President George W. Bush's call to break a U.S. addiction to oil is a step to curb global warming but does not herald conversion to a U.N.-led plan to slow climate change, experts said on Wednesday.
OSLO President George W. Bush's call to break a U.S. addiction to oil is a step to curb global warming but does not herald conversion to a U.N.-led plan to slow climate change, experts said on Wednesday.
Bush said in his State of the Union address that he would seek to break dependence on Middle East oil via new technologies and jack up funding on energy sources including coal and nuclear power as well as wind and solar power, hydrogen and ethanol.
"This is fairly positive ... the very mention of solar, wind and other clean energies is a huge step," said Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany which accuses Bush of doing too little to stop global warming.
Bush argued that the United States would improve its national security by cutting what he called an addiction to oil, often imported from unstable parts of the world. He also said that the plan would "improve the environment".
But environmental researchers said Bush did not address threats of global warming linked to burning oil, coal or natural gas. Many U.S. allies view climate change as the top environmental problem for coming decades.
"Whatever his arguments he is making the right investments for the climate," Schellnhuber said. "Maybe by the end of Bush's term (in 2009) we will have some steps in the right direction on climate policy without the administration admitting that they have grasped the problem."
Bush pulled out in 2001 of the U.N.'s Kyoto Protocol, which seeks to cut rich nations' emissions of heat-trapping gases from burning fossil fuels. The United States is the world's top source of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas.
Bush said Kyoto would harm the U.S. economy and that it wrongly excluded poor nations from first targets to 2012.
NO KYOTO CONVERSION
"This is not a conversion" to Kyoto-style thinking, said Paal Prestrud, head of the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo. He said Bush did not talk about cutting energy use.
U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases were running about 13 percent above 1990 levels in 2003 -- worse than most Kyoto participants even though countries including Spain, Portugal, Canada and Greece are even further above target.
Bush said the United States would step up clean energy research by 22 percent after spending almost $10 billion since 2001 on energies including nuclear power, cleaner coal and renewable energies.
Some experts said Bush's stress on technology was not enough and urged him to set binding caps on emissions, like under Kyoto, and a market for trading emissions quotas.
Bush's steps are welcome but "pale in comparison with what is needed to avoid dangerous climate change", said Richard Tarasofsky, head of the Energy, Environment and Development Programme at Britain's Chatham House think-tank. "Clear and binding emission reductions targets are necessary."
Many scientists say a build-up of carbon dioxide and other gases from burning fossil fuels will drive up temperatures and trigger catastrophic droughts, floods and heat waves in coming decades.
Even environmental group Greenpeace said Bush's plan -- if ever implemented -- could help the climate.
"The first step in curing an addiction is recognising that you have a problem," said Steve Sawyer, climate policy expert at Greenpeace. "He's stood up and taken the first step in the 'oil-aholics' programme."
(Additional reporting by Jeremy Lovell in London and Edward Stoddard in Johannesburg)