From: James Grubel, Reuters
Published January 24, 2007 12:00 AM

Bush Climate Speech Fails to Impress Down Under

CANBERRA -- President George W. Bush's annual address to Congress failed to recognise the seriousness of climate change and his comments were driven by U.S. fears about oil supplies, the Australian Greens party said on Wednesday.


Bush, in his State of the Union speech, called on Americans to cut their gasoline use by 20 percent over a decade, mostly through a nearly five-fold increase in use of home-grown fuels such as ethanol by 2017.


He also called for tighter vehicle fuel efficiency standards.


"President Bush barely mentioned climate change in his speech. The few measures he did announce were about improving fuel use efficiency and developing alternative fuels, driven by fear about U.S. energy security," Greens Senator Christine Milne said in a statement.


About 60 percent of U.S. petroleum supplies are imported.


"There was no mention, however, of emissions trading, carbon taxes or promoting public transport, all of which are obvious policy requirements," she said.


Her comments matched concerns in India, where some scientists say climate change will have a major impact.


"I think his speech is just a load of rhetoric. 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, campaigner for climate change and energy for Greenpeace India.


Sunita Narain, director for the Centre for Science and Environment, a New Delhi-based think-tank, agreed.


"The speech was very disappointing. When the whole world is talking about the importance of climate change and the critical impact it will have, I would have expected more from him," Narain said.


Australian Conservation Foundation executive director Don Henry said Bush's anti-climate change plan did not go far enough.


"The president's proposed actions to tackle climate change are extremely weak and disappointing despite him acknowledging that climate change is a serious challenge," Henry said.


Australia, along with the United States, has refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol and its targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions, widely blamed for global warming.


"VERY ENCOURAGING"


The head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat, Yvo de Boer, said Bush's statement on climate change was "very encouraging".


"He did not talk in his State of the Union address about international cooperation on climate change. But at the same time, he did put his remarks in the context of the need for global response," de Boer told reporters in Tokyo.


Bush, in a speech dominated by his plan to win the war in Iraq, steered clear of calling for mandatory caps on U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide.


This is despite a concerted push by big U.S. companies such as General Electric to cut heat-trapping emissions.


The head of a Singapore-based biofuels producer was cautious about Bush's call to ramp up ethanol production from corn and other sources, such as wood chips and grasses.


"It will not take effect, this is just a policy. These are just statements to calm a very angry public over the Iraqi war. I can't tell you much, because the devil is in the detail," said Georges Mercadal, director at CMS Resources.


The speech also failed to impress grain markets.


Chicago Board of Trade grain futures turned lower on Wednesday, with corn leading the way. (Additional reporting by Nita Bhalla in New Delhi, Teruaki Ueno in Tokyo, Jonathan Nonis in Singapore and Kang Shinhye in Seoul)


Source: Reuters


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