By Michael Abramowitz and Steven Mufson
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, March 2, 2008
CRAWFORD, Tex., March 1 -- The Danish prime minister, the host of the next big international meeting on climate change, used unusual one-on-one time Saturday with President Bush to press the United States to take a greater leadership role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
In an interview and in remarks while visiting Bush at his ranch here for a weekend of bike riding and casual dining, Anders Fogh Rasmussen indicated hopes of reaching a new agreement at Copenhagen next year to replace the expiring Kyoto Protocol with a plan that would set a target for reducing greenhouse gases and create a new global trading system for carbon emissions.
"We need a comprehensive global agreement, and American leadership is needed to reach that goal, and American leadership is crucial in order to motivate major economies like India and China to contribute," Rasmussen said after private talks with Bush and top aides.
In his public remarks, Bush was noncommittal, other than to cite the need to develop alternative energy technologies. But an administration spokesman said the president assured Rasmussen in private of his interest in reaching a global warming deal, including binding targets for reductions in emissions -- as long as it includes steps by China, India and other developing countries, as well as flexibility in how countries meet the targets.
Gordon Johndroe, a White House spokesman, said Bush told Rasmussen: "We can agree to targets, but every country decides how to get there."
Bush has indicated he would like to make progress in his final year in office on a global warming pact, but many environmentalists and European countries have been skeptical that Bush will go along with the steps they see as necessary. They believe that the developed world, such as the United States and Europe, are the major contributors to global warming -- and should commit themselves to reductions regardless of whether the developing countries go along.
As the prime minister of Denmark, which will host the 2009 United Nations summit on global warming, Rasmussen could play an important role in the ongoing dialogue. He is close to Bush, thanks to his strong support on Iraq and Afghanistan, and is one of a handful of world leaders who has secured a prized invitation to Crawford and Camp David.
In an interview last week with The Washington Post, Rasmussen said that U.S. leadership on climate change was even more important to Europeans than American withdrawal from Iraq. "A clear signal from the United States that the U.S. will engage itself in the climate change process would be valuable in a European context," he said. "It might be much more important . . . than decisions about the number of troops in Iraq."
In Kyoto, Japan, the United States had pressed for a cap-and-trade system similar to one in place for sulfur dioxide emissions. The Kyoto Protocol set ceilings on greenhouse gas emissions and allowed companies to buy and trade allowances. Those who emitted less than permitted amounts could sell allowances to those who emitted more. A system was put in place that gave credits to companies that reduced emissions in developing countries.
In the end, the United States did not join the Kyoto system. Europe did, and there is now an active market in greenhouse gas emissions, measured in tons of carbon dioxide, worth tens of billions of dollars a year.
But the Kyoto accords expire in 2012, and Europeans say that to ensure compliance on emissions widespread enough to make a dent in climate change, there must be an agreement on new rules in Copenhagen in December 2009.
In the past year, Bush has initiated talks with major industrial countries on limiting emissions, but administration officials have suggested that each country might pursue its own method of reducing emissions. Europeans have supported the Bush talks but are worried that they might undermine the U.N.-sponsored process that will culminate in Copenhagen and that is aimed at coming up with an internationally binding treaty.
"We appreciate the president's initiative," said Rasmussen, though he made clear his view that "a new global deal should take place within the framework of the United Nations."
While many environmentalists in the United States have resigned themselves to waiting for a new administration before getting any climate change legislation adopted, Rasmussen said that international negotiators cannot afford to wait.
He said he wants to achieve agreement on several key items this year, while the Bush administration is still in office. Most important: He wants the administration to agree to a target for emissions reduction. The European Union has set a goal of reducing worldwide emissions by 60 percent below the 1990 baseline by 2050. Assuming that developing countries cannot meet that target, the European Union expects industrialized nations to cut emissions by 80 percent by 2050. Japan has set a target of 50 percent.
"We cannot wait for a new administration," he said, noting that it will take time to prepare a treaty and system to reduce carbon emissions. He also alluded to the fact that Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) are committed to more aggressive U.S. actions to address the issue.
"We follow the election campaign closely," Rasmussen said. "There is a consensus among the remaining three running candidates that the United States should involve itself stronger in the climate change process. I think we can build on this."
Mufson reported from Washington.