Environmentalists hopeful after US Democratic victory

Environmentalists on Wednesday hailed Democratic victories in United States congressional elections as a possible harbinger of change in the global-warming policies of the world’s top polluters.

But they said there was little chance the legislative power shift from Tuesday’s polls would alter US President George Bush’s opposition to binding caps on greenhouse-gas emissions enshrined in the Kyoto Protocol.

Still, gathered in the Kenyan capital for a key United Nations climate-change conference, delegates and observers said Republican losses could help the environment and might force an easing in Bush’s tough stance on other, related matters.

“This is good news for climate,” said WWF climate-change director Hans Verholme, adding quickly he did not think the results could force a change in the administration’s vehement opposition to the Kyoto Protocol.

Bush incurred the wrath of environmentalists in 2001 by rejecting Kyoto, which seeks to limit greenhouse-gas emissions of developed nations, and is unlikely to alter his position on the treaty, US officials in Nairobi say.

But Verholme and others were optimistic that Democratic control of the House of Representatives and possible control of the Senate would lead to pressure on the administration to boost efforts to combat climate change.

“You will see a lot of pressure on the administration to work on domestic policies that will have a positive impact on the environment as a result of the US midterm elections,” Verolme said.

Steve Sawyer, a spokesperson for Greenpeace, said the elections were a sign Americans were moving “in the right direction” on climate change.

“The main message from the results this morning is that the US is moving substantially in the right direction and climate is very much front and centre on the political agenda in the US,” he said.

“[But] it still doesn’t mean that we’re going to have national binding emissions caps in the US because if they could pass something that was good, then Bush would veto it,” Sawyer said.

John Coequyt, a Greenpeace energy policy adviser, agreed that the elections may have showed greater environmental awareness among US voters, but said the polls were largely a referendum on the Iraq war and warned against exuberance.

“For delegates here it’s not going to have an impact on negotiations,” he said, referring to talks in Nairobi aimed at finding a replacement for Kyoto, which expires in 2012.

Still, he said some US races showed promise, particularly the re-election of California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican who is at deep odd with the administration over global warming.

“There are a number of elections that were decided by environmental issues. You can make the argument that California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger won his re-election based on climate change,” Coequyt said.

Support for Schwarzenegger, who split with the White House to enact Kyoto-style emissions caps for California, along with similar grassroots campaigns in other states, is encouraging, delegates in Nairobi said.

“It remains to be seen what kind of effect the results will have but the internal dialogue within the US seems to have been developing rapidly,” said Outi Berghall, chief negotiator for the European Union at the conference.

“So much is happening at the state level and in the private sector,” she told reporters. “We hope this will amplify [these trends].”

EU delegate Artur Runge-Metzger was guardedly hopeful.
“This is a certainly a signal that there might be changes but the US is not known for radical changes,” he said.

While not directly addressing possible policy changes spurred by the elections, the secretary general of the Nairobi conference, Yvo de Boer, noted that understanding of greenhouse gas effects was improving in the US.

“Even now I think there is a strong expression of interest in the cap and trade mechanisms in the US—expressed by a number of states who have agreed to begin emissions trading,” he said.—Sapa-AFP

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