Tony Blair Pulls the Plug on Kyoto at Clinton Summit

First Published: 2005-09-24

Reprinted with the kind permission of Tech Central Station.

NEW YORK – Kyoto Treaty RIP. That's not the headline in any newspaper this morning emerging from the first day of the Clinton Global Initiative, but it could have been — and should have been.

Onstage with former president Bill Clinton at a midtown Manhattan hotel ballroom, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said he was going to speak with "brutal honesty" about Kyoto and global warming, and he did. And Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had some blunt talk, too.

Blair, a longtime supporter of the Kyoto treaty, further prefaced his remarks by noting, "My thinking has changed in the past three or four years." So what does he think now? "No country," he declared, "is going to cut its growth." That is, no country is going to allow the Kyoto treaty, or any other such global-warming treaty, to crimp — some say cripple — its economy.

Looking ahead to future climate-change negotiations, Blair said of such fast-growing countries as India and China, "They're not going to start negotiating another treaty like Kyoto." India and China, of course, weren't covered by Kyoto in the first place, which was one of the fatal flaws in the treaty. But now Blair is acknowledging the obvious: that after the current Kyoto treaty — which the US never acceded to — expires in 2012, there's not going to be another worldwide deal like it.

So what will happen instead? Blair answered: "What countries will do is work together to develop the science and technology….There is no way that we are going to tackle this problem unless we develop the science and technology to do it." Bingo! That's what eco-realists have been saying all along, of course — that the only feasible way to deal with the issue of greenhouse gases and global warming is through technological breakthroughs, not draconian cutbacks.

Blair concluded with a rhetorical question-and-answer: "How do we move forward, post-Kyoto? It can only be done by the major players coming together and pooling their resources, to find their way to come together."

Interestingly, these words from Blair, addressing an audience of a thousand at the Sheraton just a few blocks north of Times Square, failed to get any pickup in the media. Even The New York Times, published just down the street, ran a story that dwelt on the star power in the room, including King Abdullah of Jordan, Jesse Jackson, and George Stephanopoulos. "Isn't this awesome?" said one participant, and those words seemed to reflect fully the Times' take on the event.

For its part The Washington Post offered this bland headline: "Clinton Gathers World Leaders Nonpartisan Conference Focuses on Global Improvement," making no mention of Blair's global warming remarks. As for TV coverage, there wasn't much of that either; on CNN Headline News, Christi Paul said, admiringly, "former President Clinton is still looking to get things done," noting that Clinton garnered "more than $200 million in pledges" to address world problems.

Ironically, some of those pledges concerned global warming. The 42nd President kicked off his wonky-glitzy extravaganza by announcing that the event would be "climate neutral." That is, the CGI — or, more precisely, a couple of fatcats who ponied up money to get some onstage face time with Clinton — would "offset" the CO2 produced by this event by "investing in renewable energy projects in Native American lands and in rural Nigerian villages." But such eco-pious symbolism aside, the real news of the conference so far has come from Blair.

The Prime Minister, has long been pushing, of course, for a binding international treaty on climate change. It's one part of the Eurolefty agenda he has traditionally kept faith with. In a policy-setting speech in September 2004, for example, he laid out an ambitious agenda, declaring that "Kyoto is only the first step but provides a solid foundation for the next stage of climate diplomacy."

Indeed, the widely held view was that Blair would "cash in" his geopolitical chits — that is, those he gained with George W. Bush over his support for the Iraq war, in order to get the Texan to sign on to some form of Kyoto. But even before the Gleneagles G-8 summit in July, it seemed pretty clear that Bush was not going to go along with Blair's deal; in fact, Bush rebuffed Blair. Nonetheless, as recently as a September 4 op-ed in The Financial Times, Blair still sounded optimistic, declaring, "We made substantial progress on climate change at Gleneagles." But now Blair has buried Kyoto a little bit deeper. One of these days, the press will notice.

And there was some potentially significant news from Condi Rice, who was also onstage all this time, sitting with Clinton and Blair in an Oprah-like format. Speaking of world energy policy for the future, Rice said, "Nuclear power is going to have to be part of the mix." Imagine that — nuclear power! That's been the Bush administration view all along, of course, but the W. folks haven't gotten very far in resuscitating the industry. Yet if Blair is starting to show realism on Kyoto, he and other leaders around the world will see that nukes have to be part of the energy solution.

Indeed, Rice added, "France generates something like 80 percent of its electricity from nuclear power." That's probably the first time in ages that a Bush administration official has had anything positive to say about France. Rice acknowledged "proliferation risks" from nuclear power, but made it a clear that something had to be done. "In the fast-developing world," she concluded, "we have to find a way to leverage all power [sources]."

For his part, Clinton was his usual self, declaring to Rice, "In general, I agree with you about that" — without ever saying what he was agreeing with. And the 42nd President gave no reaction to Blair's provocative Kyoto revisionism.

In fact, nobody seems to have reacted to what Blair said. But that's OK. TCS readers have this significant scoop. And as for the rest of the world, it will soon understand that Blair has effectively pulled the plug on Kyoto.

Published September 16, 2005.

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