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October 2, 2007

Government & Policy

White House Holds Climate-Change Conference

President Bush urges voluntary action to reduce CO2 emissions; other countries want mandatory goals

Bette Hileman

A White House conference on climate change, held on Sept. 27 and 28 with the world's major carbon-emitting nations, was supposed to show that President George W. Bush is serious about tackling climate issues, but other participants criticized his voluntary approach to the problem.

White House Press Corps

"Energy security and climate change are two of the great challenges of our time. The United States takes these challenges seriously," Bush said in a speech at the State Department on the second day of the meeting. He proposed a summit next year of major CO2 emitters to set a long-term global goal for reducing greenhouse gases.

"By setting this goal, we commit ourselves to doing something about it. By next summer, we will convene a meeting of heads of state to finalize the goal and other elements of this approach," Bush said. However, he repeated his position that the goal should be an aspiration, not mandatory, and that each country should design its own strategy for achieving the long-term goal.

Bush also proposed that the 16 economies represented at the conference create an international clean technology fund supported by government contributions to "help finance clean energy projects in the developing world." Bush did not acknowledge that such a fund already exists under the Kyoto protocol. Most of the protocol's provisions expire in 2012.

The European Commission, which represents 27 countries, expressed strong disapproval of the voluntary approach that Bush advocates. A global reduction of 50% in greenhouse gases by 2050 "must be the absolute minimum effort ??? to limit the risk of the global climate going beyond the famous ???tipping point' of no return," said Mogens Peter Carl, EC director general for environment, at a conference press briefing. And to achieve this goal, he said, the developed nations that are responsible for 80% of the CO2 already in the atmosphere need to make firm commitments to reduce emissions at least 30% by 2020 and 60???80% by 2050.

With the exception of the U.S., almost every country favors binding emission-reduction targets for developed countries, said Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, one of a handful of nongovernmental organizations invited to participate in the White House conference.

On Sept. 24, the United Nations hosted a one-day climate-change meeting attended by representatives of 150 governments, including 80 heads of state. Nearly all of the speakers emphasized the need to take urgent action and to set mandatory targets. Except for a working dinner, Bush did not attend this meeting.

UN talks on achieving further cuts in greenhouse gas emissions after pledges under the Kyoto protocol expire will take place in Bali, Indonesia, on Dec. 3–14.

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