Bush and World Leaders Negotiate Climate Proposals

The headline issues of past G8 summits during George W. Bush's presidency have included the Iraq war, trade, and development aid. But climate change may be the issue that has resonated most consistently, starting with the 2001 Genoa summit, where Bush underscored his rejection of the Kyoto treaty.

Bush's final G8 summit, which opened in Japan on July 7, will address issues such as Iran, Zimbabwe, and food prices. Climate change, however, is expected to dominate. Daniel J. Weiss and Alexandra Kougentakis of the Center for American Progress contend that G8 summits have become like the movie Groundhog Day: "Every year President Bush arrives in a different nation to say 'Nyet. No. Nein. Lie.' to any binding reductions in global warming pollution." The Bush administration consistently has stressed that international emissions commitments should include the world's major developing economies, such as China and India. Thus, Bush once again is expected to block specific G8 target proposals, but this time in favor of a declaration coming out of the major emitter process—announced at the last G8—to be announced this week. Dan Price, a White House aide for international economics, recently said the United States would accept "binding international commitments if all major economies also are prepared" to make them.

The 2008 G8 agenda includes a proposed emissions target that is similar to one proposed by Bush—50 percent by 2050. In both cases, it is unclear if the target would be binding. Noting that there is little difference between participants in the G8 and major emitters meetings, the New Scientist's blog offers Bush's legacy as a possible motive for the administration's preference for embracing the major emitters meeting declaration because that process was instigated by Bush. In the end, says CFR Senior Fellow Michael A. Levi, this year's summit might be most notable for "some sort of agreement on cooperation on research, development, demonstration of technology."

Apart from the G8 process, many climate change activists are looking for an agreement from the 2009 UN negotiations on a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. A recent CFR Independent Task Force report argues that without "appropriately ambitious" commitments from rapidly emerging economies the United States should continue to refuse binding commitments under a UN deal. But many climate advocates believe it is also vital for the United States to come to the UN negotiating table with a strong domestic policy. Yet amid high gas prices and a flagging U.S. economy, Americans show little interest in climate change. A recent Pew Center poll shows only 35 percent of U.S. voters polled think climate change policy should be a priority for the next president and Congress. So it came as little surprise that Senate Democrats were unable to muscle through a climate change bill in June. Other leaders at the G8 summit are facing lagging domestic support for a variety of reasons, including economic woes and the war in Afghanistan.

Though many U.S. environmental advocates anticipate a policy shift from the next president, some call for caution. Jennifer Morgan, climate director for the sustainable development organization E3G, urges the next president to work closely with Congress. She points to the experience of President Clinton, who signed the Kyoto Protocol with binding commitments for the United States only to have an overwhelming majority of the Senate refuse ratification.