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  • US confirms belief in 'technical fix' to climate change

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US president George W. Bush has confirmed his country's belief that solving the problems created by climate change requires developing and implementing technological responses, both in developed and developing countries, rather than tough international regulation.

His comments, which were made in a speech in Brussels, came shortly after the proposal, by a prominent US politician to introduce legislation into the US Senate intended to stimulate the export of climate change technology from the United States to developing countries.

"Emerging technologies such as hydrogen powered vehicles, electricity from renewable energy sources and clean coal technology will encourage economic growth that is environmentally responsible," Bush said in his speech.

"By researching, by developing, by promoting new technologies across the world, all nations, including the developing countries, can advance economically while slowing the growth in global greenhouse gases and avoid pollutants that undermine public health."

His comments confirmed the Bush administration's belief that market forces should be the principle driver of solutions to the problems caused by climate change.

However they immediately stimulated criticism from environmental groups. Greenpeace executive director Stephen Tindale, for example, claimed in a press statement that Bush's "ideological blinkers" were preventing him seeing beyond market forces to deliver such solutions.

The proposed US climate change legislation has been presented by Senator Chuck Hagel, and addresses "links between energy, the economy, and the environment" in three separate bills.

One of these, the Climate Change Technology Deployment in Developing Countries Act, intends to help developing countries reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.  

If accepted, the act would support US research and development into technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and their concentrations in the atmosphere by increasing the participation of the private sector.

Such technologies include alternative sources of energy, such as solar panels, and technologies for storing carbon emissions under the seabed.

According to Hagel's address to the Senate, these technologies would not be aimed at US markets. Rather, the legislation would make it easier for them to be exported, to developing countries in particular.

"Developing nations are becoming the major emitters of greenhouse gases," said Hagel, adding that, according to a recent report of the US Congressional Budget Office, such countries are expected to account for two-thirds of the growth in carbon dioxide emissions during the next 20 years.

Already, China is the second largest emitter of carbon dioxide (see China is second biggest greenhouse gas emitter). Along with other developing countries, however, China is not obliged to reduce its emissions under the terms of the Kyoto Protocol, which entered into force last week (see As Kyoto goes live, US goes it alone).

The US government has repeatedly mentioned this exemption for developing countries as one of the reasons for not signing the Kyoto protocol.

"Developing nations cannot achieve greenhouse gas reductions until they achieve higher standards of living," said Hagel. "They lack clean energy technology and they cannot absorb the economic impact of the changes necessary for emissions reductions".

"New policies will require recognition of the limitations of developing nations to meet these standards, and the necessity of including them in any successful future initiative," he said.

Saleemul Huq, programme director for climate change at the International Institute for Environment and Development says: "The technology solution is reasonable, but is very far from sufficient."

Speaking to SciDev.Net, Huq noted two flaws in Hagel's bill: it does not address how the United States will reduce its own emissions, nor does it address ways of coping with the "unavoidable impacts of climate change".

Notes on Hagel's Internet homepage specifically state that his proposed legislation "is based on incentives and economic growth. It does not include mandatory caps on carbon emissions".

But Huq argues that simply exporting 'green' technologies does not make the world's biggest emitter "a good environmental citizen". 

Senator Hagel was behind the 1997 Byrd-Hagel resolution that called on the US president not to sign the Kyoto Protocol on the grounds that it did not impose any obligations on developing countries and that it could harm the economy of the United States.

The resolution was passed in the Senate by a vote of 95 to none.

Read more about climate change and adaptation in SciDev.Net's climate change dossier and spotlight on adaptation.

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