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The Global Warming Week That Was

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New York, NY -- So what would a polar bear's take-away have been from the last week of global warming events -- is the ice-pack she depends on for a summer home more or less secure than it was a week ago?

At week's end, how does ursus maritimus -- or homo (allegedly) sapiens, for that matter -- add up the UN's huge conversation at the beginning of the week, the settlement of the GM strike, the Clinton Global Initiative at which global warming was the biggest focus by far, and George Bush's coalition of the polluting?

Well, globally at least, humanity seems to have made up its mind -- it's time for action. A new BBC World Services poll in 22 countries found overwhelming support for action, and action now.

An average of eight in ten (79%) say that 'human activity, including industry and transportation, is a significant cause of climate change.' Nine out of ten say that action is necessary to address global warming. A substantial majority (65%) choose the strongest position, saying that 'it is necessary to take major steps starting very soon.'

That global sentiment lay behind last Monday's day-long session at the United Nations, which President Bush stayed away from, but which 70 heads of state attended. According to the UN, the gathering "is aimed at securing political commitment and building momentum for the UN Climate Change Conference in Bali where negotiations about a new international climate agreement should start." And there appeared to be huge momentum at the Clinton Global Initiative. In the opening session, Clinton tried to pin down World Bank President Robert Zoellick on his view of whether the bank needed to take a lead in helping Third World countries produce electricty without carbonizing, but Zoellick, who knows that the bank preferentially funds fossil-fuel developments, refused to commit. Later in the week, however, a clutch of public utilities agreed to establish an Institute for Electric Efficiency.

A coalition of eight American utilities collectively serving nearly 20 million customers in 22 states announced Thursday that they would focus on energy efficiency. For the Save-a-Watt Proposal, Duke Energy, Consolidated Edison, Edison International, Great Plains Energy, Pepco Holdings, PNM Resources, Sierra Pacific Resources and Xcel Energy pledged to increase their collective investment in energy efficiency. ....The utilities estimate that these changes will lead to the elimination of 30 million tons of green house gas emissions per year.

Many of these companies are still half-mired in the bad energy technologies of the past, but at least they see the need to start moving.But then, at the end of the week, Bush assembled the world's largest carbon-emitting nations, basically to see if he could persuade them to bypass the UN's mandatory carbon emission targets in favor of much more modest "aspirational" goals. Bush again refused to commit the US to sign onto any mandatory treaty regime and urged instead that each country set its own goals and methodologies. Bush said this in spite of the fact that Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, widely reported to be an advocate of a stronger US response, specifically conceded that it would be impossible to solve the global warming problem without international agreements. The press reported that Bush was evidently trying to change his, and the US's, image on global warming, but that it had not worked.

Bush made clear, however, that he saw his talks as complementary to the U.N. negotiations over what will succeed the Kyoto treaty after 2012. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon held a summit Monday to grease the wheels for an agreement in December in Bali, Indonesia. Bush has seemed more sensitive lately to perceptions in other parts of the world that the U.S. government either does not take the phenomenon of global warming seriously -- or seriously enough.

It may be too little, too late. As John Ashton, a special representative on climate change for the British foreign secretary, said: "One of the striking features of this meeting is how isolated this administration has become. There is absolutely no support that I can see in the international community that we can drive this effort on the basis of voluntary efforts."

So it was a mixed week for the polar bear. The world's leaders are clearly setting out to confront the problem, but the most important carbon emitter is still not on board.