By John Heilprin
The Seattle Times
WASHINGTON — President Bush’s climate meeting opened Thursday with its main problem on full display: The biggest polluters – industrialized and developing nations alike – say their economies are more important than global warming.
Not for the richest nations, retort Europeans, the United Nations and some developing nations.
Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, anticipating such divisions, urged all sides to work together to “accelerate the prospects” of a U.N.-led solution later this year at talks in Bali, Indonesia.
“Pitting the developed and the developing countries against each other will not lead to economic development and environmental sustainability,” he said in remarks prepared for Thursday night. “We must tear down artificial barriers that impede the spread of today’s clean technologies. There is no moral or economic reason for tariffs or non-tariff barriers on environmental goods or services.”
The U.S. talks, following on the heels of the United Nations’ climate gathering Monday, is an attempt to influence what happens after 2012, when the U.N.-brokered Kyoto Protocol mandating greenhouse gas cuts by industrial nations expires. The emphasis, as with much of Bush’s climate approach, is on the sharing of green technology.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called for a solution “that does not starve economies of the energy they need to grow and that does not widen the already significant income gap between developed and developing nations.”
But she left it to nations to set their own goals and priorities.
“Let me emphasize that this is not a one-size-fits-all effort,” Rice said at the start of a two-day climate meeting called by Bush. “Though united by common goals and collective responsibilities, all nations should tackle climate change in the ways that they deem best.”
Rice also called for nations to “cut the Gordian Knot of fossil fuels, carbon emissions, and economic activity.”
Though the White House-led meeting includes Britain, France, Germany and other nations in the Kyoto accord, many European officials expressed concern that Bush’s meeting would sidetrack the U.N. negotiations that have been the main forum for addressing global warming.
On Thursday, German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel said that he did not think that the Bush administration would be an impediment to global talks.
“We all know that they will be out of office in a few months,” he said on NDR Info radio. Bush leaves office in January, 2009.
Later, Gabriel told reporters the conference was a sign that the Bush administration was engaging in the issue.
“The good news is that we are negotiating,” he said. He said Europeans would be watching closely a speech by Bush at the conference Friday to gauge the U.S. commitment.
The U.S. talks proposed new “processes” and work teams for negotiating solutions. Despite the emphasis on bureaucracy, James Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, told participants: “This has to be about more than presentations.”
Yvo de Boer, the top U.N. climate official, told the 16 nations participating in the White House-led meeting that “this relatively small group of countries holds a key to tackling a big part of the problem” but that their response can succeed only by “going well beyond present efforts,” especially among rich, industrialized nations.
While the U.N. supports mandatory cuts in greenhouse gases by rich nations, Bush’s rejection of the treaty stands: The U.S. won’t do more than slow its growth rate of emissions, and whatever requirements the world agrees upon should extend equally to fast-developing nations like China and India.
Developing nations such as China, Mexico and Indonesia say reducing poverty must be their main priority, but that they also can reduce emissions carbon dioxide and other warming gases, for example by targeting some parts of their economies for cuts or by planting trees and cutting down fewer forest lands.
They argue that rich nations should make greater use of Kyoto’s Clean Development Mechanism, which lets them meet their carbon cuts by paying for projects in poorer countries.
“Poverty is still No. 1,” Emil Salim, an economist and member of the Indonesian president’s council of advisers, told The Associated Press.
“It is correct that for the developed countries, climate change is more important,” said Salim, a former Indonesian minister for population and environment. “But for the developing nations, the key notion is how to get poverty reduction and search for a pattern of development that is different than the developed nations.”
As they consider ways to curb greenhouse gases, developing nations expressed a preference for U.N.-sponsored talks to decide on a post-2012 strategy and said they do not want to give up ground toward industrializing – and meeting basic human needs.
Bush’s meeting has competed for attention with the climate change summit held Monday in New York City, at which U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned 80 world leaders that “the time for doubt has passed” and urged fast action to save future generations from potentially ruinous effects of global warming.
About 70 demonstrators from Greenpeace and other environmental groups gathered Thursday outside the State Department, where dozens were arrested for refusing to leave the premise after two hours of protest. The activists labeled the conference a fraud for not encouraging mandatory cuts in greenhouse gases.
“I’m here to protest the fact that we are having a climate conference when we should have been signing the Kyoto agreement,” said Lauren Siegel, 23, from New York, N.Y., as she was loaded into a police van. “This is a diversion,” she said of the conference.