President Bush, after seven years of opposition to mandatory controls on energy in the name of fighting global warming, gave a speech suggesting he will reverse course and support federal limits on greenhouse gas emissions. However, he was careful to include several important conditions that may make this much less of a policy shift than appears at first. Among other things, the President made clear that he would not support any measures that hurt the American economy or fail to include other major nations like China. Some were worried that the speech was going to be a final year capitulation on the issue, but if the President firmly sticks to these conditions for the rest of his final term, it won’t be.

Critically, he mentioned the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the international global warming treaty to which the US is not a party. That year, the Senate voted 95-0 on a resolution opposing any such treaty that either hurt the economy or failed to engage all major emitting nations.

Both concerns are equally valid today. Several economic analyses (Heritage will also have one out in the weeks ahead) project very high costs associated with the leading climate bill, S. 2191, that is scheduled for debate in the Senate this June. This includes job losses well into the hundreds of thousands and possibly millions, and costs that could reach thousands of dollars per year per household. The President made clear that any such economic damage would not be acceptable.

In addition, rapid growth from nations like China means that unilateral U.S. measures would be virtually inconsequential. They would also put the U.S economy at a global disadvantage and lead to the outsourcing of manufacturing jobs. Again, the President made clear that all major emitting nations would have to commit to something.

Overall, the President spelled out the wrong way and the right way to go about the dealing with global warming. If he sticks to these principles, we should avoid any serious trouble on global warming in 2008.