“Groundhog Day” at the G8

An agreement on global warming will top the G8 summit agenda in Japan, but President Bush is likely to stonewall any reductions...again.

G8 foreign ministers gathered in Japan last week in advance of the upcoming summit. Curbing global warming is set to be a prominent issue on the agenda. (AP/Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan)
G8 foreign ministers gathered in Japan last week in advance of the upcoming summit. Curbing global warming is set to be a prominent issue on the agenda. (AP/Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan)

President Bush will attend the last G8 summit of his presidency next week, concurrently with the Major Economies Meeting that includes eight other major emitters. An international agreement on global warming is once again at the top of the agenda for these meetings. But once again, the Bush administration plans to scuttle any concrete steps toward adopting binding greenhouse gas reductions.

Thomas Schieffer, the U.S. ambassador to Japan, where the G8 summit will occur this year, has already made it clear that the Bush administration will block any agreements on global warming. Once again, the United States will let its political allies—and economic competitors—reap the economic benefits of their programs to reduce global warming while it squanders the opportunity to begin the essential conversion from high-carbon to low-carbon energy sources and economy.

President Bush took office in 2001 having promised during the campaign to reduce carbon dioxide pollution. Within six weeks of taking the oath of office, he broke his pledge. He attended his first G8 summit in Genoa, Italy, determined to reject the Kyoto Protocol and block any global warming agreement. Bush rejected the evidence that global warming was real and caused by human activity. At every subsequent G8 meeting, he has refused to agree to any binding measures on greenhouse gas reductions. When the United States hosted the G8 summit in 2004, global warming was absent from the agenda altogether.

Despite his obstinacy, several G8 heads of state attempted to persuade President Bush to join the community of nations opposing this worldwide threat. At the 2005 summit in Glasgow, then British Prime Minister Tony Blair made global warming pollution reductions a key focus. He finally persuaded President Bush to acknowledge that, “the surface of the Earth is warmer and that an increase in greenhouse gases caused by humans is contributing to the problem.” Yet Bush declared, “I walked away from Kyoto because it would have damaged the American economy, it would have destroyed the American economy, it was a lousy deal for the American economy.” He blocked an agreement despite the pleadings of the United States’ leading ally in the Iraq war.

Last year, the G8 met in Heiligendamm, Germany, and global warming was at the top of the agenda. German Chancellor Angela Merkel hoped to make global warming her signature issue, yet Bush would only agree to “seriously consider” a proposal to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

As the Bush administration stalled U.S. efforts to reduce greenhouse gases, other major industrialized countries turned the threat posed by global warming into an economic opportunity. Their policies to reduce carbon dioxide pollution by 20 percent by 2020 fostered the development and commercialization of low- and zero-carbon technologies and economic gains. Many nations launched booming renewable energy industries with tax credits. Production and investment tax credits have also been instrumental to the recent growth of renewable energy industries in the United States, but these tax credits are set to expire at the end of the year and President Bush opposed their extension on numerous occasions.

Germany dominates the global market share in both the wind and photovoltaic solar industries. It adopted policies including the feed-in tariff and the Renewable Energy Sources Act to boost investments in clean energy technologies and create jobs. While estimates suggest that wind may account for 1 percent of U.S. electricity generation in 2008, wind already provides 7 percent of Germany’s total electricity consumption. The < >United Kingdom created a Renewable Obligation Certificate that increased its total installed capacity of photovoltaic solar energy by 21 percent in 2007.

China’s unwillingness to adopt binding greenhouse gas reductions is often cited as a reason for U.S. inaction. Yet the Chinese government has recognized the potential economic gains from clean energy innovation. China claims to have undertaken significant investments in clean renewable energy, and China has surged ahead of the United States on photovoltaics production with 22 percent of the market share to become third in the world after Germany and Japan. China’s reported progress in the wind energy industry has been impressive as well.

For our G8 allies, the annual summits are like a bad version of the film “Groundhog Day.” Every year President Bush arrives in a different nation to say “Nyet. No. Nein. Lie.” to any binding reductions in global warming pollution. Meanwhile, the U.S. economy stagnates while many of our G8 allies and China harvest the economic benefits of low-carbon renewable energy. But unlike "Groundhog Day," this story won’t have a happy ending until there is a new star in 2009.

To learn more about CAP’s policies on curbing global warming pollution, please see the Energy and Environment page of our website.

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Daniel J. Weiss

Senior Fellow