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It's Bush's turn to air ideas for dealing with warming

The president is making good on his pledge to host international talks.

September 26, 2007|Judy Pasternak | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — President Bush skipped the United Nations gathering on global warming for 80 world leaders in New York this week, and he had to be coaxed into attending the secretary-general's more intimate dinner on the subject. But now he is about to tackle climate change his way.

Bush has called a meeting of his own in Washington of the 17 largest emitters of greenhouse gases. This fulfills a pledge he made at the G-8 summit in June to bring developing nations such as China, India and Brazil together with major industrialized countries.

The group, which is expected to include a mix of foreign ministers, deputy ministers and economic planners, will be convened Thursday by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and chaired by top White House environmental aide James L. Connaughton. Bush will address the envoys on Friday.

White House officials said they didn't expect major developments at the session. The goal is to come up with a plan for deciding how, and how much, to cut emissions. "It is the first in what we hope will be a series of meetings," said Dan Price, a deputy national security advisor for international economic affairs. "Those are not issues you discuss and resolve in two days."

Some U.S. environmentalists expressed skepticism.

Philip E. Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust, dismissed the Washington conference as "a sidelight, not a process that leads to anything." He accused the White House of seeking "an alternative to a binding treaty. . . . You're seeing the Bush administration make this up as they go along."

There is no sign that the administration intends to abandon its long-standing resistance to mandatory limits on emissions or its reliance on fossil fuels. At the G-8 summit, the U.S. blocked an agreement of the eight industrialized nations to cut global warming emissions in half by 2050 compared with 1990 levels.

Yet Bush has said he intends the conference to assist the U.N. process, not compete with it. He described the Washington meeting as preparation for U.N. negotiations that are scheduled to open in December in Bali, Indonesia, to lay the groundwork for combating climate change once the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012.

The U.S. and Australia have continued to reject the Kyoto Protocol's emission caps. Both nations argue that the caps exempt rapidly growing economies from the limits, giving them an unfair advantage over already-industrialized countries. China is on course to become the world's top emitter of carbon dioxide. Some studies conclude that it has already passed the United States.

European environment ministers meeting with U.S. senators on Tuesday praised the president for getting involved in the fight to keep average temperatures from climbing so high that droughts, flooding and other upheavals roil the planet and threaten human life.

A United Nations panel of scientists used its strongest language ever in a February report concluding that global warming is "very likely" being caused by human activities that have built up carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Sigmar Gabriel, Germany's environment minister, described the meeting Bush has called as a big and important step. "The U.S. must lead," he said, not just because of its contribution to the carbon problem, but because it has "the most dynamic economy, the biggest field of research."

Bush has said that drastic measures by Americans will not significantly change the world's climate future if China and India continue to greatly increase their emissions. But "China, India, they will not do anything without the U.S.," said Denmark's environment minister, Connie Hedegaard.

Several senators said Tuesday that Congress would push for the regulation that Bush had not sought.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, (I-Conn.), said he and John W. Warner (R-Va.) see increasing support for a national emissions cap that would allow trading carbon dioxide rights among polluters. The two lawmakers plan to introduce a bill next month that would create such a system.

"Congress is waking up," Hedegaard said. She said she was glad, "because we are getting a little bit impatient."

Not everyone is convinced that quick action is necessary or even prudent. Scott H. Segal, a Washington lobbyist for utilities, cautioned that caps might have unintended consequences, such as "carbon havens" with lax regulation that could attract American companies to move offshore but allow emissions to continue streaming into the atmosphere.

"We spent 20 years debating climate science," he said. "We need to spend a little quality time thinking about climate policy."


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