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Bush hugs trees in sudden policy U-turn

Tree-noshing beetle plague in rainless Belize as NASA predicts more rain

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US President G W Bush, previously renowned for his resistance to carbon-emissions control, yesterday appeared to execute a policy U-turn.

The American leader called on the world's main economic powers - and thus, main greenhouse-gas belchers - to come together on long-term goals to limit atmospheric change.

The main thrust of the President's proposals is to bring in emerging titans such as China and India, who are exempted from emissions controls under the existing 1997 Kyoto agreement. The Bush administration refused to join Kyoto largely for that reason, saying it was unfair to allow Eastern newcomers to develop unchecked while putting carbon-limiting brakes on the US economy.

Over the decade since then, however, the green lobby in US politics has gathered strength and the US has found itself somewhat isolated internationally as its natural allies in the Group of Eight (G8) richest/most powerful nations have set themselves tough carbon targets.

President Bush was expected to face massive international pressure at the upcoming G8 summit in Germany, to add to that being exerted by the Democrat-controlled Congress at home - not to mention many Republicans who have broken with their leader on global warming.

Some have seen yesterday's proposals as an attempt to forestall expected criticism and steer the debate into a direction of Mr Bush's choosing - or even to marginalise the UN.

The Guardian, for example, headlined the annoucements as "Bush kills off hopes for G8 climate change plan...wants to lead response outside UN."

Despite that, the President's proposals have received a welcome from retiring Brit PM Blair and new German Chancellor Merkel. Now that the US has agreed, however nebulously, to tackle climate change, there is no major nation officially denying the necessity for action. That said, the head of NASA, Michael Griffin, has chosen this juncture to suggest that perhaps nothing need be done about warming temperatures.

As politicians wrangle, so do scientists. Many have blamed global warming for a lack of rainfall in some regions, but physicist Frank Wentz says quite the opposite. Wentz, funnily enough, is director of Remote Sensing Systems (RSS) in California - a NASA contractor. He says that satellite data indicates 13 per cent more rainfall worldwide by 2100 on current trends.

"Where that additional rain falls is the 64-million-dollar question," Wentz told Scientific American yesterday. "And I don't think anyone can say that with any confidence."

It doesn't seem to be falling in Belize, to name just one place. Reuters reported the same day that: "A once-majestic pine forest in Belize is struggling to recover from a devastating plague of beetles that scientists say was caused by climate change...beetles destroyed close to 70,000 acres of the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest when trees stressed by higher temperatures and years of water shortages could not defend themselves."

Deep waters, these. Or actually, perhaps not. ®

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