Bush recognised climate as a ‘real problem’ reveal Clinton-Blair calls

Incoming Republican presidential candidate saw global warming as a threat, but three months later he killed Kyoto Protocol

US presidents Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and George W Bush (Pic: White House/Flickr)

US presidents Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and George W Bush (Pic: White House/Flickr)

By Ed King

Incoming US president George W Bush recognised climate change as a “real problem” according to recently released transcripts between Bill Clinton and Tony Blair.

The pair spoke on 23 November 2000, when Bush and his Democrat opponent Al Gore were still wrangling over who had won the presidential election held two week’s earlier.

Clinton assured Blair his eventual successor did understand the risks linked with global warming, already a politically contentious issue in Washington and London.

“We have Congress evenly divided. We have Republicans, acknowledging, even Bush, that this is a real problem. Something has to be done,” he said.

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But both men acknowledged in their call global efforts to secure a new pact to address climate change were in trouble.

In 1997, the US signed up to the Kyoto Protocol, the world’s first legally binding climate pact, but specific details on how it would work were still in play – and angering US Congress.

The US wanted more flexibility from the EU on the use of carbon sinks such as forests and emissions trading to meet a commitment to slash greenhouse gas emissions 7% on 1990 levels between 2008-2012.

“I understand why some Europeans want to limit trading in any way, but it is a big mistake,” said Clinton. “Developing countries are important. They don’t have much of a problem, but you have to give them the incentive to take action.”

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UN talks in the Hague to determine a solution to this were in trouble, with only two days to run when both men spoke.

“There are enough Democrats from energy producing areas that if this looks like we are getting a bad deal, that will hurt us. It also sends the wrong message to developing countries,” said Clinton.

“What matters is not the results, but how we achieve it. I think it is important to get an agreement. If we get no agreement, we just give the reactionaries an excuse to walk away.”

Had Gore – a climate hawk – won the election he won likely have found a way for the US to have taken part.

But Bush was awarded victory and despite Clinton’s comments, by March 2001 it was announced the US had “no interest” in Kyoto.

His eight-year presidency was marked its close links with the oil and gas industry, and by repeated efforts to block global initiatives aimed at slowing emissions.

Moves to tackle climate change were blocked citing concerns over the country’s economic growth, a  view that contrasts with Clinton’s fervent belief in 2000 that a raft of proposed efficiency measures for cars, industry and biofuels could cut emissions at limited cost to the country.

“Finally, after being treated like I was trying to wreck the economy, we are finally getting broad acknowledgement,” he told Blair, before the call moved on to a familiar name: Vladimir Putin.

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