On the eve of a meeting of world leaders on climate change to be hosted by the Bush administration, a top British diplomat who will participate spoke out forcefully against a voluntary approach to attacking global warming.
The White House has made clear in briefings leading up to its Meeting of Major Economies on Energy Security and Climate Change that it intends to tout the success of voluntary steps to cut greenhouse gases in the sessions on Thursday and Friday in Washington. But John Ashton, a leading environmental adviser to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, at a forum sponsored by the nonprofit United Nations Foundation, said such an approach would be insufficient, given the magnitude of the problem of reducing fossil fuel emissions.
"Are we going to bind ourselves to doing this, and doing it quickly, or are we just going to do what's easy to do, what's convenient, what's voluntary?" asked Ashton. "The word voluntary means what you can do without heavy lifting, what you can do without mobilization of real political imagination. It's not going to crack this problem." Ashton spoke briefly after a presentation by California venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, a founder of Sun Microsystems and now a major funder of alternative energy start-up companies, who said that the economic case for climate action is as compelling as the environmental one.
Ashton, who had just come to Washington after a United Nations summit meeting on climate in New York that President Bush did not attend, added, "Everywhere else in the major economies, there is a gathering sense that we need to go well beyond voluntary, but also that we can do that, and we can do that in a way that brings economic benefits, if we get the right policy framework in place soon enough."