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U.S., partners sign own climate pact

In an alternative to the Kyoto Protocol that requires mandatory cuts in so-called greenhouse gas emissions, the United States and several allies agreed to a plan that focuses on technology solutions.
/ Source: The Associated Press

President Bush’s answer to global warming is technology.

In a move to counter the Kyoto Protocol that requires mandatory cuts in so-called greenhouse gas emissions, he is making the technology pitch as part of a partnership with five Asian and Pacific nations, including China and India. The idea is to get them to commit to cleaner energy production as a way to curtail air pollution that most scientists believe is causing the Earth to warm up.

The administration announced late Wednesday that it has reached an agreement with the five countries to create a new partnership to deploy cleaner technologies whenever possible to produce energy.

The agreement does not bind any of the countries to specific emission reductions, adhering to the Bush doctrine that dealing with climate change should be voluntary and not imposed by mandatory reduction targets and timetables. White House officials also dismissed suggestions that the diplomatic initiative was aimed at undercutting the Kyoto accord, noting that several of the participants also embrace Kyoto.

Neither China nor India were covered by the Kyoto agreement.

Bush: A 'new results-oriented partnership'
The new pact, which also includes as participants Japan, South Korea and Australia, was viewed by senior White House officials as a significant step toward establishing a framework in which rapidly emerging industrial countries will be encouraged and helped to produce cleaner energy as a way to keep climate-changing chemicals out of the atmosphere, especially carbon from fossil fuels.

Bush called it a “new results-oriented partnership” that he said “will allow our nations to develop and accelerate deployment of cleaner, more efficient energy technologies to meet national pollution reduction, energy security and climate change concerns in ways that reduce poverty and promote economic development.”

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman will seek to move the issue forward in meetings with their counterparts in the partnership this fall.

“We are hopeful this will create a complimentary framework (to Kyoto),” said James Connaughton, chairman of the president’s Council on Environmental Quality. He said it was not meant to replace it.

Kyoto pact mandates emission cuts
The United States rejected the 1997 Kyoto pact, which requires reductions by industrial nations of greenhouse emissions. Bush said earlier this month he recognizes that human activity contributes to a warmer Earth, but he continues to oppose the Kyoto treaty that all other major industrialized nations signed because developing nations weren’t included in it.

Bush prefers to address climate change through voluntary actions and by emphasizing development of new technologies that reduce emissions and capture carbon.

As the new partnership develops, it will “harness in significant and greater ways the investments necessary to ... reducing greenhouse gases” through technology transfers and exchange of ideas, Connaughton said.

The six countries pledged “enhanced cooperation” to address the climate change issue through development of less carbon intensive technologies, including clean coal and civilian nuclear power when outlining their energy needs.

Today the United States accounts for a quarter of the word’s greenhouse gases going into the atmosphere, with emissions growing at the rate of 1.5 percent a year despite the administration’s voluntary climate change policies.

However, emissions are expected to surge in countries such as India and China, whose industrial base is growing rapidly.

“Within the next decade or two, developing countries will overtake the industrial world in total greenhouse gas emissions, so that by 2025 more than half of global annual emissions will be coming from developing countries,” economist W. David Montgomery, a critic of the Kyoto accord, told a recent Senate hearing.

Voluntary approach draws criticism
Environmentalists, who have been sharply critical of Bush’s voluntary approach to dealing with climate change, called Wednesday’s initiative little more than what already is being pursued through various bilateral discussions.

“All they’re doing now is wrapping together a few of these partnerships. There does not seem to be anything new,” said Annie Petsonk of Environmental Defense.

“It doesn’t have anything to do with reducing emissions. There are no targets, no cuts, no monitoring of emissions, nothing binding,” added Steve Sawyer of Greenpeace. “It doesn’t address the wider question that two of the richest countries in the world are doing nothing to reduce emissions.”

Connaughton said the agreement with the five Asian countries culminated more than five months of talks. Bush personally discussed the issue with both Australian Prime Minister John Howard and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh when they recently visited Washington.

Like Bush, Howard has been a sharp critic of the Kyoto climate accord, preferring other approaches to dealing with global warming. “We know that this is the answer,” Howard told reporters in Canberra, referring to the technology development partnership. “We know the Kyoto Protocol is a failure in terms of saving the climate. We have to do better.”

In recent weeks Bush has gained several victories for his climate policies.

Congress is preparing to enact broad energy legislation that essentially endorses the voluntary approach on climate and includes incentives for development and exporting clean energy technologies.

And earlier this month in Scotland, the Group of Eight industrialized countries bowed to U.S. pressure by approving a declaration on climate change that avoided taking any concrete steps to fight global warming, such as setting targets or timetables for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.