Sunday, September 25, 2005

LONDON — Prime Minister Tony Blair has acknowledged that the fight to prevent global warming by ordering countries to cut greenhouse gases will never be won.

“No country is going to cut its growth or consumption despite environmental fears,” Mr. Blair said at a conference in New York organized by former President Bill Clinton.

Mr. Blair’s comments, which were made earlier this month but have yet to be reported in major news outlets, said that disputes over the Kyoto Protocol will “never be resolved.”

“I’m changing my thinking about this in the past two or three years. I think if we are going to get action, we have got to start from the brutal honesty about the politics of how we deal with it,” Mr. Blair said.

“The truth is, no country is going to cut its growth or consumption substantially in the light of a long-term environmental problem.

“Some people have signed Kyoto, some people haven’t signed Kyoto, right? That is a disagreement. It’s there. It’s not going to be resolved.”

The United States has rejected the Kyoto treaty, arguing at the time that the science behind global warming was inclusive and that the treaty was flawed.

The Bush administration now agrees that human activity is responsible for global warming, but Mr. Blair’s remarks are likely to shift the focus to the treaty itself.

The treaty imposed severe constraints on industrial nations, especially those outside Western Europe, while imposing no restrictions on big polluters such as China and India.

The treaty was so flawed, said many critics, that if implemented it would have increased global emissions of so-called greenhouse gases more than if there had been no treaty at all.

Mr. Blair predicted that Kyoto, which expires in 2012, would not have a successor treaty, but said the solution to global warming would be to introduce incentives for large-scale energy users to make cutbacks.

“To be honest, I don’t think people are going, at least in the short term, to start negotiating another major treaty like Kyoto,” Mr. Blair said.

“China and India … will grow. They are not going to find it satisfactory for us in the developed world to turn around and say: ‘Look, we have had our growth. You have now got yours, so we want you to do it sustainably even if we haven’t.’”

The prime minister’s U-turn comes after years in which he has pushed for a binding international treaty on climate change.

In a policy-setting speech a year ago, he laid out an ambitious agenda, declaring:

“Kyoto is only the first step, but it provides a solid foundation for the next stage of climate diplomacy.”

The Kyoto agreement called for a global cut of 5.2 percent in greenhouse-gas emissions by 2012 over 1990 levels.

“The problem with the prime minister’s new approach is not the theory, but the practice,” said Oliver Letwin, environment spokesman for the opposition Conservative Party.

“Harnessing incentives, markets and technology to make prosperity and growth consistent with carbon reduction is the right aim — but there is no sign of the government seriously implementing this in the UK. And the prime minister does not seem to have any clear idea about how to implement this on a global scale.”

A spokesman for Mr. Blair said: “The prime minister’s comments should not be taken out of context. He has said on numerous occasions that the Kyoto Protocol was and is crucial, and the fact that 156 countries have signed up to it is an enormous achievement.”

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