June 7, 2007

June 7, 2007 | Commentary on

The G-8 Summit

There would be no news without conflict. So, it is understandable that the media is working overtime to portray the meeting of the leaders of the G-8, the major industrialized nations, as a kind of punch-drunk free-for-all. It should come as no surprise either that President Bush is, as usual, portrayed as the all-purpose punching bag. Meanwhile, the equally predictable motley crew of anti-globalization demonstrators will perform their usual antics during the meeting, though the German authorities have managed to keep them at a safe distance from the summit itself. What a circus.

The leaders begin their meeting in the German resort of Heiligendamm today, and by the news accounts Mr. Bush is going to have to wrestle with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is threatening to restart the Cold War, and with his friend, German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Mrs. Merkel is up in arms over the issue of climate change. "European anger at Bush shift on Climate" screamed the Financial Times' headline in the weekend paper, followed by Monday's "Bush line on climate change poised to split G8."

Interestingly, the president's new position on climate change was backed by Canada and Japan, and welcomed by British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, said that Mr. Bush had crossed the Rubicon on the environment. France and Russia have remained silent. This leaves mainly Mrs. Merkel as a party to the outrage, but then again she will undoubtedly benefit domestically and with her Social Democratic Party coalition partners from putting the squeeze on Mr. Bush.

Now, Mr. Bush has come to Europe with the commendable purpose of establishing warmer relations with Europe, an important project which he and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have been working on throughout his second term. As Mr. Bush said about the purpose of his trip, which includes visits to Italy, Poland, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, and Albania, "I want them to meet... a person who represents a nation of decent, compassionate people. I represent a country that cares deeply about the human condition." It is remarkable indeed that the president of the United States has to remind its European allies that this is in fact the case.

 The real concern here is whether Mr. Bush might not be inclined to go too far in his accommodation of Europe on climate change, a subject of enormous economic consequences. The president announced May 31 that he has agreed to "establish a new framework on greenhouse gases when the Kyoto protocol expires in 2012" and to the "long-term global goal of reducing greenhouse gasses," with each country setting national targets. A point of disagreement with Mrs. Merkel is that Mr. Bush at least wants discussions to take place outside the United Nations, which is planning a Kyoto II conference scheduled for December.

The big problem to be concerned about is that most environmental policy is predicated on worst-case scenarios that are certainly still open to scientific debate. It obviously makes a huge difference whether you believe the sea level will rise seven to 23 inches, as postulated by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or 19 to 20 feet as threatened by former vice president and environmental prophet Al Gore. For residents of Florida, for instance, it may mean whether the Sunshine State becomes unfit for human habitation or whether residents will simply have to abandon the first line of beachfront property.

The United States, which accounts for over one-quarter of the world's economy and is indispensable as an economic engine, must ensure that the very marginal benefits from any climate-change policies do not outweigh their costs. For instance, even if the United States had ratified the Kyoto Protocol, and even if Europe and others were in full compliance with it, the treaty is estimated to have averted a mere 0.07 degrees of Celsius temperature increase by 2050. Meanwhile the United States would have sustained $100 billion to $400 billion in annual GDP losses. American jobs and living standards are at stake here.

And it is a fact that the United States has probably done more than any other country to develop and deploy green technologies. The Bush administration has also initiated the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and climate, which reached out to a number of developing-world nations. Maybe Mr. Bush could remind the Europeans of these facts, if he can get a word in edgewise for all the screaming and yelling.

Helle Dale is director of the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation

About the Author

Helle C. Dale Senior Fellow for Public Diplomacy
The Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom

First appeared in the Washington Times