POZNAN, Dec 14 – George W. Bush’s last hurrah in the global climate arena has met with a welling of disdain contrasting with the outsized expectations for his successor, Barack Obama.,
At the UN climate talks in Poznan, no farewell tears were shed for Bush, whose rejection of the landmark Kyoto Protocol in 2001 almost destroyed multilateral efforts to roll back global warming.
"I don’t know how to put this," top climate economist Nicholas Stern said mischievously at a dinner for businessmen and environmentalists, where he commented on Obama’s election.
"Relative to his prehistoric predecessor, it is something which we should celebrate," he said, provoking loud cheers as he raised a wine glass to make a toast.
"Goodbye, George!", he called out, amid cries of "Hear! Hear!"
South African Environment Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk sighed at the legacy of Bush’s two terms.
"It was a very difficult eight years. It was a disaster for climate change," he told AFP.
Even Ban Ki-moon, the ever-diplomatic UN chief, offered a veiled reproach when asked to comment on the performance of US federal climate policies.
"They should have done more proactively, by joining the Kyoto Protocol," he said.
Tim Wirth, a former Democratic US senator who led climate negotiations under Bill Clinton, struggled to muster a few kind words for the outgoing US negotiators in Poznan.
"There is no need to beat up on them, they did do a few things right on climate," he said, then paused: "But not very many."
Democrats from the current US Congress, in Poznan to get a head start before Obama takes office on January 20, did not mince words on the outgoing team.
"This climate conference will go down in history as the retirement party for the Flat Earth Society of the United States of America," said Edward Markey, who chairs a panel on energy independence and climate change in the House of Representatives.
Asked to sum up Bush’s record on the issue, France’s climate ambassador Brice Lalonde chose instead to pass on a story he had heard.
A man comes to the White House asking to see Bush. "He doesn’t live here anymore," he is told. The next two days he comes again asking the same question, and receiving the same answer.
On the fourth day, the exasperated guard shot back: "I’ve already told you, he’s no longer here."
"I know, I know," the man replied. "But it’s such a pleasure to hear you say it."
One thing the Bush team did do to advance the climate agenda was sign the "Bali Roadmap" last December during a UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meeting that set a two-year deadline for a global agreement.
The US negotiators did so after enduring a firestorm of criticism for holding up the deal.
They were bluntly told to "lead or get out of the way" by a representative of tiny Papua New Guinea — an injunction that prompted many angry delegates to break into spontaneous applause.
Paula Dobriansky, who as under secretary for democracy and global affairs has played a linchpin role in US climate policies since 1981, insisted Bush’s record included quiet successes on pragmatic issues, such as financial help and the transfer of clean technology.
"Our approach has been an evolutionary one. I think you have seen an evolution from the beginning of the administration to the present time," she told AFP.
People yearning for action on climate change hope Barack Obama will demolish Bush’s heritage, setting caps on domestic emissions and moving the United States out of the sidelines in the global arena.
But analysts also warn against over-expectations. Obama’s room to manoeuvre may be limited, cramped on one side by the US recession and on the other by the scant time before the deadline of December 2009 for completing the new UN climate treaty.