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US pushes its climate change agenda despite criticism

US President George W. Bush held a first round of meetings in September 2007 under an initiative he proposed in June in the face of intensifying international pressure for Washington to do more to battle greenhouse-gas emissions.
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Jan 25, 2008
The United States pushed forward with its own agenda on climate change Friday despite criticism that Washington is attempting to undermine the global effort led by the United Nations.

But as senior officials outlined the broad agenda of a meeting the United States is hosting next week in Hawaii -- which includes an emphasis on controversial uses of nuclear power and technology to trap emissions from coal plants -- they insisted they are simply supplementing the UN process.

"It's the work we do this year that makes reaching international agreement in 2009 possible," said Jim Connaughton, chairman of the White House's Council on Environmental Quality.

"And that underscores the importance of the Major Economies process, the aim of which is to focus on a few key areas from the Bali road map where the major economies can make a detailed contribution to be brought into the UN negotiations."

US President George W. Bush held a first round of meetings in September 2007 under an initiative he proposed in June in the face of intensifying international pressure for Washington to do more to battle greenhouse-gas emissions.

This carbon pollution, mainly derived from burning fossil fuels, traps solar heat in the atmosphere and is slowly heating the Earth's surface, wreaking the first of what could be dramatic changes to the climate system.

Bush has invited Australia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, China, the European Union, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, South Korea and the United Nations to send representatives to the meeting in Hawaii January 30-31.

Bush also proposed a summit at which leaders would "finalize the goal" of long-term emissions, but this was received with little enthusiasm and no date for the meeting has been announced.

Connaughton said the meeting would take place "later this year" but cautioned that the US has "got a lot of questions" about the feasibility of a G8 proposal to cut emissions by 50 percent by 2050.

Europeans leaders in particular have approached the US initiative with reluctance and have said they will take a firm approach to ensure the talks do not undermine the progress made in Bali last month.

High on the US agenda is an attempt to eliminate trade barriers for "climate-beneficial goods and services," Connaughton said.

"The World Bank has estimated that with the elimination of tariffs, global trade in lower-carbon technologies could increase by up to 14 percent per year," he said in a conference call with journalists.

"So we are talking about a very easy thing to do, that should have been done years ago, that could produce massive economic benefits, massive productivity benefits, and massive greenhouse gas reduction benefits."

The United States and European Union have called for an immediate elimination of tariffs on about 40 goods and services and will bring a list of 180 or more to the World Trade Organization for further negotiation.

Connaughton also emphasized the need to ensure that developing nations with dynamic such as China, India, Brazil, South Africa, and Mexico bring their emissions under control through investments in advanced technologies.

"We know that all countries are willing to make these investments because right now, if you look at China or India or Brazil, they are investing in state-of-the-art telecommunication systems," he said.

"One can hope and expect the same kind of outcome when it comes to clean energy systems."

The meeting will also focus on collaborative technology development and deployment strategies; reducing tariffs and expanding funding for the adoption of existing clean technologies; and "improved measurement and accounting systems, so we can more effectively track progress," he said.

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