Blair Shifts Stance on Climate Change

Published November 1, 2005

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has long been one of the staunchest supporters of the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, but in a recent public statement Blair said his approach to global warming has changed. He indicated he wants to make use of science and technology to improve the environment rather than rely on international agreements.

Blair made the statements while participating in the opening plenary session of the Clinton Global Initiative on September 15. The other participants in the opening session were former President Bill Clinton, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and the King of Jordan. The group discussed several topics including global poverty, religion and public life, and political structures in developing countries.

Blair Announces Policy Change

When the topic of global warming was addressed, Blair announced a change in his approach to the issue.

“I would probably say that I’m changing my thinking about this in the past two or three years,” said Blair. “We have to start from the brutal honesty about the politics of how we deal with it.” Blair explained he expected no country to voluntarily limit either its production or consumption. Rather, he expected countries would “develop science and technology in a beneficial way.”

Blair advocated having “the major players in this coming together and finding a way for [pooling] their resources, their information, their science and technology” so that the world might “grow sustainably.”

Blair said he would not pursue new international treaties along the lines of the Kyoto Protocol as mechanism for improving the environment. “I don’t think people are going, at least in the short term, to start negotiating another major treaty like Kyoto.”

Moves Toward Bush Position

The statements represent a marked change from the position the prime minister took in 1994, when he said “Kyoto is only the first step but it provides a solid foundation for the next stage of climate diplomacy.”

The approach now favored by Blair seems to be close to the views of the Bush administration, which has been critical of the Kyoto framework and has emphasized the use of technology to avoid harmful changes to global climate.

“Blair suggested he no longer had faith in global agreements as a way of reversing rising greenhouse gas emissions,” observed the London Times on September 25. “Instead he appeared to place his faith in science, technology, and the free market–a position that President George W. Bush adopted when he repudiated the Kyoto treaty in 2001.”

“Tony Blair has admitted that he is changing his views on combating global warming to mirror those of President Bush and oppose negotiating international treaties such as the Kyoto Protocol,” added the September 26 London Independent.

Climate Change Contested

Environmental activists were highly critical of the prime minister’s comments. Tony Juniper, executive director of Friends of the Earth, told the London Times Blair is “losing the plot” on climate change. He told the Observer Blair’s new views were “extremely dangerous and retrograde.”

Climate experts, however, reacted more favorably to Blair’s change of heart.

“Blair has shown good sense,” said S. Fred Singer, president of the Science and Environmental Policy Project. According to Singer, Blair’s September 15 statement is not his first of this type. “At the economic summit meeting in Davos in February [Blair] mentioned the importance of economic growth and–for the first time–admitted there is still scientific dispute about the reality of global warming.”

Science, Economics Consulted

“After Prime Minister Tony Blair’s admission that nobody is going to cut their growth of consumption of fossil fuels, continental Europe is increasingly isolated as the only remaining supporter of the Kyoto Protocol,” said Carlo Stagnaro, free market environmentalism director at Italy’s Istituto Bruno Leoni. “Paradoxically, the EU itself will not be able to meet its targets, as European Environment Agency data show beyond any reasonable doubt.”

Added Stagnaro, “It’s high time that European leaders acknowledge the failure of a ‘targets-and-timetable’ strategy to address global warming and start searching for alternatives focused on clean development, economic growth–both in developed and developing countries–and science-based as well as cost-effective measures to increase energy reliability and availability.

“Luckily the EU is not required to discover anything new: It might just look at how the United States and other members of the Asian and Pacific Partnership are facing climate change,” Stagnaro said.

“Tony Blair probably felt that action on greenhouse gases was an open and shut case when, early in 2005, he named it one of his central issues for the year,” said Iain Murray, senior fellow and global warming specialist at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. “Now that he has had a chance to look at the issue in detail, he has realized it isn’t as simple as the global warming alarmists like to say it is. The economic case against [seeking] drastic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is overwhelming.”

Michael Coulter ([email protected]) teaches political science at Grove City College in Pennsylvania.

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