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Wednesday, 7 March, 2001, 17:43 GMT
Bush 'serious on climate change'
Bush looks at snowstorm AP
It's cold outside, but President Bush believes the world is warming
By environment correspondent Alex Kirby

A prominent US expert on climate change says President Bush and his cabinet are convinced it is a serious problem.

The new administration, barely a month in office, is already planning curbs on domestic carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

This is the first time any US Government has proposed CO2 reductions.

But the prospects for the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol seem increasingly uncertain.

The expert is Eileen Claussen, former assistant secretary of state, whose career included stints at the Environmental Protection Agency as well as the State Department, where she was responsible for developing US policy on climate change.

Ms Claussen, who is now president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, was speaking to BBC News Online on a visit to London.

Important step

She said: "George W Bush said during the election campaign that he'd favour regulating the emissions by certain utilities of a number of pollutants, including sulphur, nitrogen and mercury.

Smoking chimneys BBC
US utilities now face carbon curbs
"Now the new head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Christie Todd Whitman, has said that climate change is a serious issue which concerns the President, and that they will regulate the utilities' CO2 emissions.

"There aren't any details yet on things like the stringency of the controls, but this is the first time that an administration has proposed regulating CO2.

"So it is an important step. The chances of real action are much greater now than they were four years ago.

"There's an enormous amount of activity on an issue you would not have expected either from the campaign, or from Bush's own background," Ms Claussen said.

"There's no question that Christie Todd Whitman and Paul O'Neill, the treasury secretary, believe climate change is a problem and that we have to act.

Low expectations

"Colin Powell, the secretary of state, and the national security adviser Condoleeza Rice both understand the international dynamics, and want to avoid any problems with the Europeans."

Talks on ratifying the international climate agreement, the Kyoto Protocol, broke down in The Hague last November after US and European Union negotiators were unable to bridge the deep divide that separated them.

Hague talks platform AP
Things fell apart in The Hague
The talks are due to resume in the German city of Bonn in July, but Ms Claussen holds out little hope they will achieve success.

"During the election campaign Bush said he didn't support the protocol," she explained. "And he's been very careful so far not to go back on anything he said during the campaign.

"The administration is in the midst of a policy review, which includes Kyoto, so it would be premature to say what its policy will be. It may decide simply that it dislikes some parts of the protocol.

Knock to morale

"I think the odds on Bonn reaching an agreement to ratify the protocol are small. The administration will go there intending to start a process, not to end one.

"It would be a mistake to have high expectations of Bonn. People I've talked to in London think it's going to be extremely difficult to get agreement there.

"But if it fails, I am not sure the Kyoto process could take another setback like The Hague.

"You have to have some kind of global process. But what really counts is what governments do at home.

"We don't have the luxury of waiting 20 years for an agreement. We have to start moving now on emissions cuts and technologies, and now means now.

"And the Bush team is talking about real reductions. My goodness! Isn't that refreshing?"

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See also:

05 Mar 01 | Sci/Tech
Global warming 'can be beaten'
04 Mar 01 | Sci/Tech
G8 progress on climate change
24 Feb 01 | Sci/Tech
'Odds against' a climate deal
22 Jan 01 | Sci/Tech
Climate change outstrips forecasts
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