As world leaders prepared for a major summit, President Bush said Monday that he would not substantially change his stance on global warming to reward British Prime Minister Tony Blair for his support of the war in Iraq.
“I really don’t view our relationship as one of quid pro quo,” Bush said. “Tony Blair made decisions on what he thought was best for keeping the peace and winning the war on terror, as I did.”
Reiterating his opposition to the Kyoto Protocol that mandates targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions, Bush told Britain’s ITV1 channel that he would reject any measures that “look like Kyoto.” The United States is the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide, but Bush has rejected the treaty because its provisions, he said, would “wreck the U.S. economy.”
Blair is the host of the Group of 8 summit that begins Wednesday in Gleneagles, Scotland, and he has made the issues of climate change and increasing assistance to Africa the top priorities of the meeting.
The annual gathering attracts protesters denouncing globalization and capitalism, and in recent years, the Iraq war. Demonstrators clashed with police Monday on the streets of Edinburgh, about 40 miles south of the exclusive golf resort where Bush and Blair and the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia will meet. Thousands of police were being deployed in the area to cope with an expected onslaught of demonstrators.
In the days leading to the summit, aides to Bush have sought to dispel his international image as a cowboy. His administration has announced plans to double development aid to Africa by 2010, although not in the way Blair and other G-8 leaders had proposed.
Although he rejected any “quid pro quo” on climate change, Bush acknowledged that human activity was at least partly responsible for the apparent warming of the planet in recent years.
And he said that there might be other compromises the United States and other nations could make to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases being produced.
In the past, European leaders have been frustrated that U.S. officials have disputed scientific evidence of accelerated warming and questioned whether the phenomenon posed a real threat to the planet.
Asked in the interview whether climate change was “man-made,” Bush replied, “To a certain extent it is, obviously.”
“You know, look, there was a debate of Kyoto, and I made the decision -- as did a lot of other people in this country, by the way -- that the Kyoto treaty didn’t suit our needs. In other words, the Kyoto treaty would have wrecked our economy, if I can be blunt.”
Bush denied, though, that he was putting U.S. economic interests above the interests of the planet.
“My hope is ... to move beyond the Kyoto debate and to collaborate on new technologies that will enable the United States and other countries to diversify away from fossil fuels so that the air will be cleaner and that we have the economic and national security that comes from less dependence of foreign sources of oil,” he said.
“To that end, we’re investing in a lot of ... research on hydrogen-powered automobiles. I believe we’ll be able to burn coal without emitting any greenhouse gases,” he said, also citing his support for “more nuclear power.”
The Kyoto Protocol took effect in February after ratification by 141 countries -- including every industrialized nation except Australia and the United States. It aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to about 5% below 1990 levels by 2012.
In addition to economic concerns, Bush has rejected the pact because of objections to the way it divides emissions cutbacks between developed and undeveloped countries.
However, American officials say the U.S. is making progress on its own goals for reducing carbon emissions.
British Foreign Minister Jack Straw said U.S. opposition to the Kyoto treaty was long-standing and well known, but remained optimistic that the summit would yield results.
“Each country comes to these negotiations ... with its own national perspective,” Straw said at a news conference. But he said it was “remarkable how far sentiment has moved in the period since the prime minister identified aid to Africa and climate change as the key” issues to be addressed.
Lower-ranking government officials involved in the summit planning worked over the weekend, hammering out wording on communiques covering both climate change and aid to Africa. Michael Jay, a British Foreign Office official, told reporters that the weekend talks had been “pretty intense” and that Britain remained hopeful that a “consensus agreement on climate change” would be signed at Gleneagles.
The Financial Times reported Monday that the eight countries would adopt a joint “action plan” on climate change, although it would stop short of making specific emission-reduction targets. The statement would also contain language referring to a growing consensus among scientists about the problem, the paper said.
On the subject of helping Africa, the leaders appeared to have reached an agreement to raise assistance and eliminate the debt of the continent’s poorest countries.
The official actions were unlikely to satisfy the street protesters who have been gathering in Scotland from around the world in anticipation of the summit.
Protesters in Edinburgh on Monday chanted, “We all live in a terrorist regime” to the tune of the Beatles’ song “Yellow Submarine.” Drummers and dancers clad in pink and purple led black-hooded anarchists on an unauthorized anti-capitalist march in downtown. By 9 p.m., 60 people had been arrested, mostly on disorderly conduct charges, police said.
Thousands of police recruited from around Britain have converged on Scotland to cope with demonstrators expected to number in the tens of thousands by the first day of the summit.
Police employed crowd-control techniques Monday, surrounding a group of protesters less than an hour into the march and herding them into a narrow side street before cordoning them off.
The marchers kept drumming, dancing and tossing confetti as bemused residents watched from apartments and offices. Some of the estimated 200 protesters tried periodically to ram through the rows of police, but got nowhere.
“We should have a right to protest in a democracy,” said Erik, a Danish protester who did not give his last name. “But these [police] don’t realize that.”
Some protesters chanted obscenities; one man in a black dress and pink wig was waving a purple fan accusing the G-8 countries of promoting “wage slavery.” The man, who gave his name as Susan, said, “We are against the capitalist, consumer society, and there are alternatives to that.”
John Knowles, a recent graduate of the University of Edinburgh who was caught up in the protests, called it “a joke.”
“They paid maybe 150 pounds to fly here, and they organized this through their broadband Internet. So maybe they like capitalism after all,” he said of the marchers.
Some downtown businesses were boarded and shut, and police advised those still open to close. Certain roads were closed and patrolled by police on horseback.
Hoping to ward off vandalism by protesters, several bars and restaurants hung signs reading, “We are a family restaurant,” and “We are not part of a major chain.”
On Scotland’s west coast, meanwhile, more than 600 protesters attempted to blockade a nuclear submarine base at Faslane, police said.
The protesters staged a sit-in, demanding that money allocated to defense be redirected to fight poverty in the developing world. Four people were arrested, but the protest was concluded peacefully, a police spokeswoman said.
Times staff writer Daniszewski reported from London and special correspondent DePasquale from Edinburgh.