Blair optimistic after Bush oil pledge

Tony Blair has expressed his optimism about securing a post-Kyoto deal to cut carbon emissions, after George Bush appeared to soften his stance on climate change.

The US president used his state of the union address yesterday to announce plans to cut the use of petrol by 20 per cent in the next decade and diversify the US’ energy sources by investing in clean coal, solar and wind power.

“America is on the verge of technological breakthroughs that will enable us to live our lives less dependent on oil,” Mr Bush told congress.

“And these technologies will help us be better stewards of the environment, and they will help us to confront the serious challenge of global climate change.”

His comments are being seen by some commentators as a shift in the US administration’s approach to climate change, and as such raise hopes that it is closer to signing up to an international agreement on cutting emissions to replace the Kyoto protocol in 2012.

Speaking in the House of Commons today, Tony Blair said the “signs from the state of the union address are positive”, adding that he was more optimistic about the chances of the US, China and India signing up to some kind of deal than he had been for a while.

“I do believe that this whole debate is now moving in a completely different and more positive direction,” he told MPs during prime minister’s questions.

The British government has long argued that international agreements are the only way to take effective action to tackle climate change, but without the participation of the world’s economic powerhouses, Kyoto has failed to have the desired effect.

A climate change bill is due shortly which will set out ministers’ plans to cut emissions at home in the UK, and changes to the European emissions trading scheme (ETS) are also planned, including its expansion into the emissions-heavy aviation industry.

But a global deal is crucial, and today Mr Blair said: “I think there is a different attitude now right round the world on this issue.”

He added: “We do need to make sure we get a binding international framework that allows us to tackle this issue on the only level it can be tackled, which is by making sure we have agreement with all the major countries including America, China and India.

“And I think the possibilities of doing that are actually more positive and I am more optimistic about this than I have been for several years.”

However, Catherine Pearce, the international climate coordinator for Friends of the Earth, was more sceptical about the US president’s comments.

“His weak green light to renewable fuels, refusal to cut fossil fuel subsidies and his call for further imports, completely undermines last year’s recognition of the need to end the nation’s oil addiction,” she said.

She added: “President Bush appears unwilling to change direction and take urgent action to combat the devastating economic and environmental threats posed by climate change.”