Blair asked to help Bush see the light

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Tony Blair is being enlisted by a leading US lobby group in an attempt to bring the Bush administration closer to the rest of the world's position on climate change.

Tony Blair is being enlisted by a leading US lobby group in an attempt to bring the Bush administration closer to the rest of the world's position on climate change.

Members of the National Commission on Energy Policy met senior British civil servants last week to ask the UK Government to tackle America over its controversial policy on the environment. They talked to Ivan Rogers, the Prime Minister's private secretary, and Sir Michael Jay, Permanent Secretary at the Foreign Office.

The group, which includes business leaders, academics and politicians, sees Mr Blair's leadership of the G8 group of industrialised nations this year, and his presidency from July of the EU, as a crucial opportunity to persuade George Bush to adopt a new policy on energy and the environment. It is hoped this would be an acceptable alternative to the Kyoto Protocol, which the US has refused to sign despite it coming into force last Wednesday.

Jason Grumet, executive director of the group, said he had been "extremely impressed by the depth and breadth of involvement by Downing Street and the sincerity they have in trying to find common ground".

The meetings may have been well timed. President Bush starts a tour of Europe tomorrow and is expected to use his time in London on Tuesday to make a statement about the environment. He said at a press call in the US last week: "We care about the climate. There's an opportunity now to work together to talk about new technologies that will help us achieve a common objective - which is a better environment for generations to come."

The apparent shift in position by Mr Bush comes after months of stalemate on Capitol Hill over energy policy, due to the conflict of interests between America's powerful oil lobby, the wider business community and politicians championing environmental concerns.

While Mr Bush is closely associated with oil interests due to his Texan roots, there is mounting pressure on the administration to take the initiative on the environment. Senator John McCain has tried to pass his own, Kyoto-friendly bill, which is expected to come back to Congress soon, and individual states have started to pass laws to clamp down on carbon emissions by businesses.

"There is a policy vacuum at a federal level," said Mr Grumet.

The commission's members include John Rowe, chief executive of the utility giant Exelon, Archie Dunham, ex-chairman of oil group ConocoPhillips, and members of both the Bush and Clinton administrations. In December, it published its own report on the environment, which it hopes will be the blueprint for the US alternative to Kyoto.

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