President Bush on Friday urged nations to set a goal for curbing emissions tied to global warming, but stopped short of accepting mandatory curbs laid out in an existing U.N. accord.
"By setting this goal, we acknowledge there is a problem, and by setting this goal, we commit ourselves to doing something about it," Bush said in a speech that capped two days of talks at a White House-sponsored climate change conference. "We share a common responsibility: to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while keeping our economies growing."
He said each nation should establish for itself what methods it will use to rein in emissions without stunting economic growth.
He also proposed the creation of an international fund to finance research into clean-energy technology, announcing that U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson would coordinate the effort and would be in touch with other governments soon about moving forward.
"Each nation must decide for itself the right mix of tools and technology to achieve results that are measurable and environmentally effective," Bush said.
Shortly before his speech at the State Department, officials issued a hand-sized handout for reporters emphasizing that the president was serious about the issue.
Myth: The president refuses to admit that climate change is real and that humans are a factor, the handout said. Myth: The U.S. is doing nothing to address climate change. Myth: The United States refuses to engage internationally.
British, German delegates react
Europeans say technology is crucial but not a substitute for binding targets on emissions.
“One of the striking features of this meeting is how isolated this administration has become. There is absolutely no suppport that I can see in the international comunity that we can drive this effort on the basis of voluntary efforts,” John Ashton, a special representative on climate change for the British foreign secretary, said in an interview. “I don’t think that this meeting by itself moves the ball very much at all. The much more significant meeting this week was at the U.N., where there was a sense of urgency.”
German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel gave the equivalent of two cheers — not three — for Bush.
“This here was a great step for the Americans and a small step for mankind,” he said. “In substance, we are still far apart.”
Delegates were also gearing up for a possible confrontation about the meeting’s written conclusions. Gabriel said Germany would not support them if they did not reflect the fact that most of the countries present wanted binding targets.
The Bush administration strategy includes creating a process for more such talks and a possible long-term global goal for reducing emissions, with each nation permitted to draw up its own strategies and plans.
Representatives from among the gathering of 16 nations, along with the European Union and the United Nations, expressed skepticism that not much more than talking and political goals might be accomplished, but also optimism that at least the United States was willing to become part of such talks.
Until recently, said Emil Salim, an economist and member of the Indonesian president's council of advisers, Bush offered "no dialogue on the Kyoto Protocol whatsoever. This time, the members of the Kyoto Protocol are invited to discuss. So from that point of view, there is some improvement," he said. "But on the other hand, I think it has more to do with the domestic politics, because you have elections."
Though Bush and U.S. lawmakers rejected the Kyoto Protocol, the U.N.-brokered international treaty intended to cut greenhouse gas emissions that expires in 2012, he is seeking ideas for what should come next. Critics have said they fear he might use his talks to undermine the next round of negotiations in December in Bali, Indonesia.
But on Thursday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice countered that the United States is serious about global warming and making progress to slow its growth rate in carbon dioxide and other industrial warming gases.
Rice: Ready to work
"I want to stress that the United States takes climate change very seriously, for we are both a major economy and a major emitter," Rice said. "Climate change is a global problem and we are contributing to it, therefore we are prepared to expand our leadership to address the challenge. That is why President Bush has convened this meeting."
They also gave reassurances that the U.S. intent is to contribute to the U.N. negotiations on climate change, even though those emphasize mandatory controls on carbon dioxide that Bush opposes. Bush, and Congress in a vote before his administration, rejected the Kyoto accord because he said it unfairly harmed the economies of rich nations like the United States and excluded developing nations like China and India from having to cut greenhouse gases.
Bush's two-day conference followed a U.N. meeting Monday at which Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon tried to build support among 80 world leaders for reaching agreement at the planned December talks.
Other participants at the State Department conference were from Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Canada, Brazil, South Korea, Mexico, Russia, Australia and South Africa.
The meeting Thursday also drew about 70 demonstrators from Greenpeace and other environmental groups outside the State Department, where dozens were arrested for refusing to leave the premises after two hours of protest. The activists labeled the conference a fraud for not backing mandatory cuts in greenhouse gases.
The Bush administration proposes new "processes" and work teams for negotiating solutions. However, James Connaughton, who heads the White House Council on Environmental Quality, told the nations' representatives that their efforts must "be about more than presentations" and that "we need to take collective action to advance new technologies."
Yvo de Boer, the top U.N. climate official, told the 16 nations participating in the White House-led meeting that "this relatively small group of countries holds a key to tackling a big part of the problem" but that their response can succeed only by "going well beyond present efforts," especially among rich, industrialized nations.