It was Murphy's Law at work last Friday. For once, I had left the office early (to go for a wonderful kayaking weekend in Mecklenburg with my dad). Of course, when I am out in the middle of nowhere is the moment Bush breaks the news that he is to host a conference of the 15 or so biggest CO2 emitters in the world on September 27th-28th in Washington. My wonderful colleague John Coequyt in DC thankfully dealt with all the media frenzy. I was left quietly rejoicing at the first real action on climate change I have ever witnessed by President Bush. By choosing those September dates, Bush will save me an extra flight to the US. The same is no doubt true of countless others in Environment Ministries’, think tanks and NGOs. On September 24th most of us will already be in New York, for a high level meeting on climate change that UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon is hosting. Flying being about the worst thing any of us can do to the planet, the dates Bush has chosen will probably deliver more emission savings than all the hot air announcements he has so far made on climate issues. Not flying to the US one extra time will save the emissions of several years of (average) car driving. It also means less jet lag, more time with friends, and - hopefully - more time drinking beer on the roof terrace.
Make no mistake, though – that Bush is holding this “Gang of the Big Emitters” meeting is no change of heart. Bush remains as opposed as ever to the globally binding (and deep!) emission cuts we urgently need. His September meeting is part of the theatre Bush is putting on in order to look busy on climate issues until he finally (!) leaves office next year. That he is holding the meeting at all does show that he feels under pressure - but sadly not that he is willing to act. To the contrary! This meeting, just like the APEC one his pal John Howard is putting on at the beginning of September is in fact a dangerous attempt to divert attention away from where the real action on climate change is and ought to be: the Kyoto Protocol. At the G8 summit in June Bush was forced to claim that his meeting is a contribution to the wider UN process that must lead to a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, the only legally binding global treaty to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The Bush administration even had to repeat that claim when they announced the September date on Friday. The reality is, though, that they are still opposed to what the Kyoto Protocol is all about: internationally binding ceilings (called caps) on emissions. They say so quite openly and you can also see it in the language they use. They keep talking about Kyoto “expiring” in 2012, for example, suggesting that Kyoto is on the way out. This is rubbish. Kyoto’s first phase will end in 2012, no more. Kyoto will persist and the current commitments simply need to be replaced by new ones. If the planet is to be saved, this ‘second commitment period’ will have to oblige industrialized countries to cut their emissions by at least 30% by 2020. That’s what I and the rest of the Climate Action Network gang will be heading to the US in September to demand. Let's hope our flight to the US is worth it!