British ministers predicted yesterday that George Bush would eventually bow to international pressure and back a global deal on greenhouse gases. The US President infuriated many last year by pulling out of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol of industrialised nations to cut carbon dioxide emissions. Mr Bush said it would place too heavy a cost on the American economy.
But as delegates to the Earth Summit in Johannesburg focused on climate change in their third day of talks, the British Government signalled its optimism that the White House would come on board.
It does not believe American agreement can be secured at the summit, but that it will be made inevitable by the weight of world opinion. A cabinet source said the Government continued to press in private for a change of heart by the Bush administration. But, in an effort to create an "atmosphere as positive as possible", it would refrain from public criticism.
"America will be forced to take more substantial steps than she is ready to do at present, simply by the pressure of American business itself, much of which is already recognising some of the issues and is often ahead of the US government, and by the impact of climate change on America, which will hit America just as much as everybody," the source said.
Michael Meacher, the Environment minister, said the Government would lobby American representatives at the summit. "There's no way the Americans [here] are going to change their view," he said. "The Americans aren't rapidly going to come on board. In the end they probably will, but it will take time."
The backing of the United States, which produces 25 per cent of the world's greenhouse gases, would be a much-needed boost to the credibility of the Kyoto agreement. Tony Blair has described Kyoto as "the best framework for dealing with climate change" and pledged to press Mr Bush for a change of heart.
The 1997 Kyoto Protocol called for nations to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 5.2 per cent below 1990 levels by 2012. Supporters include European Union countries, Japan and New Zealand, while Canada and Australia oppose. Russia has stalled ratification. Industrialised countries accounting for at least 55 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions must ratify the protocol to bring it into force. So far, 37.1 per cent is accounted for and Russian agreement would make up almost all the shortfall.
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