Legislators, government officials and business leaders from 20 of the world's largest energy-consuming countries are gathering in Washington [February 14,15] to discuss measures to combat global warming. The forum is part of a high-level international effort to help world leaders shape more effective climate change policies.
David Miliband, British Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and a member of Tony Blair's cabinet, comes to the Washington Legislators Forum with a simple message. He says the United States needs to be fully engaged in the battle against global warming. "The United States has a lot to gain from being involved in that drive."
Critics say the United States took a step backward when it chose to reject the Kyoto Protocol, the global treaty on climate change.
But the U.S. has argued that Kyoto was flawed and that mandatory curbs on the industrial emissions blamed for global warming would hurt the U.S. economy. Developing nations such as India and China did not have to comply with reduction targets.
Robert Watson, former chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and a World Bank official, says the United States and other wealthy nations must take the lead to mitigate and adapt to climate change. He is encouraged by recent moves from U.S. stakeholders, some of whom will participate in the Legislators Forum. "We are seeing several bills in the U.S. Congress, significant movement at the state level, especially in California and the northeast states and movement in the private sector."
Companies like General Electric, Wal-Mart and Dupont are arguing that they want a long-term framework. "They themselves have already taken on voluntary obligations because it is in their own best economic interests," Watson says.
But these shifts reflect local and state action, not White House policy. While President Bush recognized climate change as a "serious problem" in his state of the Union speech in January, he still opposes capping carbon emissions.
U.K. environment minister David Miliband, who advocates such an effort, calls for a world commitment to reduce emissions especially in rapidly accelerating economies in developing countries. "We recognize that this is a global problem, that a ton of carbon dioxide emitted in Bangalore is as dangerous as a ton of carbon dioxide emitted in Birmingham, U.K. or Birmingham, Alabama," Miliband says. "Therefore, we do all that we can to provide the right incentives and the right help for the developing countries like China and India to make the right choice for low carbon development rather than high carbon development."
The World Bank's Robert Watson agrees that poor nations must have access to clean and affordable energy. He says major polluters like India and China and the United States rely heavily on coal to power their energy sectors. He says they need to develop "carbon capture and storage" technologies "that effectively allow the electricity to be developed from coal, but do not allow the emissions from carbon dioxide to enter the atmosphere."
The Washington meeting is part of an on-going dialogue that has shadowed G-8 summit meetings since 2005. Delegates at the forum will issue a consensus statement on climate change that G-8 President German Chancellor Angela Merkel will take to the July summit.