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A Shift on Climate Change

A Shift on Climate ChangeAs President Bush embraces the need to address climate change, one professor from The Fletcher School says the shift is based more on politics than science.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [06.14.07] Last month, The Fletcher School's Adil Najam co-authored a UN-commissioned report urging the world to not waste any more time in combating climate change. But in a recent op-ed in The Boston Globe, the associate professor of international negotiation and diplomacy said that President Bush's recent attention to these issues stems more from political pressure than acknowledgment of mounting scientific proof.

"There is little evidence... that President Bush ever got to see-let alone read-the scientific assessments we have been writing so painstakingly," according to Najam, citing the four reports to be published by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change by year's end. "Much more likely, he and his advisers have been reading the political writing on the wall."

One of the key factors behind this change, he contends, is the shift in public opinion. Public perception of fossil fuels as the root of costly conflicts such as the war in Iraq, a glimpse at the impact of natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and the South Asian tsunami, and the popular success of Al Gore's environmental documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" have all been instrumental in convincing people that climate change is not a matter of debate, Najam explained.

"Most people were already convinced that something was happening to the global climate, but they assumed that any change was in the very distant future," he wrote in the Globe. "Now we talk about climate change as something that could happen within our own lifetimes. That, ultimately, is the biggest change of all."

In addition, attitudes in American business have shifted, reflected in the emergence of renewable energy sources, energy-efficient automobiles and climate change-related technologies that have become multi-billion dollar industries.

"Many now recognize that the market for climate transition is going to be huge," Najam wrote in the op-ed. "They want a piece of it."

In addition, Najam wrote, American companies do not want to be left behind as their European and Asian counterparts, in nations that unlike the United States have signed onto the Kyoto Protocol, begin taking the lead in a market geared toward addressing climate change.

Lastly, Najam says that the international politics of climate change have also evolved.
U.S. absence from the international Kyoto Protocol greenhouse gas emissions treaty did not deter global-or even American-efforts to combat climate change, he writes. While the U.S. remains a key global player in any climate change strategy, Najam says that other nations now have increased prominence.

"Thanks to their dogged determination, the Europeans can now negotiate a post-Kyoto regime from a position of strength," the Fletcher professor wrote in the Globe. "It is now the United States that worries about the costs of being left out."


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