By James Gerstenzang
Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON — President Bush, who took office skeptical about global warming, said Friday that the nations emitting the most greenhouse gases — a group that includes the United States — must reduce their pollution levels.
But he also insisted on voluntary goals for such efforts, which he said could be met largely through new technology that would create what he called “an age of clean energy.”
He set a two-year deadline for nations in a U.S.-led conference to reach a consensus on how to cut emissions, a schedule that punts the decision to his successor. He also proposed creating an international fund, with contributions from governments, to help make clean-energy technology available.
Critics chastised Bush for failing to call for immediate and specific steps to increase energy efficiency, expand use of renewable fuels and move toward mandatory emissions restrictions similar to those set to expire in 2012 under the Kyoto Protocol, an international pact the United States never signed.
Bush spoke on the second and final day of a 17-nation conference at the U.S. State Department that brought together energy consumers and officials from some of the world’s major economies.
Bush acknowledged that climate change is real and human activity is a factor.
“By setting this goal, we acknowledge there is a problem, and by setting this goal, we commit ourselves to doing something about it,” he said. “We share a common responsibility: to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions while keeping our economies growing.”
James Connaughton, who as chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality oversaw this week’s meeting, said it met his goal of putting “issues on the table.”
But Mogens Peter Carl, the European Union’s director general for the environment, said there needed to be talk about targets for emissions reductions, rather than broad goals.
The global-warming debate has proved troublesome for Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, both of whom spent several years in the oil business. Bush rarely speaks of it at such length.
With the demand for energy forecast by many experts to rise more than 50 percent by 2030, Bush challenged conference participants to find a way to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions while meeting the needs for economic growth.
Bush called for “a new international approach on greenhouse-gas emissions,” one that would commit “the world’s largest producers” of the gases to set goals for reducing them and to do so by next summer at a meeting of heads of state.
The program would include a system to measure progress toward the goals and would be followed by a “global consensus” at the United Nations by 2009 on emissions reductions.
Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists and a veteran observer of international global-warming negotiations, said the conference had “achieved nothing.”
He also said: “As long as the White House continues to oppose mandatory pollution limits, it is part of the problem, not the solution.”
Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.