US sinners repent

Observations on global warming

Eight years after the deal was struck, partly thanks to John Prescott, the Kyoto Protocol finally comes into force on 16 February. It is a landmark towards mitigating dangerous global warming and climate change. But what comes next, and how can Tony Blair make good his promise to put climate change high on his list of priorities?

Although negotiations begin this year on what follows Kyoto - to which the United States is still not a party - they are unlikely to get serious until after the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change publishes its fourth assessment report in 2007. So it is possible that George W Bush will no longer be in office when the next treaty on climate change is signed.

If Blair wants to gain support, therefore, he should look to the next generation of US political leaders. While Bush will not budge on opposing mandatory limits on carbon emissions, it is a different story in the US Congress. Support is growing for the Climate Stewardship Bill, co- sponsored by the Republican Senator John McCain and Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman. This would introduce a mandatory emissions cap and carbon trading scheme in the US. Though the bill was defeated 55-43 when the Senate last voted on it, six senior Republicans voted in favour. Even Senator Chuck Hagel - who co-sponsored a resolution in 1997, passed 95-0, which in effect ended any prospect of US ratification of Kyoto - has changed his spots somewhat. He is now sponsoring legislation to spur technological development to reduce emissions. And he, like McCain, is a possible presidential contender.

At state level, too, the prospects are more encouraging than Bush's stance suggests. Nine states in New England, six of them with Republican governors, are designing their own emissions trading scheme, which could integrate into a national scheme and ultimately link to a global trading system.

Pressure for this is likely to grow from multinational companies already operating under the EU scheme. Several other states are taking action to reduce emissions, including California, under Arnold Schwarzenegger, which is being sued by car manufacturers for introducing tough new vehicle emission standards.

Tony Grayling is an associate director of the Institute for Public Policy Research (ippr). Meeting the Climate Challenge is available at www.ippr.org