Australian, Bush Vow Action on Warming

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By Michael A. Fletcher
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 6, 2007

SYDNEY, Sept. 6 -- One of the first agreements to emerge Wednesday from meetings between President Bush and Australian Prime Minister John Howard was a pledge to take joint action to combat climate change.

It is an issue that neither leader has been closely associated with in the past. Both Australia and the United States refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, the 1997 U.N.-led effort that set goals for major industrialized nations to cut the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming.

Bush and Howard have attacked the Kyoto treaty, with its binding goals for reducing emissions and its lack of mandatory limits for developing countries, as making no sense for their countries or the environment. That stance led to widespread international and domestic criticism. But as the politics of climate change shift in both countries -- with a consensus forming to battle a problem now seen as urgent -- so too have the public postures of Bush and Howard.

Now, both men are trying to position themselves as leaders of a new plan for battling climate change, relying not on mandatory goals but on making it easier to share clean-energy know-how with developing countries.

Climate change is one of the key issues on the agenda for the leaders of 21 Asian and Pacific nations gathering here for their annual summit. Howard, who is hosting the gathering, is pushing leaders at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, or APEC, to agree to a climate change statement before the meeting ends.

Howard announced a domestic plan earlier this year to create an emissions "cap-and-trade" system for Australian industry that would place limits on greenhouse gas emissions by 2012. The plan creates a financial incentive for reducing pollution, while protecting fossil fuel-burning industries by allowing them to essentially buy credits from less-polluting companies that do not reach their emissions caps.

Bush, meanwhile, has been pushing for a climate change regimen that, unlike Kyoto, would include developing nations and give countries a voice in setting goals for cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

"This is not something you would have seen two years ago or three years ago," said an Australian official, who spoke on condition of anonymity so as not to offend the United States.

Bush has invited the European Union and 12 countries -- including rapidly developing nations such as China, India and Brazil that are not party to the Kyoto accord -- to a climate change meeting in Washington this month. Bush hopes that meeting will set the stage for a larger U.N.-backed meeting to be held in Bali, Indonesia, this year.

"I know some say, 'Well, since he's against Kyoto, he doesn't care about the climate change,' " Bush told reporters. "That's urban legend that is preposterous."

Bush pointed out that the United States last year reduced overall greenhouse gas emissions while growing its economy -- a development that experts attributed to favorable weather and the marshaling of new technology unrelated to government initiatives.

However, it is an achievement Bush hopes to build on and export. The agreement with Australia adheres to the kind of framework Bush is pushing for combating climate change. Bush is advocating what his aides call a comprehensive approach that promotes new technology, including new types of nuclear power plants; discourages deforestation; and encourages countries to move away from burning fossil fuels.

"What this statement shows is the common approach of the United States and Australia, and the intent to address the problems of climate change and energy security comprehensively and in an integrated fashion," said Daniel M. Price, U.S. deputy national security adviser for international economic affairs.

But the divergent interests of fully industrialized and still-developing countries are making it difficult for negotiators who are still trying to win agreement from all the world leaders gathering here for the summit.

Many developing countries are reluctant to set even nonbinding targets for reducing emissions -- something they believe could undermine their economic growth. Moreover, they say, more-developed countries should take the lead on the issue.

But Bush and others say climate change efforts are virtually meaningless if they do not include developing nations.

"If you really want to really solve the global climate change issue, let's get everybody to the table," Bush said. "Let's make sure that countries such as China and India are at the table as we discuss the way forward."

Bush administration officials are hoping that the growing urgency around the issue may prod countries toward agreement -- if not here, then at the Washington conference, or in subsequent meetings.

"We've received a lot of questions about some of those proposals. And we anticipate a full and robust discussion," said James L. Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. "I think it will take some time beyond that."


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