Stalling in Bali

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

THE BUSH administration wants everyone to believe that all along it has taken the threat of global warming as seriously as the rest of the world has. Advisers point to Mr. Bush's comments on climate change made as early as 2001 and to the nibbling-at-the-edges actions he has taken on research, regulation and funding. Then rhetoric meets reality, as it did at the climate talks in Bali.

Representatives of 187 nations were in the Indonesian resort destination for almost two weeks this month trying to plot a road map to a successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocol, which mandated reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by 36 industrialized countries and which expires in 2012. The European Union and other countries wanted binding emissions reductions of 25 to 40 percent by 2020. As he has consistently, Mr. Bush said no.

That's not to say something good didn't come out of Bali. The new framework agreement calls on developing nations, such as India and China, to consider adopting national policies to address their respective greenhouse gas emissions that are "measurable, reportable and verifiable." But the heavy lifting for both developed and developing countries will be done in treaty negotiations over the next two years.

The administration's resistance to mandatory cuts led U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to declare last week that the proposed reductions may be "too ambitious." He added: "Practically speaking, this will have to be negotiated down the road." Practically speaking, down the road means when there is a new American president. Palming off the leadership and the tough decisions that go with it to his successor seems to be fine with Mr. Bush.

Congress and the states shouldn't wait. The Senate will take up the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act next month. Sponsored by Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) and John W. Warner (R-Va.), the bill would put a price on carbon through a declining cap in greenhouse gas emissions for each year between 2012 and 2050. In this cap-and-trade system, companies in the transportation, electric power and manufacturing sectors would purchase and trade allowances for the right to pollute the air. Meanwhile, governors are so fed up with federal inaction on the environment that they're forming their own binding regional compacts for reducing greenhouse gases. This is the kind of leadership the world and many in this country are looking for.

The last report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that if action is not taken within the next decade, the effects of global warming may be irreversible. Waiting for the next president shouldn't be an option.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company