The world's most powerful nations must act now to curb global warming, British Prime Minister Tony Blair told world leaders yesterday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Blair, who became president of the Group of Eight leading industrialized nations this month and will take the helm of the European Union in July, said he plans to use his two new posts to press for action on climate change and on alleviating poverty and political unrest in Africa.
"On both, there are differences that need to be reconciled," he said. "And if they could be reconciled or at least moved forward, it would make a huge difference to the prospects of international unity, as well as to people's lives and our future survival."
G-8 countries can use technology to cut emissions of carbon dioxide and other "greenhouse gases" and temper climate change, Blair said, by boosting energy efficiency and using more renewable energy.
Blair's call to address climate change came one day after an international panel co-chaired by one of his closest political allies offered an alternative approach to the controversial Kyoto Protocol, which takes effect on Feb. 16 with at least 136 countries as signatories. The United States and Australia are the only two developed nations that have not ratified the treaty, which aims to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by 5.2 percent from 1990 levels by 2012.
The panel, headed by Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) and Stephen Byers, a Labor member of Britain's Parliament, proposed that the United States and Australia could participate in a more flexible global framework as soon as they adopt their own cap-and-trade programs limiting carbon dioxide emissions. Developing countries could also enter the agreement over time.
Established by the U.S.-based Center for American Progress along with Britain's Institute for Public Policy Research and the Australia Institute, the international task force also calls for shifting agricultural subsidies from food crops to biofuels and making G-8 countries obtain 25 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2025, all to ensure Earth's average temperature does not rise more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above its pre-industrial level.
Snowe, who helps oversee U.S. climate policy as a member of the Senate commerce committee, said she will brief top White House officials on the task force's findings. The task force's report "could offer a pathway toward action on this most pivotal issue," Snowe said in an interview Tuesday, because it gives "realistic and doable" targets.
While President Bush has resisted mandatory curbs on carbon dioxide emissions, several politicians and activists said he may be pressed into action by Blair, his close ally.
John D. Podesta, president of the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank, said Blair may use some of the political capital he gained by backing the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq to push for concessions from Bush.
"At some point, this is going to take a change of heart by the president and the administration," Podesta said. He added that Blair's advocacy, along with congressional support, could persuade the United States "to come back to the table and get involved with this huge challenge facing humanity."