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Global Warming Debate Heats Up In Washington

As the Potomac freezes, the climate debate heats up in Washington.
by Jitendra Joshi
Washington (AFP) Feb 10, 2007
Global politicians and business leaders aim to turn the unfertile territory of Washington into a hotbed of action against climate change this week. German Chancellor Angela Merkel will be among those addressing a two-day forum on Capitol Hill that comes at a time when scientific warnings about the catastrophic potential of global warming are reaching a fever pitch.

"The science has become more clear, more certain and more urgent," says British Environment Secretary David Miliband, who will attend the forum at the US Senate along with World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz.

"There's a major shift in the science and there's a major shift in the way that this issue is conceived," he told reporters on a conference call.

The Republican administration of US President George W. Bush insists that it takes the issue of man-made climate change seriously, but remains opposed to endorsing the Kyoto treaty against global warming.

Heavyweight US senators including 2008 presidential contenders Joe Biden (Democrat) and John McCain (Republican) will speak at the forum to drive home the message that not everyone in the United States opposes action.

With the Democrats back in control of Congress, initiatives such as enforced caps on greenhouse gas emissions from industry, and European-style carbon markets, are getting a new hearing.

California and northeast US states are driving forward their own anti-warming initiatives, while evangelical Christians argue that man has a God-given duty to safeguard the planet for future generations.

"So what we're starting to see is a coalition for action in the US," said Robert Watson, the World Bank's chief scientist who from 1997 to 2002 headed the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The IPCC, the UN's top scientific authority on global warming, delivered its starkest warning yet at a Paris conference this month.

The UN body's first report for six years said fossil fuel pollution would raise temperatures this century, worsen floods, droughts and hurricanes, melt polar ice and damage the climate system for a thousand years to come.

Last Wednesday, the White House issued a rare open letter defending Bush's record on climate change, rejecting criticisms that he has only recently awakened to the problem.

But the letter coincided with hearings in Congress in which experts and politicians accused the Bush administration of repressing public debate over global warming in what one witness branded "a conspiracy of silence."

This week's Senate gathering will hear company leaders such as Virgin Group boss Richard Branson, BP America president Bob Malone and Tata Steel managing-director B. Muthuraman discuss corporate action on the issue.

The forum will also debate how best to bring fast-growing economies such as India and China into the Kyoto fold, with lawmakers from both those countries due to attend.

Beijing has repeatedly insisted that industrialized countries must take the lead on solving a problem they created. That argument has merit, Watson said.

"But without working with China and India, we cannot ever stabilize the world's climate," he said.

During their two-day meeting, the participants aim to forge a consensus statement to deliver to Merkel, this year's chairman of the Group of Eight nations who will give the opening address by video-link on Wednesday.

The forum aims to hammer home that economic security goes hand in hand with fighting climate change, and press the message that Bush is wrong to fear economic disaster from aggressive caps on industrial emissions.

"There is clear evidence that the old argument that you have to choose between the environment and the economy just doesn't stack up any more," Miliband said.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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