Bali climate deal paves way for hotter U.S. debate
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A breakthrough deal forged by delegates from 190 countries has revived world efforts to fight global warming and may help push the debate to the front and center of the U.S. political debate.
The United States joined the deal reached on the Indonesian island of Bali in a dramatic U-turn. But significantly, the accord sets late 2009 as the target for a climate treaty, months after U.S. President George W. Bush leaves office.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat who heads the Senate's environment committee, noted the Bush administration's lonely position after the Bali deal was reached on Saturday.
"In Bali, the president tried to treat the world the way he treats Congress -- 'my way or the highway,"' Boxer said in a statement. "The difference is that in Congress he has supporters but in Bali he had no supporters."
The debate is largely over for the American public, according to Karlyn Bowman, a polling expert at the American Enterprise Institute. Americans view climate change as the world's top environmental problem, although few followed the Bali debate.
Americans are relying on policymakers, including the next president, to tackle climate change, Bowman said.
"I don't think the public has a clue about what to do next," she said.
U.S. policymakers predict there will be no law on climate change under a reluctant Bush but presidential hopefuls -- including those from his own Republican Party -- already are laying the groundwork for his exit in January 2009.
They have been bolstered in no small part by independent actions taken in Congress and states across the country.
While the Bali talks were raging, contenders for the U.S. Republican nomination were asked their positions on the world's changing climate at a debate last week in Iowa, which will have the first state contest leading up to the November 2008 election.
The United States was alone among major industrialized nations to reject the Kyoto Protocol agreement to curb global warming emissions. The Bali "road map" aims to find a successor that brings in fast-growing countries like China and India.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino called parts of the Bali deal "quite positive" but said negotiators must emphasize the role of developing countries that are big polluters.
The Bush administration has opposed specific targets to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide -- spewed by coal-fired power plants and petroleum-fueled vehicles -- arguing that this would hurt the U.S. economy.
The Bush team has been increasingly isolated on the climate issue, even in the United States, where some of the country's largest businesses, including the Big Three automakers and regional electric companies, have been pushing for a system to cap and trade credits for greenhouse emissions.
CANDIDATES AND CONGRESS
Meanwhile, the presidential hopefuls have chimed in with Democratic frontrunners Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama joining Republican frontrunners Rudy Giuliani, Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney in insisting it was an issue to be faced.
"Climate change is real," said both Giuliani and Republican Arizona Sen. John McCain, another Republican hopeful.
The administration also has come under pressure from other parts of the government and country:
-- The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee passed a Republican-sponsored bill that aims to curb climate change, and sent it to the full Senate for debate next year;
-- The Senate passed an energy bill that cuts U.S. oil use, curbs emissions of climate-warming carbon dioxide and boosts fuel efficiency, and Bush indicated he would sign it;
-- A federal court upheld a California law that requires curbs in greenhouse gas emissions by cars and trucks that are tougher than U.S. standards, rejecting an argument by vehicle makers that federal law should apply;
-- A panel of U.S. state governors called for more alternative fuels and clean vehicles, and urged other governors to act "to solve America's energy challenges."
(Editing by Howard Goller and Doina Chiacu)