Geoffrey Lean: No thanks, more a slap in the face

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The Independent Online

The United States has got together with Australia - the only other developed country, apart from Monaco and Liechtenstein, to have refused to ratify the Kyoto protocol - to put forward their own solution to global warming: an "Asia-Pacific partnership for clean development and climate" with China, India, Japan and South Korea.

Australia calls the initiative - which brings together countries accounting for half of the entire world's carbon dioxide emissions - "bigger, more practical, and more likely to get results" than Kyoto.

But, unlike the treaty, it contains no targets for cutting the pollution, resting instead on vague undertakings to use cleaner technologies.

Humiliatingly for Mr Blair, the President told him nothing about the plan even though the Prime Minister has made global warming a centrepiece of his presidency of the G8 this year.

Worse, the partnership is to hold its first meeting in November, neatly upstaging what at the time looked like the Gleneagles summit's main achievement: the opening of pioneering talks on tackling climate change between the G8 countries and key developing ones that same month.

And, worse still, it could be used to sabotage vital negotiations in November for greater reductions in the pollution after 2012, when the Kyoto protocol expires.

It looks like spite, and it probably is. George Bush was furious with Tony Blair for putting him on the spot at the Gleneagles summit by focusing on global warming and publicly pressing him to make concessions. Rather than respecting the Prime Minister's leadership, he seems to be trying to put him in his place.

Yet Mr Blair, if he responds cannily and strategically, could yet call Mr Bush's bluff and turn the initiative to his - and, more importantly - the world's benefit. He first has to avoid falling into the President's trap by attacking the new initiative's concentration on technology as contradicting Kyoto's emphasis on mandatory cuts in pollution. In fact, they are complementary. The big cuts needed will not happen without new, much cleaner technology. But business will not develop or adopt it without the stimulus and predictability of continuing forced reductions.

Next, he needs to exploit the advantages the initiative offers. It shows how much pressure Mr Bush is under on global warming at home that he has to appear to offer an alternative solution. It also suggests that China and India are trying to get Europe and the US to compete to sell them clean technologies, without which burning their vast coal reserves alone will be enough to ruin the climate.Mr Blair has started well by refusing to be publicly miffed, and cautiously welcoming the initiative. He must now rally Europe and the rest of the world to insist on continuing the Kyoto process, and keep the pressure up on Mr Bush. As President of the EU over the next six months, he is ideally placed to do so.

It will take the kind of strategic thinking that brought London the Olympics. We have already seen some of this from both Mr Blair in the run-up to Gleneagles and in Gordon Brown's announcement last week that Sir Nick Stern, who pulled together the Africa Commission, is to report on how tackling global warming can be made to benefit the economy.

By using the new initiative to bind the US into a worldwide assault on global warming, Mr Blair could yet turn the snub into a breakthrough.