In advance of the G8 summit, where climate change will be a prominent issue, George Bush has announced America’s commitment to action. This has been met with some cynicism, given that apart from Australia the USA was the only country to refuse to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. The view of the present US administration has always been that specific emission targets would hamper the American economy, and while China was doing nothing to cut emissions America could not afford to put itself at a disadvantage.
Kyoto did not put restrictions on China or any of the other developing nations because their per capita emissions are so much lower than those of the western world. China is accused of building coal-burning power stations – the most polluting form of energy – and opening a new one almost every week. On the other hand it still has 3 million citizens without electricity, it has very little oil or gas, it will produce clean electricity from the Three Gorges Dam and it is a leader in solar power. Every member of the Chinese cabinet is an engineer, so the consequences of climate change and energy shortages are not lost on them. Much of what China produces is destined for the American market, so it could be argued that they are making American emissions by proxy.
At the end of the day the important issue must be to cut energy use and cut emissions, not argue about who is doing what and why. George Bush is talking about a policy to be in place by the end of 2008. Even if we suspect his motives we must welcome the fact that he is talking about the issue, even if 2008 is probably too late if those who say we have only 5 years left to save the planet are correct!