So that's then. If there was any doubt that President Bush's Climate Change talks were little more than a diversionary tactic designed to undermine the existing UN process it has been finally erased.
As comedian Rory Bremner observed it was already "perhaps the most implausible piece of summit calling since Harold Shipman set up a focus group to improve geriatric care", but now attendees at the first round of Bush's talks in Washington have confirmed, albeit through off the record briefings to the press, that they had an entirely wasted journey. Perhaps they should bill the administration for the cost of offsetting their flights.
By all accounts the talks were dominated by Bush's steadfast refusal to countenance binding emission cuts and his now familiar ode to increased investment in clean technologies, leaving European diplomats flabbergasted as to why he called a meeting simply to restate his existing position.
If there was a silver lining it came in the form of plans for a new clean technology development fund, although details were scant, and the news that even China and India now accept the need for legally-binding as opposed to voluntary emmision reduction targets, even if there is no sign of agreement on what these cuts should be.
But despite this limited progress it looks like the already ailing chances of agreeing a post-Kyoto agreement involving the Americans on Bush's watch are now stone dead. Indeed, relations between the Bush administration and European climate change negotiators, never exactly cosy, are so strained that there is a very real possibility that the upcoming UN meeting in Bali to begin the process of developing the post-Kyoto agreement could again be enlivened by dramatic walkouts from the US team. It will take nothing short of one of the greatest volte-faces in US political history for any real progress to be made and if there is one thing Bush doesn't do it's U-turns.
The European's have not yet given up hope. The schedule for the Post-Kyoto negotions mean any new treaty is not scheduled to be ratified until 2009, by which time Bush will be back at the ranch trying to convince anyone who'll still listen that he was not the worst president in modern history. It is hardly an ideal, or likely, situation but there is chance that a new president could come in and attempt to undo some of the damage done to US international relations under Bush by simply rubber stamping whatever treaty was on the table at the time.
In this light the deafening silence from most of the presidential hopefuls on climate change policy is cause for considerable concern. I may have missed something watching the seemingly interminable presidential race from this side of the Atlantic, but the environment seems to be playing a surprisingly small role in the campaigns thus far.
This lack of clarity is becoming ever more maddening for business leaders desperate to know whether they will face globally binding emission reduction targets or not. The potential post-2012 scenarios are still numerous and varied. Despite Bush's opposition strict legal targets, incorporating both the developed and developing world and tied to a global carbon trading mechanism are still very much on the table. But so too is the possibility of a global agreement featuring watered down targets, an agreement with every one bar the US, an agreement with everyone bar the US, China and India, an agreement including some US states - such as Schwarzenegger's California which is already planning its own legal targets - but not others, an agreement featuring just voluntary targets, and, whisper it quietly, no agreement at all.
Forget the businesses taking climate change seriously and imposing their own internal emission reduction targets for a moment and analyse this situation from the perspective of those business leaders and investors (surely still the majority) who develop their commercial strategies and make their investment decisions based on the legislative environment in which they operate and projected return on investment calculations. They are facing a planning nightmare.
Do you get in ahead of the coming post-Kyoto agreement and start to de-carbonise your business or would doing so add unnecessary costs that your rivals will avoid? Do you invest in a Europe where legal targets are already on the statute books and multi-billion euro fines look inevitable for those companies that miss them or do you invest in a US or China that may never have such targets. If your business is based in California or any other state or country with legally binding targets do you get the hell out now before the risk of fines soars or do you calculate that the inevitable investment in clean technologies made in these jurisdictions will drive massive economic growth? Do you invest in developing those very clean technologies with the confidence that you will soon have a guaranteed global market for your new products or do you refuse to take a punt on a sector of the economy now almost entirely dependent on the vagaries of international negotiations? The list of questions goes on and on.
I know I keep banging on about this, but the single best thing the world's politicians can do for the embryonic green business movement, and more broadly their entire economies, is to deliver some clarity, and fast. Many businesses simply cannot justify green investments unless they know legal targets will give them a reason to invest, Meanwhile, even where they want to make those investments they will be rightly furious at the prospect of a global patchwork of different binding and voluntary targets.
Ironically, even Bush's calls for greater investment in clean technologies will not work unless he gives investors some clear guidance on the legal environment those clean technologies will operate in - he needs to guarantee a market for their new products.
But the killer irony in this sorry little saga is that in rejecting calls for binding emission targets in order to supposedly protect the US economy Bush is also rejecting the opportunity to guarantee the strength of the US economy for decades to come.
The US, and in particular California and Silicon Valley, is already the dominant force in the embryonic clean tech sector and with one swish of his pen Bush could turn them into engine room of the global economy. He could ensure that the country will dominate the economy of the twenty-first century in the same way it dominated the twentieth.
By signing up to legally binding targets he would create an immediate global market for these predominantly US technologies, he would spark a technical revolution even greater than the IT revolution of the late twentieth century, guaranteeing long-term growth in the process. Rather than fearing the growth of China and India US companies would become the real winners from legally-binding targets as emerging economies are effectively forced to buy US clean-tech and expertise.
In fact, the only identifiable losers in a world with binding emission targets would be those big carbon intensive companies too lumbering or short-sighted to diversify. But then again the president owes the majority of his career to those very companies and there-in surely lies the real reason why he continues to oppose an agreement that the rest of the world so desperately needs.
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