Bush Steps Out Front on Climate Issue

By Steven Mufson and Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, September 23, 2007

Amid a mounting sense of urgency about the need for action to slow climate change, President Bush this week will be playing what is, for him, an unusually prominent role in high-level diplomatic meetings on how to confront global warming.

What he will not do, officials said, is chart any shift in policies that have put him at odds with much of the world on the issue.

Tomorrow, at a private dinner on climate change hosted by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Bush will join about two dozen other heads of state, several from countries most vulnerable to higher temperatures and rising seas. On Thursday, he will address a White House-hosted climate change conference that will include senior officials from rapidly developing nations such as China, India and Brazil, which have been reluctant to divert economic resources to curb their rising greenhouse gas emissions.

Top Bush administration officials said the president is not planning to alter his opposition to mandatory limits on greenhouse gases or to stray from his emphasis on promoting new technologies, especially for nuclear power and for the storage of carbon dioxide produced by coal plants.

James L. Connaughton, head of the president's Council on Environmental Quality, said Bush's goals are to come up with standard "harmonized" tools for measuring carbon dioxide emissions; review current climate policies around the world; kick off talks about ways to cut greenhouse gases in specific sectors of the economy; and aim for a "solid handoff to the next president, regardless of party." Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. is expected to propose lower tariffs and export credits for clean energy technology.

That could disappoint many of the diplomats, activists, experts and business executives converging on New York and Washington this week with higher hopes.

"It's a great initiative that [Bush] has taken," said Lars G. Josefsson, chief executive of the European utility Vattenfall AB and an adviser to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. "But of course with that initiative, he also takes on a responsibility, which means he has to deliver."

The sense of urgency comes not only from new evidence of climate change but also because the pioneering Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012. Although the United States never ratified the protocol, and developing countries have no obligations under it, the accord has served in Europe as the basis for a far-reaching cap-and-trade system for limiting emissions. (Such systems allow companies to buy and sell the right to emit global warming gases.)

United Nations Foundation President Timothy E. Wirth, who, as President Bill Clinton's undersecretary of state for global affairs, helped broker the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, said the political atmosphere is more conducive to forging a global warming pact now than it was a decade ago. "The environment is one of much greater knowledge, a much greater sense of urgency and a rapidly changing politics," Wirth said.

But he faulted the Bush administration for promoting dialogue without pressing for concrete commitments. "When you don't want to do anything, talk process. Nowhere in this process is this administration talking about a concrete commitment," he said. "Is this administration going to be the one to break the logjam? I haven't seen any evidence of that."

Bush's meetings are not the only ones planned this week. More than 80 heads of state will discuss climate issues at the United Nations tomorrow, and Indonesia will lead talks among countries that hope to be compensated for limiting deforestation, which contributes to global warming. Nongovernmental groups, such as the Clinton Global Initiative, are also holding events.

All these meetings are precursors to a two-week session in December in Bali under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, the 15-year-old agreement that governs global-warming negotiations.

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