Boston (AFP) Sep 28, 2007
President George W. Bush went on the offensive on climate change Friday, proposing a summit among major emitters of greenhouse gases that would set a long-term global goal for curbing this dangerous pollution.
Bush also endorsed the UN as the final arena for tackling global warming, but gave not an inch of ground to those demanding the United States slap a legally-binding cap on its own massive carbon emissions.
"Energy security and climate change are two of the great challenges of our time. The United States takes these challenges seriously," Bush told a meeting of world's 16 biggest emitters.
He called on the group to set "a long-term goal" for reducing global greenhouse gases -- the outcome of burning the fossil fuels which also drive the world's economy.
"By setting this goal, we acknowledge there is a problem. And by setting this goal, we commit ourselves to doing something about it.
"By next summer, we will convene a meeting of heads of state to finalize the goal and other elements of this approach, including a strong and transparent system for measuring our progress towards meeting the goal we set."
But he also rammed home the message that the United States, hugely dependent on oil, stood by its six-year-long opposition to setting mandatory caps on its own emissions.
"We must lead the world to produce fewer greenhouse-gas emissions and we must do it in a way that does not undermine economic growth or prevent nations from delivering greater prosperity for their people," he said.
"Each nation will design its own separate strategies for making progress towards this long-term goal. These strategies will reflect each country's different energy resources, different stages of development and different economic needs."
Bush put a heavy emphasis on helping developing nations obtain "secure, cost-effective and proliferation-resistant nuclear power."
"Nuclear power is the one existing source of energy that can generate massive amounts of electricity without causing any air pollution or greenhouse-gas emissions," Bush argued.
The European Union (EU), Canada and Japan share the goal of halving annual global emissions by 50 percent by 2050, although their proposed baseline varies between 1990 and 2007. The US has no such target at the moment.
Bush proposed the 16 economies "join together to create a new international clean technology fund," supported by government contributions from around the world, to "help finance clean energy projects in the developing world."
To applause, he hoped his Washington forum would advance negotiations under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the parent of the Kyoto Protocol.
Key talks on post-2012 pollution cuts take place in Bali, Indonesia, from December 3-14, and Kyoto's defenders have feared Bush would push an alternative, voluntary tack to their pact's tougher commitments.
UNFCCC chief Yvo de Boer said he was reassured by Bush's remarks. "He pointed to the centrality of the UN process," he told AFP.
Representing the EU, Portugal's deputy environment minister, Humberto Rosa, told AFP: "It's good to hear President Bush speak with such a firm and strong message on climate change, which is in such a sharp contrast to the attitude some time ago.
"The world should all look at this as a hopeful sign, but of course we are still in the need to see how this (US) national effort and tone of President Bush will feed into the international process."
A German diplomat warmly welcomed Bush's words, saying, "A speech like this could not have been expected from the US president a few weeks or months ago."
But he stressed his doubts on the substance of Bush's ideas, including the push on nuclear power, which is badly out of favor in Germany and other European countries.
"It doesn't make any sense to spread the risk of nuclear bombs if we also spread the risk of rogue states and terrorists making a nuclear bomb," he said.
The 16 nations, invited by Bush in an initiative unveiled ahead of the Group of Eight (G8) summit in June, were: Australia, Britain, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Russia, South Africa and the United States. EU and UN representatives also attended.
These economies together account for about 80 percent of global emissions, according to US figures.
Their two-day meeting, at ministerial level or below, agreed to stage a series of talks next year on the long-term global emissions target; on national emissions plans; and on ways of encouraging business and new technology in the fight against global warming.
Jim Connaughton, chairman of the White House's Council on Environmental Quality, told reporters that, on the long-term target, "our objective is to reach consensus in time (for when) the leaders meet next year."
In the wake of the U.N. climate-change summit earlier this week, a more intimate gathering of the world's greatest emitters convened Thursday for a discussion many have tentatively hailed as a positive move.
President Bush announced his plan to host climate-change meetings, including this week's two-day "Major Economies Meeting on Energy Security and Climate Change," in the spring. The administration hopes to "set a long-term global goal for reducing greenhouse gases" with the other nations participating by the end of 2008, Bush said in a May 31 speech.
Ultimately, the meetings aim at setting a new framework for international climate-change discussions leading up to 2012, when the Kyoto Protocol, the current international emissions reduction agreement, expires, said Kristen Hellmer, spokeswoman for the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
"We actually expect what comes out of this meeting to aid in the post-Kyoto U.N. agreement," Hellmer told United Press International. "We hope to accelerate the process of a broader agreement under the umbrella of the U.N."
The opportunity to do so will come in December, at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Bali, Indonesia.
Climate change has fast become a major international issue with some skeptics, including the president, acknowledging the need for concerted global action. Some scientists say the weather patterns brought about by climate change could hurt natural resources such as water, eventually resulting in serious international security concerns.
However, as one of the only industrialized nations not to sign the Kyoto Protocol, the United States may seem an odd candidate to lead discussions on the agreement's replacement, causing some parties to express concern about this week's gathering, said Bryan Mignone, a climate-change expert with the Brookings Institution, a non-profit research and policy organization.
"Originally, when the administration first proposed their summit, a lot of people thought it was to derail the U.N. process," Mignone told UPI.
But a growing number of individuals seem hopeful that the meeting will reap positive results, perhaps encouraged, in part, by the United Nations' backing of the gathering and planned participation in the meeting.
"I think that as time has gone on żż it has become clear that it is intended to be part of the larger process," Mignone said.
One of the benefits may result simply from size. Only 17 entities have been invited -- far fewer than the 150-plus countries present at the U.N. summit on Monday -- and include countries with developing economies, such as China and India.
"One of the lessons from the Kyoto process is that the more people you have at the table, the harder it is to reach consensus," Mignone said.
In addition to bringing the world's biggest economies together, the gathering also represents a conglomeration of the world's biggest polluters, as participating countries account for 90 percent of future greenhouse gas emissions, according to White House statistics.
The meeting focuses on addressing climate change, economic growth, sustainable development and energy security simultaneously. As a result, the agenda includes discussions on the most urgent needs for producing energy-efficient technology, each country's current climate-change mitigation efforts, areas of possible collaboration and the development of a unified system of emissions accounting.
In the past, the United States has focused on voluntary methods, as opposed to mandatory legally binding agreements, as a means to mitigating climate change. In this meeting, the emphasis appears to follow the same trend, according to Jim Connaughton, chairman for the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
"It's our philosophy that each nation has the sovereign capacity to decide for itself what its own portfolio of policies should be," Connaughton told reporters last week at a White House news briefing on the Major Economies meeting. "So Europe should be setting its objectives, just as the United States sets its own objectives."
However, some of the meeting's supporters are wary of an overemphasis on voluntarism, including Olav Kjorven, a member of the U.N. secretary-general's Climate Change Team.
"Without a clear target that will bind industrial countries, it will be impossible to reach emissions (reduction) goals," Kjorven told UPI. "The United Kingdom and other European Union countries are very clear on that, and that was also the sentiment at the summit here (on Monday)."
The Kyoto Protocol establishes a carbon market system that limits the amount of greenhouse gasses individuals, businesses and countries may generate and allows different entities to buy and sell their emissions shares. Kjorven said he thinks the system has proven to be an effective pilot and would serve as a positive model for future efforts to mitigate climate change.
Some U.S. policymakers agree, including Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
"The U.S. will lack the credibility to negotiate any serious international climate agreement unless it can come up with a credible plan to limit greenhouse gas emissions domestically," Bingaman said. "I hope that the president's concern about climate change will lead him to support specific legislation that would put in place a cap and trade system for greenhouse gases."
Despite the administration's focus on voluntarism, some experts said they think most of the other countries participating in this week's meeting are more interested in mandatory agreements. Most of the participants have signed the Kyoto Protocol, and Angela Anderson of the National Environmental Trust hopes these countries will sway the United States to their side, instead of the other way around.
"I think the developing world is here because they want to see what kind of programs and policies the United States government will propose," said Anderson, vice president of the climate program at NET, a non-profit environmental organization that is holding a parallel meeting this week with leaders of non-governmental organizations from participating countries. "And, hopefully, by talking, they will be able to bring the U.S. around."
earlier related report
The two-day event gathered Australia, Britain, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Russia, South Africa and the United States. They were represented at ministerial level or below.
Representatives from the European Union (EU) and UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) also attended.
The initiative was proposed by US President George W. Bush in the runup to the Group of Eight (G8) summit in Heiligendamm, Germany, in June.
Meetings will start after a key conference under the UNFCCC, taking place in Bali, Indonesia, from December 3-14 on deepening emissions cuts after the current pledges under the Kyoto Protocol run out at the end of 2012, US officials said.
France, in coordination with the EU, will stage a meeting at ministerial level in March 2008, said French climate ambassador Brice Lalonde.
"The meeting will be to assess Bali," he said.
Discussions under the Washington initiative include setting a target for long-term global emissions reduction; identifying national emissions-reduction plans; ways of spurring private-sector involvement in tackling climate change; and encouraging the transfer of cleaner technology to big emerging economies.
Concluding at the end of 2008, this process will feed its results into the UNFCCC forum with the goal of accelerating the global negotiations.
Bush on Friday proposed a summit of these "major emitters" in mid-2008 to finalize the long-term emissions goal.
Asked whether this summit would be hosted by the United States or perhaps by Japan on the occasion of its own G8 summit next year, Jim Connaughton, chairman of the White House's Council on Environmental Quality, told reporters: "There's no decision yet."
Source: United Press International
Source: Agence France-Presse
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