U.S. Pressure Weakens G-8 Climate Plan

By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 17, 2005

Bush administration officials working behind the scenes have succeeded in weakening key sections of a proposal for joint action by the eight major industrialized nations to curb climate change.

Under U.S. pressure, negotiators in the past month have agreed to delete language that would detail how rising temperatures are affecting the globe, set ambitious targets to cut carbon dioxide emissions and set stricter environmental standards for World Bank-funded power projects, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post. Negotiators met this week in London to work out details of the document, which is slated to be adopted next month at the Group of Eight's annual meeting in Scotland.

The administration's push to alter the G-8's plan on global warming marks its latest effort to edit scientific or policy documents to accord with its position that mandatory carbon dioxide cuts are unnecessary. Under mounting international pressure to adopt stricter controls on heat-trapping gas emissions, Bush officials have consistently sought to modify U.S. government and international reports that would endorse a more aggressive approach to mitigating global warming.

Last week, the New York Times reported that a senior White House official had altered government documents to emphasize the uncertainties surrounding the science on global warming. That official, White House Council on Environmental Quality chief of staff Phillip Cooney, left the administration last Friday to take a public relations job with oil giant Exxon Mobil, a leading opponent of mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions.

The wording of the international document, titled "Climate Change, Clean Energy and Sustainable Development," will help determine what, if any, action the G-8 countries will take as a group to combat global warming. Every member nation except the United States has pledged to bring its greenhouse gas emissions down to 1990 levels by 2012 as part of the Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair -- who currently heads the G-8 -- is trying to coax the United States into adopting stricter climate controls.

In preparation for the summit, negotiators are trying to work out the wording of statements on climate change and other issues that leaders of all eight nations are willing to endorse. The language is not final, but the documents show that a number of deletions have been made at U.S. insistence.

Although the new statement by G-8 leaders may not dramatically alter the other nations' policies on global warming, what it says could mark a shift for the United States. (The other G-8 members are Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia.) U.S. officials pressed negotiators to drop sections of the report that highlight some problems tied to global warming, warn of more frequent droughts and floods, and commit a specific dollar amount to promoting carbon sequestration in developing countries.

One deleted section, for example, initially cited "increasingly compelling evidence of climate change, including rising ocean and atmospheric temperatures, retreating ice sheets and glaciers, rising sea levels, and changes to ecosystems." It added: "Inertia in the climate system means that further warming is inevitable. Unless urgent action is taken, there will be a growing risk of adverse effects on economic development, human health and the natural environment, and of irreversible long-term changes to our climate and oceans."

Instead, U.S. negotiators substituted a sentence that reads, "Climate change is a serious long term challenge that has the potential to affect every part of the globe."

James L. Connaughton, who heads the Council on Environmental Quality, said the United States was in "extremely constructive discussions on preparing leadership text for the G-8 meeting" that would outline the world's climate change problem in a "succinct and strong" manner.

"It's very important to view [the deletions] in context," Connaughton said in an interview. "The overall context is one of strong consensus about a shared commitment to practical action, as well as defined management strategies."

But environmentalists and Democrats criticized the administration for trying to water down the international coalition's initiative.

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