John McCain on Monday vowed to put the US at the heart of international efforts to tackle global warming, proposing aggressive targets to reduce domestic greenhouse gas emissions and the creation of a cap-and-trade system to encourage investment in green technology.
By Andrew Ward in Washington
The Republican presidential candidate said climate change demanded “urgent attention” from the US, acknowledging the warnings of “credible scientists” that “time is short and the dangers are great”.
The remarks came in a policy speech designed to highlight the difference between Mr McCain’s focus on global warming and President George W. Bush’s reputation for foot-dragging on the issue.
The McCain campaign has identified climate change as one of the policy areas it will use to differentiate the Arizona senator from Mr Bush and appeal to independent voters and moderate Democrats in November’s election.
In an apparent swipe at the Bush administration, Mr McCain said he would “not permit eight long years to pass without serious action on serious challenges” and promised US leadership to help the international community avoid the “dead-end” diplomacy that hobbled the Kyoto treaty on climate change.
However, he echoed Mr Bush’s view that China, India and other developing countries must be part of any successor to the Kyoto Protocols, which expire in 2012, and threatened trade sanctions against any countries that sought economic advantage from lax environmental standards.
“No country should be exempted from its obligations. And least of all should we make exceptions for the very countries that are accelerating carbon emissions while the rest of us seek to reduce emissions,” he said.
Mr McCain said it was in China’s own interests to reduce emissions and promised to make US technology available to help it do so.
“For all of its historical disregard of environmental standards, it cannot have escaped the attention of the Chinese regime that China’s skies are dangerously polluted, its beautiful rivers are dying, its grasslands vanishing, its coastlines receding, and its own glaciers melting,” he said.
Mr McCain called for a 60 per cent reduction in US carbon emissions from 1990 levels by 2050 – more aggressive than the Bush administration’s target of halting emissions growth by 2025 but less ambitious than shorter-term targets set by European countries and proposed by Democrats in Congress.
He also backed a cap-and-trade system, which allows industries to buy and sell carbon allowances.
Nick Berning, spokesman for Friends of the Earth, the environmental group, said Mr McCain’s climate change rhetoric lacked credibility. “His record shows that he votes against environmental interests three times out of four,” he said. “His targets for emissions reductions are less aggressive than those recommended by scientists and he supports massive government giveaways to polluting industries.”
Many Republicans are deeply sceptical about climate change but the party has been forced to start taking the issue more seriously, amid growing public concern and increasing acceptance by business that regulation of carbon emissions has become almost inevitable.
Republicans have also been influenced by pressure from some evangelical voters who view protecting the environment as a Christian duty, although the religious right remains divided over the issue.
Climate change has combined with soaring petrol prices and concern about US dependence on foreign oil to make energy one of the hottest issues in the presidential campaign.