In his first comprehensive speech on the environment, President Bush made the case that sustained economic growth is an essential part of the solution to, not the cause of, global climate change.
The administration''s business-friendly approach to the problem is designed to harness the power of markets, voluntary incentives and technological innovations to reduce the growth in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions over the next 10 years. After rejecting the Kyoto protocol of mandatory GHG emissions cuts accepted by most U.S. allies last year, the president has been under pressure to produce an alternative response to climate change.
The administration argues that its goals are comparable to the average progress required of nations who have adopted Kyoto. In Thursday''s press briefing preceding the president''s speech, however, an administration spokesperson confirmed that overall GHG emissions in the United States would continue to rise during the 10-year period, even if industry meets the voluntary targets.
The administration believes that its proposal departs from "business as usual" because it calls on industry to increase energy efficiency by reducing the "ratio of GHG emissions to economic activity by 18 percent in the next 10 years." This means that instead of producing 183 metric tons of emissions per million dollars of gross domestic product (GDP) as is the case today, by 2012 the ratio will be lowered to 151 metric tons per million dollars of GDP.
The administration maintains that by avoiding costly mandatory GHG emission cuts, the economy will grow faster, making possible the investment in research and development of advanced technologies that are evidently not now affordable.
Asked at the briefing why companies would comply with this target, an administration spokesperson gave the following reasons:
- Greater energy efficiency means higher profits.
- An improved GHG national registry will encourage companies to achieve GHG emission cuts, removing the risk that these efforts will be penalized, or inaction rewarded, by future climate policy.
- Failure to meet the targets could cause the administration to pursue "other measures," including a mandatory "cap and trade" program, as has been used to control the acid rain problem.
The administration also announced a number of domestic initiatives intended to spur progress on GHG emission reductions, such as $4.6 billion in clean energy tax incentives over the next five years. These tax credits are to promote investment in solar, wind and biomass energy, as well as hybrid and fuel cell vehicles.
The spokesperson accepted that global warming is taking place and that it is a growing problem. The official, however, defended the administration''s voluntary approach in part by arguing that the science is unclear on how large a part human activity plays in global warming and on how much GHG the atmosphere can hold before there are catastrophic consequences.
The Sierra Club was unimpressed with the administration''s program. "Unfortunately, the Bush administration is using St. Valentine''s Day to give a sweetheart deal to the corporate polluters that funded his campaign," quipped Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club.
The environmentalists'' organization stated that, under the Bush administration''s voluntary efficiency plan, GHG emissions would grow to 36 percent more than allowed by Kyoto''s mandatory and absolute emission limits over the next 10 years.
by James L. Nash