Blair puts global warming at top of international agenda

by William Yeatman on September 14, 2004

in Kyoto Negotiations, Politics

 In a major speech delivered September 14, British Prime Minister Tony Blair detailed his plans to use the British positions as chair of next years G8 summit and president of the European Union during 2005 to put action to prevent global warming back at the top of the international agenda.

 Mr. Blair began his speech by saying, What is now plain is that the emission of greenhouse gasesis causing global warming at a rate that began as significant, has become alarming, and is simply unsustainable in the long-term.  And by long-term I do not mean centuries ahead.  I mean within the lifetime of my children certainly; and possibly within my own.  And by unsustainable, I do not mean a phenomenon causing problems of adjustment.  I mean a challenge so far-reaching in its impact and irreversible in its destructive power, that it alters radically human existence.

 After laying out the evidence for these assertions, Blair said, Even if there are those who still doubt the science in its entirety, surely the balance of risk for action or inaction has changed.  If there were even a 50% chance that the scientific evidence I receive is right, the bias in favor of action would be clear.  But of course it is far more than 50%.

 And in this case, the science is backed up by intuition.  It is not axiomatic that pollution causes damage.  But it is likely.  I am a strong supporter of proceeding through scientific analysis in such issues.  But I also, as I think most people do, have a healthy instinct that if we upset the balance of nature, we are in all probability going to suffer a reaction.  With world growth, and population as it is, this reaction must increase.

 We have been warned.  On most issues we ask children to listen to their parents.  On climate change, it is parents who should listen to their children.  Now is the time to start.

 According to the prime ministers official spokesman, Blairs plan includes three major goals.  First, Blair intends to seek an international agreement on the science and the threat posed by global warming.  Second, he will seek to obtain agreement on a process to identify the science and technology measures necessary to meet the threat.  And third, he will seek the active involvement of major developing nations, particularly China and India, in cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

 The British prime minister also announced plans for a scientific conference preparatory to the G8 meeting: Prior to the G8 meeting itself we propose first to host an international scientific meeting at the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research in Exeter in February.  More than just another scientific conference, this gathering will address the big questions on which we need to pool the answers available from the science:  What level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is self-evidently too much? and What options do we have to avoid such levels?

 Mr. Blair took pains not to personalize the issue as a disagreement with President Bush.  Referring to American concerns over Kyoto, he said, Our efforts to stabilize the climate will need, over time, to become far more ambitious than the Kyoto Protocol.  Kyoto is only the first step, but provides a solid foundation for the next stage of climate diplomacy.  If Russia were to ratify that would bring it into effect.  We know there is disagreement with the U. S. over this issue.  In 1997 the U. S. Senate voted 95-0 in favor of a resolution that stated it would refuse to ratify such a treaty.  I doubt time has shifted the numbers very radically. 

 But the U. S. remains a signatory to the U. N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, and the U. S. National Academy of Sciences agree that there is a link between human activity, carbon emissions, and atmospheric warming.  Recently the U. S. Energy Secretary and Commercial Secretary jointly issued a report again accepting the potential damage to the planet through global warming.

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