Some people just don’t think President Bush has done a terribly good job on climate change.
But just because he single-handedly stopped any international action on climate and reneged on his 2000 campaign pledge to regulate CO2 and stopped California from regulating tailpipe greenhouse gas emissions and muzzled climate scientists and forced Congress to drop almost all non-oil-related provisions to cut GHGs from the 2007 energy bill — that’s no reason to think the FHA (Future Historians of America), having previously named Bush the Worst President in American History will award him one of their rare Worst Leaders of All Time Awards, alongside such notables as Neville Chamberlain and Nero.
The headline quote comes from “Saleem Huq, a lead author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2007 report on adaptation,” in a Greenwire (subs. req’d) article on Bush’s legacy. It continues:
“A blank page,” Stephanie Tunmore of Greenpeace said. “That’s the charitable view. If I were him, I’d be very ashamed to admit to all the negative things that he’s done and the positions he’s taken — which has meant that, since Kyoto, this process has not moved forward very far at all.”
Artur Runge-Metzger, head of a climate change division at the European Commission, tried to be diplomatic. “They have delayed the process for a long time,” he said.
And Keya Chatterjee, deputy director of the U.S. climate program at the World Wildlife Fund, faulted Bush for spending two terms fighting mandatory curbs on domestic greenhouse gas emissions while censoring scientific evidence linking man-made emissions to global warming.
“The last eight years have been pretty difficult for the science community at large, but particularly the climate science community, who have felt largely ignored,” she said. “It’ll be a real relief for people to feel like they’ve been listened to.”
Bush administration officials, meanwhile, have been making the rounds here to promote what they say is their sound record on climate and energy. They point to their setting of new energy efficiency targets for home appliances, establishing a renewable fuel standard and toughening of automobile fuel-efficiency standards — the first new fuel-efficiency standards in more than three decades.
“We’ll be remembered for our results,” White House Council on Environmental Quality Chairman James Connaughton said in an interview yesterday. “And it’s really when people look back at the record of budgetary and technology achievements and the actual greenhouse gas reductions that flow from that that the record that we will be better understood.”
Connaughton insists that Bush’s team — and, for that matter, Congress — has gotten short shrift from its opponents.
“Unfortunately, the criticism of not just the Bush administration, but the U.S. Congress, remains sadly uninformed, which I find so curious because the people who care most about these issues have not taken the time to look at the policies that have been enacted on a bipartisan basis at the federal and state level,” Connaughton said.
Overall, U.S. emissions are up more than 16 percent since 1990 — the baseline year used by the United Nations in international climate negotiations. And new Energy Department data show that U.S. heat-trapping emissions have grown by 4.66 percent since the Bush administration took office in 2001.
But Connaughton cites statistics compiled from U.S. EPA data and submitted to the United Nations that show a reduction in “absolute terms” of U.S. greenhouse gases of 3 percent through 2006.
In an e-mail, Connaughton took issue with DOE’s figures, which he said cover just four main categories: households, commercial, industrial and transportation. Industrial emissions in the United States are below 1990 levels and declining, he said.
“So the steady increase has been from more people, driving more, to more service-based jobs, back to more homes to house them,” Connaughton said. “What is remarkable is how this is being offset by industrial emissions and net sinks from better land use, agriculture and forestry in America.”
Examining the 8 years
From the very start of his administration, Bush struggled to articulate a clear message on climate change.
Within months of his arrival in the White House, Bush rejected the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which called for cuts in emissions from more than 35 industrialized countries of about 1 billion tons over five years. Bush also dropped perhaps his most aggressive 2000 presidential campaign pledge on the environment — to put mandatory carbon dioxide limits on power plants.
By February 2002, Bush officials had set a largely voluntary path seen by environmentalists and many Democrats as nowhere near aggressive enough to address the challenge. Bush himself rolled out a new measuring stick for reducing U.S. emissions relative to economic growth, something he called “greenhouse gas intensity.”
Rather than cap CO2 emissions, Bush instead pursued the “Clear Skies” initiative. But Senate Republicans failed to muster the votes they needed to get the bill out of committee.
In 2005, Bush launched the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate — which focused on building relationships between U.S. energy companies and Asian markets. And in 2007, he picked up on a request from former British Prime Minister Tony Blair to establish the Major Economies Meetings, a series of talks with the 17 countries that contribute the most to global warming.
There were frequent rumors in Bush’s second term that he might reverse course and back mandatory cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, but the president did not budge.
Earlier this year, as the two leading presidential candidates expressed agreement on capping greenhouse gas emissions, Bush went on record with his own U.S. target. He supported stabilizing U.S. emissions by 2025.
But few took Bush seriously, because he would allow overall U.S. emissions to go up for another 17 years even as climate negotiators worked out ways to reduce overall greenhouse gas concentrations.
Connaughton insisted that the Democrats’ push for cap-and-trade legislation would cripple the U.S. economy. And he said any attempts next year under Obama to move such a bill need to take into account laws now in place that also reduce emissions.
“When it comes to the issue of cap-and-trade legislation, a critical reconciliation is going to have to occur, because most of the carbon cap-and-trade proposals predated by many years all of the new federal and state mandates,” he said, citing the increase in corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards signed into law last December, as well as more than two dozen renewable portfolio standards enacted in states across the country.
WWF’s Chatterjee took issue with Bush officials claiming credit on the CAFE regulations, which she noted are still weaker than those in Japan and China. “That wasn’t so much an initiative of the administration, it was legislation passed by Congress,” she said.
Asked about the Bush administration’s climate legacy, Brice Lalonde, climate ambassador to French President Nicolas Sarkozy, replied with praise for the work being done by U.S. states, cities and businesses.
“I think the U.S. is not only the federal level,” Lalonde said. “Lots of things have happened at the state level, city level, company level.”
Since Bush took office, more than two dozen states have adopted their own mandatory greenhouse gas targets, with regional cap-and-trade programs on their way toward implementation in the West, Midwest and Northeast. And more than 880 U.S. cities have pledged to curb their emissions in line with the Kyoto Protocol.
Asked yesterday whether he had any regrets about Bush’s climate policy, Connaughton turned to the Kyoto Protocol.
“I wish first that Russia made up its mind sooner as to whether it would join Kyoto or not,” he said, referring to Russia’s 2004 decision to ratify the international accord, which effectively made the accord binding for all participating nations. “I think we lost a couple of years of work while that decision was being made.”
In Connaughton’s eyes, Kyoto’s failures offered Bush an opening for his administration to emphasize energy technologies.
“As soon as it was decided Kyoto would go forward, then countries began to face up to the reality of what they had to do at the national level, to work toward meeting those commitments, and it was at that point that the floodgate opened up on technology cooperation, on public-private partnership,” Connaughton said.
Critics of the administration’s Asia-Pacific Partnership and the Major Economies Meeting contend that the two organizations are distractions from the larger U.N. push to curb emissions. They also insist that groups left out some countries likely to suffer the most from climate change.
“Not having the vulnerable countries at the table is a real gap,” said David Waskow, climate change program director for Oxfam America.
In Congress, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), who is famously skeptical about science linking humans to global warming, said he sees reasons to be proud of the Bush administration’s accomplishments.
“President Bush has done more to get the international community to focus on the role of technology in developing nations through the Asian-Pacific Partnership,” said Inhofe, the ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, in an e-mail. “His efforts to share clean coal technologies with China and India will prove to be some of the most important international work accomplished to date.”
Inhofe’s views differ sharply from those of Democratic leaders, who hope to push well beyond Bush under the incoming Obama administration. Drew Hammill, a spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), said today that Bush should not be bragging about his global warming policy.
“The single resounding message out of Poznan is that the world is eagerly waiting new leadership in the United States, because for eight years the Bush administration has stalled and blocked progress in the international climate negotiations,” Hammill said. “At home as well as abroad, the Bush administration has a shameful legacy on climate change.”
Well, if Inhofe is proud of Bush’s accomplishments, what more testimonial do you need?