DiCaprio joins tide turning against Bush over Kyoto

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The Independent US

From film stars to senators, from Seattle to the East Coast, campaigners say American public opinion on climate change is turning sharply against the Bush administration and its refusal to impose binding targets to reduce greenhouse gases.

And, as delegates at the United Nations conference in Montreal negotiate the future of the Kyoto protocol this week, campaigners have received a timely boost from the actor Leonardo DiCaprio who has announced he is to make a documentary about environmental issues.

Mr DiCaprio, a keen environmentalist who drives a hybrid car, has started production of the documentary, called 11th Hour, about efforts to stop global warming. The actor is not present in Montreal, but in a statement he said: "Global warming is not only the number one environmental challenge we face today, but one of the most important issues facing all of humanity."

While President George Bush's chief climate negotiator, Harlan Watson, has told international delegates that the US will not sign up to any agreement that binds them after the first phase of the Kyoto protocol ends, a growing number of American politicians are already acting to deal with climate change.

Environmentalists believe this groundswell is further reason that Britain and the European Union should stop lobbying Mr Bush to shift his position and instead concentrate their efforts on countries prepared to act now.

Greg Nickels is one politician already acting. Earlier this year he challenged other mayors across the US to join him in supporting Kyoto and trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 7 per cent from 1990 levels. He said yesterday that 191 have now signed up, representing 40 million Americans in 25 of the country's 50 biggest cities: "The issue of climate disruption has become clear to Americans."

He said evidence of global warming was obvious in Seattle where snow-fall, on which the city depends for drinking water and for hydro-generated power, has drastically reduced over the last 50 years. He believes ultimately the federal government will act - "whether it's this administration or the next".

Mr Nickels, who has been supported by Democratic and Republican mayors, has ordered his administration to take immediate steps to reduce greenhouse emissions, such as transforming the city's vehicle fleet to hybrids. He has also formed a committee of advisers to draw up a more detailed set of proposals. He has taken measures that mean visitors to Seattle also have less environmental impact; he ordered cruise ships docking at the city's harbour to use electricity rather than their diesel engines when they are tied up.

Also on the West Coast, California, under Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, has unveiled plans to reduce emissions. These include forcing industries to report CO2 emissions and investment in renewable energy. "We can't control what the national government is doing but we can control what California is doing," said Alan Lloyd, the state's environmental protection secretary.

Meanwhile, on the East Coast, an initiative is underway involving eight states that have decided to cap and trade emissions. Representatives from this Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, as well as from California, and Mr Nickels himself are at the conference in Montreal.

The UK's Environment Secretary, Margaret Beckett, also arrived yesterday. Britain is looking for legally binding commitments to reduce emissions after 2012. However, Britain has been criticised for trying to include the US in talks on future emissions targets since the administration has said it is not interested in binding commitments.

Writing yesterday in The Globe and Mail newspaper, Mrs Beckett sent a clear message to Mr Bush that Britain disagreed with his approach. She wrote: "The public debate has opened up wide differences between those who argue we should go forward with compulsory targets to cut emissions and those who argue new technology is the way ahead. I believe this is a false choice: The one is no use without the other."

Also present was US Senator Jeff Bingaman who tabled a measure this summer, passed by the Senate, supporting mandatory controls on emissions. In a letter co-signed by more than 20 other senators, he has asked Mr Bush to tackle "one of the most pressing issues facing humankind".