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Burning Kyoto's Bridges

EDITORIAL / Boston Globe 19jan03

TIME AND AGAIN, speakers at a recent conference on global warming at Tufts University pointed out how estranged the United States is from an international consensus that climate change requires major reductions in the use of fossil fuels, a source of the main greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide. While the US government leads no significant effort to conserve energy or convert to renewable sources of energy, other industrialized countries are acting to comply with the Kyoto Protocol on climate change even before it officially comes into effect.

Chris Walker of Swiss Reinsurance, the second-biggest reinsurer in the world, remarked on the seriousness with which his and other European insurers address climate change, especially in contrast with their US counterparts. They see it affecting both property losses and life insurance losses as global warming extends the areas of high risk for skin cancer and the habitats of disease carriers such as mosquitoes. His firm, he said, now requires applicants for coverage to explain their strategy for meeting the Kyoto targets.

A similar note was sounded by William Moomaw, a professor at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. Moomaw, a lead author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's third assessment report, said there is ''intense anger'' toward the United States in foreign countries because of this country's do-little approach to global warming. Per capita, the United States produces twice the greenhouse gases of Germany.

Moomaw said the Europeans have come to the conclusion that the costs to industry and transportation of complying with Kyoto are ''not that big a deal.'' Still, he said, officials there resent the competitive edge that rival companies in the United States will gain by not having to comply.

In the press in the Netherlands, he said, the view is widespread that the United States seeks war in Iraq as a way to maintain this nation's wasteful habits of energy use. This certainly oversimplifies the Bush administration's motives in favoring regime change in Baghdad, but it reflects an opinion that was seconded by a major poll of foreigners released late last year.

According to the survey, which was done by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, majorities in France, Russia, and Germany all said a desire to control Iraqi oil is behind the US position. Only in Britain was this not a majority view.

If the United States ever seeks UN Security Council support for war on Iraq, that backing would be much easier to come by if foreign opinion on the subject were not so colored by the impression that the Bush administration wants to fight to ensure cheap fuel for SUVs. Bush needs to show far more interest in the global climate and in the world's frustration with US policy. Both are heating up.

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