Gore Nobel prize puts environment back on Democrats' agenda

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Al Gore may has shown no sign that he intends to run for President, but his Nobel prize should ensure that the issue of climate change is taken more seriously in the race for the White House.

The Nobel committee has at least boosted Al Gore’s leverage with his party's presidential candidates and, should a Democrat win, the White House. His Global Warming agenda should command more attention in the 13 months remaining in the campaign.

By refusing to rule out a run for the presidency he can turn the endless media speculation about his intentions to help change the Democratic party’s insipid environmental policy.

Democratic candidates have tended to waffle about climate change while talking up energy independence. They see the former as a way to reach young people and the latter as a way to sound tough. Some Republicans don’t even concede man’s impact on global warming, focusing instead on terrorism and immigration.

Among Democrats, only John Edwards has made climate change a core issue in his campaign for president and he running a distant third in the polls behind Hillary Clinton and Barrack Obama. The environment is so far the orphan child of this election, which has recently been dominated by, concerns the international security and the prospect of conflict with Iran.

When candidates of either party talk about the environment, the focus is on energy security and making the country less reliant on Middle East oil. Candidates rarely talk about reducing the country’s vast appetite for fossil fuels for fear of being attacked as anti-business. In recent weeks public pressure has seen both Mrs Clinton and Mr Obama discretely sign up for carbon ‘cap-and-trade’ systems for industry.

The Democratic candidates are far more comfortable talking up renewable energy and hybrid cars and most give their support to controversial ethanol and "clean coal" projects.

Climate and energy are even less of an issue for Republican voters who tend to be far more animated by terrorism and illegal immigration. All the Republican candidates acknowledge, grudgingly, that climate change exists, but like President Bush, hedge on whether human activity causes it.

Only the maverick John McCain - running third for the Republican nomination - has put climate change at the heart of his campaign. He introduced one of the first bills in the Senate to address the issue in 2003. He believes in a cap-and-trade system aimed at lowering greenhouse-gas emissions 65 percent by 2050 while heavily subsidising nuclear power at the same time.

He has also spoken out against the help the government gives to Big Oil and while he used to oppose ethanol subsidies he now supports them to avoid alienating the farmers of Iowa where the first caucuses in the election will be held on 3 January. The other Republican candidates carefully avoid saying whether they believe in man made climate change.

Rudy Giuliani, the leading Republican and ex mayor of New York, says he ‘believes there’s global warming’ but his campaign is focused on foreign policy and national-security.

His law firm, Bracewell & Giuliani represents some of America’s biggest offenders against the environment. With a reputation as one of the most powerful law firms in the energy sector it has defended the likes of ChevronTexaco, Pacific Gas & Electric and Dynegy against charges of illegal pollution.

The other candidates talk bold about energy independence, by which they mean pumping subsidies into the production of corn for ethanol – even though it would increase CO2 emissions because of the huge amount of energy and fertiliser needed to grow and distil the crop.

Hillary Clinton puts energy independence before global warming on her website.

‘America is ready for energy independence. Hillary is ready to lead the charge,’ it advises voters. In concrete terms Mrs Clinton proposes a $50bn Strategic Energy Fund for ‘renewable energy, energy efficiency, clean coal technology, ethanol and other homegrown biofuels, and more.’