- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 24, 2007

It was overlooked by Beltway pundits and ignored in the Democratic rebuttal, but President Bush’s brief State of the Union comments on “the serious challenge of global climate change” sparked sharp interest, comment and criticism around the globe.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, United Nations global-warming chief Yvo de Boer and senior business leaders at the posh annual gathering in Davos, Switzerland, all seized on Mr. Bush’s Tuesday night remarks on energy, oil and the environment as a sign that the United States has a new appreciation for the problem.

“I do believe that this whole debate is now moving in a completely different and more positive direction,” Mr. Blair told the House of Commons yesterday. Mr. Blair has pushed a reluctant Washington to move the issues of climate change, global warming and greenhouse gases to the center of its foreign-policy agenda.

Mr. de Boer, speaking to reporters on a trip to Tokyo, called the energy-conservation measures outlined by Mr. Bush in his address “very encouraging,” saying it was significant that the president linked his policies for the first time to the climate-change issue.

Mr. Bush “has put the actions he intends to take in the context of confronting the serious — and he used the word ‘serious’ — global challenge of climate changes,” Mr. de Boer said.

Advance word Tuesday of the president’s plan to double the size of the U.S. strategic petroleum reserve — to be tapped in times of crisis — sparked the sharpest one-day increase in world oil prices since mid-2005, up nearly 5 percent to $55.

Mr. Bush devoted the largest single portion of his address to the war in Iraq.

There is virtually no expectation the U.S. government will reverse course and embrace the binding caps on greenhouse-gas emissions contained in the Kyoto Protocol. One of Mr. Bush’s first actions as president in 2001 was to pull out of the Kyoto pact, citing its harmful impact on the economy and the lack of caps for developing countries such as China.

But on the day when former Vice President Al Gore, Mr. Bush’s opponent in the 2000 presidential race, picked up two Oscar nominations for his documentary on global warming, Mr. Bush announced steps to cut U.S. energy use, slow the production of greenhouse gases and reduce U.S. dependence of foreign oil suppliers.

James Cameron is chief executive of London-based Climate Change Capital, an investment bank that invests in environmental projects and technologies. He told the World Economic Forum in Davos that Mr. Bush’s remarks could be a major turning point in the debate on global warming.

“If the U.S. is moving in that direction, it’s a tremendous realignment with the rest of the world and should make it easier to get international agreement on climate change following the end of the Kyoto Protocol,” he said, according to the Associated Press.

Mr. de Boer, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, also said that U.S. participation is critical if a new global-warming pact is to succeed.

“I think it makes no sense whatsoever trying to address the question of climate change without the active participation from the United States,” he said. “The United States accounts for about 25 percent of global emissions.”

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will release a new study early next month that reportedly includes its gloomiest forecast to date. The U.N. study asserts that greenhouse gases are at their highest levels in 650,000 years, with soaring risks over the next century of droughts, floods and other climate-related disasters.

Foreign environmental groups criticized Mr. Bush’s proposals as inadequate, even as they credited him with raising the issue of climate change at all.

“He is diluting the issue by talking in terms of cutting the United States’ oil dependency, rather than in terms of the serious environmental consequences,” said K. Srinivas, a global-warming activist for Greenpeace India, at the Davos gathering.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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