Last week was the week, and yesterday was the day, when the world finally showed that it was terminally fed up with the simple-minded, short-sighted and self-serving outlook of George Bush. The moment came not, as it well might have done, amid the dust and bloody debris of Iraq or the torture and state terrorism of Guantanamo Bay, but in Indonesia's lush and lovely Island of the Gods. And, appropriately, it came over climate change the issue on which the "toxic Texan" first showed that he was going to put his ideological instincts and oil-soaked obstinacy over the interests of the rest of the world and of future generations.
The mood had been building all week at the negotiations in Bali on a replacement to the present arrangements under the Kyoto Protocol which run out in 2012. For months the United States, and President Bush himself, had been insisting that it would not block progress. Spin-doctors were dispatched to assert, ludicrously, not only that the President was as committed as anyone to avoiding catastrophic global warming, but that the man who had spent years trying to destroy any attempt to tackle it had always really been on the side of the environmental angels. But once his hard-faced negotiators took their seats in the steamy conference centre at the Nusa Dua resort the pretence slipped away. They blocked virtually every constructive proposal put on the table, refusing any suggestion of concrete action by the US, while insisting that other countries do more and more. Ever since Bush first rejected and set out to kill the Kyoto Protocol, he had cited as his main objection its exclusion of big developing nations such as China and India. More recently he has indicated that the US would move if they took the first step. Sure enough, they came to Bali ready to take action on their own emissions and still the US refused to budge.
It is simply not done in international negotiations for one country to single out another for criticism; it's the equivalent of calling someone a liar in the House of Commons. But from early last week other delegations were publicly, unprecedentedly and explicitly blaming the US for the lack of progress. Worse, they were beginning to point the finger at President Bush himself, suggesting that things would improve once he was gone. That is the kind of humiliation reserved for such international pariahs as Robert Mugabe and Saddam Hussein. But even they were never subjected to the treatment that America received yesterday morning. When it tried, yet again, to sabotage agreement the representatives of the other 187 governments broke into boos and hisses. When Papua New Guinea told the US to "get out of the way", they cheered.
The US buckled, as it has always done in international negotiations when it has been isolated. The same thing happened at the G8 summit in Heiligendamm, Germany, last summer, and two years ago in Montreal, when holding the Bali negotiations was unexpectedly agreed. That is why Tony Blair's fatal flaw of constantly trying to let President Bush off the hook while doing so much to raise the profile of climate change internationally was so destructive. That is also why it is so deeply disturbing that an EU source told The Independent on Sunday that Britain had helped the US water down the Bali agreement after a phone call from the White House to Downing Street. We must hope, as Hilary Benn insists, that this is wrong. The last thing the country wants, or the world needs, is for us to have replaced the poodle with a Pekinese.
Such progress as Bali has made (and it has exceeded rather low expectations) happened because as Philip Clapp, the deputy managing director of the powerful new Pew Environment Group put it the rest of the world, and particularly the EU "pushed back" harder than ever before against the aggressive US approach. They may partly have found the belated courage to do so because the President is on his way out, the next election less than a year away.
But it is also because global warming has now become an intensely political, as well as an environmental issue; electorates simply will not tolerate failure. And as everyone but the President and his inner circle can see, the same thing is happening in the United States. Last week the Senate, long seen as an obstacle to action on climate change, dramatically passed a Bill to increase the fuel economy of cars and trucks by a staggering 86 votes to eight, while more than 26 state governments are taking, often radical, action.
The full scale of the White House's isolation and humiliation, and its consequences for the fading superpower's standing around the world, needs to be understood by the presidential candidates of both parties. We need the US to take a leading role in the battle against climate change.Reuse content