For U.S., Policy Discord Plays Out at Bali Climate Change Talks

By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 11, 2007

BALI, Indonesia, Dec. 10 -- Congressional Democrats, in the person of Sen. John F. Kerry, and the White House took their disagreements over global warming policy halfway around the world as United Nations-sponsored climate change talks got into high gear Monday.

Kerry (D-Mass.), who traveled roughly 20 hours on commercial flights to get here and was making the same journey back for a series of Senate votes Tuesday, met over the weekend with representatives of more than a dozen countries, including Australia, China, Germany, Indonesia and Japan, held a news conference, and delivered a speech before a packed room of nongovernmental officials before heading back to Washington.

"The issue here is, are we serious about the process?" Kerry said in an interview near the end of what he called his "20 minutes in Bali" trip. About 10,000 delegates have gathered in an effort to map a path toward an international pact to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

"If scientists say a two-degree Celsius rise above pre-industrial levels could lead to disastrous consequences, then I think we have an obligation to embrace that goal, and you have to embrace the truth about how you get there," Kerry said.

Kerry's comments came on the same day the Bush administration's chief climate negotiator, Harlan L. Watson, rejected a specific temperature rise or emissions reduction target. Even as many American lawmakers, business leaders and environmentalists insisted the United States is poised to change its climate policy, administration officials reiterated that they are willing only to embrace open-ended talks.

The draft text U.N. officials unveiled Monday includes language calling on industrialized countries to cut emissions between 25 percent and 40 percent by 2020; Bush officials rejected that proposal, along with language calling for all developed countries to adopt national emissions goals.

"We don't think it's prudent to start out with a set of numbers," Watson said Sunday. "We're here to talk about the differences and try to resolve them. That's what negotiations are all about."

Kerry, at his news conference, described how various federal, state and local officials have taken action on greenhouse gas emissions. "We wanted to bring the message to Bali the United States is going to be at the table," he said. "The United States is going to lead."

The senator, who added that he believes the Bush administration intended to negotiate in "good faith," is the sole standard-bearer for Congress at the massive meeting of nearly 190 countries. About a dozen senators and House members had planned to attend, but most are stuck in Washington dealing with legislation.

In Washington, several Democrats said they were hoping all the delegates -- including the Americans -- would take a cue from last week's vote by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to endorse a bill that calls for mandatory emission cuts.

The bill "signals a rapidly growing commitment in Congress and across America to capping our greenhouse gas emissions so that we can avoid the dangerous consequences of inaction," committee Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said in a statement.

But the top Republican on Boxer's panel, Sen. James M. Inhofe (Okla.), questioned the effect of last week's action on the climate bill.

"Democratic attempts to influence the U.N. Climate Conference, much like the entire conference itself, are more theatrics than substance," Inhofe said in a statement. "To pass the bill, Democrats were forced to sidestep several contentious issues, such as the devastating impacts this bill would have on the loss of millions of American jobs to countries like China and the impacts of skyrocketing energy costs, especially on the poor."

One frustrated lawmaker devised an alternative way to be a presence at the Bali talks. On Tuesday, Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), who chairs the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, will give a speech from a virtual podium on the Web site Second Life, using an animated version of himself known as an avatar.

"I want the Bali conference to know there are leaders in the United States who care about what is happening to the planet, and are prepared to meet the challenge," Markey said in an interview. "Instead of offsetting the carbon footprint of my flight to Bali, I'm going to upload my avatar and I'm going to Bali with no footprint at all."

Markey said he was confident that his avatar -- which will speak from a virtual Bali stage provided by the British nonprofit group OneClimate -- will persuade other delegates that he and other U.S. politicians care about global warming. The avatar, which has extremely long legs and a shapely torso, is not exactly a replica of the congressman.

"I'm wearing a green tie because I'm Irish," he said, laughing when pressed about his virtual counterpart. "Any resemblance between me and my avatar is completely coincidental."

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