USA DUA, Indonesia (Reuters) – Thethreatened on Thursday to boycott U.S. talks among top greenhouse gas emitting nations, accusing Washington of blocking goals for fighting climate change at U.N. talks in . The December 3-14 Bali talks are split over the guidelines for starting two years of formal negotiations on a deal to succeed the , a U.N. pact capping greenhouse gas emissions of all industrial nations except the United States until 2012. Washington, long at odds with many of its Western allies on climate policies, has called a meeting of 17 of the world’s top emitters, including China, Russia and , in late next month to discuss long-term cuts. intends the meeting to be part of a series of talks to feed into the U.N. process. Washington hosted a similar meeting in September, which attracted few top officials and achieved little. The EU wants Bali’s final text to agree a non-binding goal of cuts in emissions of 25 to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 for industrial economies as a “roadmap” for the talks. The United States, , and are opposed, saying any figures would prejudge the outcome.
“Those who are suggesting that you can magically find agreement on a metric when you are just starting negotiations, that in itself is a blocking element,” said James Connaughton, Chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. “We will lead, we will continue to lead. But leadership also requires others to fall in line and follow,” Connaughton said. U.S. climate policy is to invest heavily in new technologies such as hydrogen and “clean coal,” without Kyoto-style caps.
The range of 25-40 percent cuts for rich nations was given in studies by the U.N. Climate Panel this year, which blamed mankind for stoking warming and urged quick action to avert ever more floods, droughts, melting glaciers and rising seas. Kyoto binds 37 industrialized nations to cut emissions by an average of 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2008-12. Poorer nations, led byand , are exempt from curbs. Washington pulled out in 2001, saying Kyoto would harm the U.S. economy and wrongly excluded goals for developing countries.
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Global warming exemplifies the limits of American isolationism. America minding its own business is the main source of the problem, resulting not from national political action but from the distributed acts of the Multitude. The right thing to do seems obvious: the US signs the international agreements, then establish some sort of process whereby the targeted emission reductions can be achieved. But I can think of no precedent for the US government interfering in the domestic economy like that. Enforcing adherence to Kyoto and subsequent treaties wouldn’t just call on voluntary lifestyle changes percolating throughout the multitude at the individual, household and corporate level. These changes would be mandated, with punishments meted out to violators. When other than during wartime has the US government actively interfered in a way intended to slow down consumption and to shift production in specific ways that might not increase the GNP?
There aren’t enough economic incentives to hand around to energy companies that would make it profitable for them to shift rapidly and massively away from fossil fuel. Penalties for fuel emissions would have to be drastic and stringently enforced. Case in point: since the Iraq incursion began the price of gasoline at the pump has more than doubled in America, in effect amounting to a huge tax levied on the American consumer the proceeds of which are handed over to oil companies. But despite the big price bump consumption has not gone down.
The libertarian position is roughly this: Let’s say the scientists are right — global temperatures are going up because of emissions, the ice caps are melting, widespread flooding is likely to occur in coastal plains, that massive shifts in populations and agriculture will need to take place. So what? There’s money to be made: a new coastline means new shorefront housing to be built, when farming becomes unviable in one part of the world it will become profitable somewhere else, an ice-free Arctic opens new oil drilling fields, when the oil runs out the energy companies can shift to other energy sources and jack up prices some more.
Reducing American complicity in global warming cannot rely on spontaneous adjustments of the marketplace. Some sort of global idealism would have to motivate the US government to mandate reduced consumption. The federal government would have to act on principle against the economic interests of the Multitude. And to enforce such an act would require the government to act in a more invasive way, taking direct centralized control of economic forces. I don’t think either American business or the Multitude would stand for it. And though I’d rather have Al Gore appointees sitting at the multilateral global warming table, I don’t know what he would have done that’s different from Bush’s inaction.