter emissions targets.
The world's leading science academies were moved to lend their voices to the cause. The academies of all the G8 countries, along with those of China, Brazil and India, issued a strongly worded statement on 7 June calling for immediate steps to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. “The scientific understanding of climate change is now sufficiently clear to justify nations taking prompt action,” they declared.
Yet even a shared statement could not blur the sharp divide between the US and UK positions. The president of Britain's Royal Society, Robert May, criticized US climate policy as “misguided”. And Blair's attempts to persuade Bush of the need to act were not rewarded.
After a meeting in Washington on 7 June, Bush reiterated his position that more research is needed before action can be taken on climate change. He did not budge on the issue of emissions targets; the United States remains the only G8 country that has not signed the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.
Blair has now turned his attention to leaders in Europe and elsewhere, starting this week by enlisting Russian president Vladimir Putin in the fight against climate change. But it is true, as ever, that without the United States, any emissions agreement will be weak at best.
Instead, the outcome of the summit seems most likely to be increased investment in sustainable and renewable technologies. The leaked statement, which purports to be an early draft of a G8 climate agreement, suggests spending money on relatively small fixes, such as improving the energy efficiency of buildings, encouraging the development of hydrogen and other fuel-efficient cars, and developing better methods to capture and store carbon dioxide emissions. It recommends an international ‘carbon challenge’ prize to stimulate such research.
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