Like two unpopular schoolkids huddling together for mutual support in the corner of the playground, U.S. President George Bush and Australian Prime Minister John Howard have pledged to take joint action on climate change. Australia’s and the U.S.’s refusal to sign up to the Kyoto Protocol led to widespread criticism at home and abroad. While pushing their new-found enthusiasm for environmental issues, Bush and Howard continue to promote the idea of “aspirational targets” rather than firm emissions quotas
While at this stage of his presidency Bush has little to lose, cuddling up to the most unpopular man in the world might be seen as a high risk strategy for Howard. In particular, their emphasis on nuclear power as the solution to climate change will not be well-received in many quarters. Said Bush: “If you believe that greenhouse gases are a priority, like a lot of us, if you take the issue seriously like I do and John does, then you should be supportive of nuclear power”.
On Wednesday, Howard announced an agreement with the U.S. to admit Australia into the Bush administration’s Global Nuclear Energy Program (GNEP). This will give Australia access to the ‘Generation Four’ nuclear research program, condemned by Steve Shallhord, chief executive of Greenpeace Australia, as too far in the future ” to even be considered as part of the climate change mix, even if that was a legitimate response to climate change” . GNEP proposes that countries operating a nuclear enrichment program should lease nuclear fuel to other countries, who will send back their nuclear waste. Australia has denied that it is about to start enriching its own uranium, and continues to maintain it will never import nuclear waste for processing. The waters are muddied further by an imminent deal which will see Australia selling uranium to Russia, who insists that it will be used exclusively for its civilian nuclear power program.
We live in interesting times. I suppose we should be glad that the world’s largest polluter (per capita, sorry China) and its Pacific Rim running dog are taking a belated interest in our planet. As Mr Bush told reporters: ‘I know some say, ‘Well, since he’s against Kyoto, he doesn’t care about the climate change”. That’s urban legend that is preposterous.’
Wise words indeed.