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forwarded by East-West Wire


HONOLULU (Jan. 29)- U.S. President George W. Bush’s State of the Union Address last week marked the first time the current administration has publicly acknowledged the importance and threat of global climate change, according to East-West Center adjunct senior fellow and President of Global Environment and Energy in the 21st Century, Toufiq Siddiqi.

Siddiqi says the U.S. president signaled the change when he said in his speech, “America is on the verge of technological breakthroughs that will enable us to live less dependent on oil. And these technologies will help us be better stewards of the environment, and they will help us confront the serious challenge of global climate change.”

Siddiqi points out that it’s not only the executive branch of the U.S. government that is recognizing the reality of change in the global climate. He notes that within the first two weeks of the new Congress convening, at least eight bills proposing mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions were introduced in the Senate. Former Senator and Vice-President Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth dealing with global climate change has been a box office hit, and many in the Congress have shared these views for years. Numerous U.S. states have already established their own specific targets for reducing greenhouse gases and increasing the share of renewable energy.
Energy independence is not a new goal in Washington. Siddiqi recalls that President Richard Nixon announced a “Project Independence” in 1973, President Jimmy Carter called the energy crisis during his term in office “the moral equivalent of war,” and subsequent presidents frequently stated the need to reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil. However, the costs of finding alternative fuels were always more expensive than Washington was willing to pay.

But what is new, according to Siddiqi, is an official admission in Washington that energy use has to be reduced not only for economic reasons, but also to address global climate change.

The vast majority of scientists agree that greenhouse gases, predominately carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels, are the major cause of global climate change. Many point a finger at the U.S. as the largest contributor to that problem. Siddiqi said “the United States has been the largest emitter of CO2 for the last hundred years or so ... (and) its unwillingness to limit such emissions has been a major obstacle to implementing a worldwide agreement to address global climate change.” He notes that although the U.S. signed the Tokyo Protocol, a modest step toward curtailing greenhouse gas emissions by industrialized countries, it never ratified the treaty. That inaction allowed many other industrialized countries to ignore implementing the Protocol as “there was no point in their imposing economic hardships on their population, if the largest emitter in the world was not doing anything to curb its emissions.”

That rapidly growing economies such as China and India were not obligated to take similar steps toward emissions curbs under the Tokyo Protocol as those required for the major industrialized countries, only served to allow the U.S. and others to ignore the agreement and to keep burning larger amounts of gas emitting fuels. Projections, at first glance, may be used to support the U.S. stance.

Siddiqi said, “China’s emissions of CO2 are likely to overtake those of the United States sometime during the next decade. India’s emissions are likely to overtake Japan’s during that same period.” From that viewpoint, he admitted, “the case is strong that at least the large developing countries such as China and India should also start curbing their emissions.” This is something that neither Beijing nor New Delhi is ready to do as both countries race to increase the standard of living of their people.
But, Siddiqi said there is another way to view the problem. “If we take into consideration the fact that China’s population is about four times that of the United States, then the situation looks very different.” He points out that based on CO2 emissions per capita during 2005, “Each American puts roughly six times as much CO2 in the atmosphere as a Chinese, and 20 times as much as an Indian.”
Siddiqi said that “clearly the industrialized countries have most of the responsibility for past emissions of CO2 that are still in the atmosphere ... (and) all countries, developed and developing, have a responsibility to limit future emissions.” And in that shared responsibility, Siddiqi sees a viable basis for negotiation. “While the industrialized countries would still be expected to reduce their emissions from earlier or current levels, rapidly industrializing countries such as China and India may be willing to accept per capita emissions targets which lie somewhere between their current levels and those of the United States.”

And, clearly Siddiqi sees those few lines in Bush’s State of the Union Address as a major step forward. “The acceptance by the Bush administration and the U.S. Senate of the reality and potentially serious consequences of global climate change is likely to alter the framework of future negotiations to limit greenhouse gas emissions.”

Dr. Toufiq Siddiqi has more than 30 years experience of research in the fields of energy and environment, particularly global climate change. He was formerly Regional Adviser on Energy in the Environment and Natural Resources Management Division, UNESCAP, in Bangkok; and a former senior fellow in the Program on Environment at the East-West Center, where he remains an adjunct senior fellow. He also was on the faculty of Indiana University for 10 years. He can be reached at: (808) 944-7456 or by e-mail at siddiqit@EastWestCenter.org.



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