- The Washington Times - Monday, September 24, 2007

Global-warming specialists and international government climate-policy officials are gathering this week in Washington at the invitation of the White House, to hash out a plan to reduce greenhouse gases, which are thought to cause global warming.

The Bush administration — which has been criticized for not doing enough to slow the process of global warming, for failing to ratify the Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse gases — is hoping to move the process forward and demonstrate to the international community that it’s serious about dealing with global warming.

“At this meeting, [the U.S. will] seek agreement on the process by which the major economies would, by the end of 2008, agree upon a post-2012 framework that could include a long-term global goal, nationally defined midterm goals and strategies, and sector-based approaches for improving energy security and reducing greenhouse-gas emissions,” said Harlen Watson, a senior climate negotiator for the United States at a global climate workshop in Vienna, Austria, late last month.

Critics of the Bush administration on global warming are cautious.

Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, said this week’s meeting “brings together the right group of countries,” but is skeptical about the plan the Bush administration hopes to set up.

The administration will host a Meeting of Major Economies on Climate Change and Energy Security on Thursday and Friday in Washington.

Those expected to attend are senior officials from the European Union, including the current EU President, Jose Manuel Barroso, as well as representatives from France, Germany, Italy, Britain, Japan, China, Canada, India, Brazil, South Korea, Mexico, Russia, Australia, Indonesia, South Africa, and the United Nations.

“The administration has said it’s goal is to get a consensus among major economies by the end of 2008 … contributing to a global deal under the U.N. convention in 2009. … Just about the only thing that the administration thinks the countries need to agree on is an aspiration long-term goal,” said Mrs. Claussen at a press briefing last week, explaining that while that goal would be helpful, it is not essential.

“What is essential is that countries commit to the kinds of actions they are going to take starting right now,” she said.

The Bush administration wants each country to create these commitments independently, which is the antithesis of negotiating an international consensus, Mrs. Claussen said.

Meanwhile, on Saturday, governments of almost 200 countries agreed to speed the elimination of a major greenhouse gas that depletes ozone, U.N. and Canadian officials said, describing a deal they said was a significant step toward fighting global warming.

The agreement reached Friday night will accelerate a treaty to freeze and phase out hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), which are used in home appliances, including some refrigerators, hair sprays and air conditioners, said Nick Nuttall, spokesman for the United Nations Environment Program.

In Washington, the White House said the agreement would cut in half the potential emissions of remaining chemicals harmful to the ozone.

“This action will not only speed up recovery of the ozone layer, but also represents one of the most significant new global actions to confront climate change by reducing the greenhouse-gas profile of the phased-out substances,” a White House statement said.

While HCFCs are less destructive to the ozone layer, they are considered potent greenhouse gases that harm the climate — up to 10,000 times worse than carbon dioxide emissions.

In New York today, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and more than 150 heads of states, are participating in a U.N. General Assembly and discussing the political actions needed to accelerate the steps being made under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

“What you really need is a general negotiation among the major world economies with the understanding that the goal is commitment,” Mrs. Claussen said.

“The negotiations going on under Kyoto are too narrow since they’re only about commitments of a subset of the developed countries. They exclude the U.S. and Australia,” Mrs. Claussen said.

Mrs. Claussen said to further the discussion process, these talks need to bring the United States and the emerging economies into the system.

“The best way to do that is by launching a negotiation under the framework convention, where the U.S. is a party, that either parallels or encompasses the Kyoto negotiation,” she said.

The UNFCCC discussions are not negotiations, but simply a series of workshops taking place over two years, and culminating this December in Bali, Indonesia, to explore the “building blocks” of any future agreements regarding the global climate, said Elliot Diringer, director of international strategies at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change at Wednesday’s briefing.

A June Group of Eight Summit held in Heiligendamm, Germany, called for global agreement on a post-2012 framework under the UNFCCC in 2009. Other outcomes of the summit included an endorsement for Mr. Bush’s proposal for major emitters to report back to UNFCCC. The group also agreed to “consider seriously … at least a halving of global emissions by 2050,” said Mr. Diringer.

“Those countries that have targets right now [under Kyoto] are very unlikely to take on more ambitious targets post-2012 unless the United States also comes in with some commitments and unless there’s also something more from the major emerging economies,” he said.

In tandem with the White House gathering, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change is hosting its own forum on climate issues Wednesday on Capitol Hill. Government representatives from Japan, the European Commission, China, Indonesia, Portugal, Mexico, Germany and South Africa are expected to discuss options for post-2012.

Mr. Diringer said in a interview Thursday that this forum is intended “to help folks here in Washington understand directly from other governments their perspective on the issue; what they’re doing and how they plan to move forward.”

“The key question in Bali is what type of process to establish under the framework convention to carry that discussion forward,” he said. “I don’t think the administration wants to open a process that has the potential to lead to binding commitments.”

“My guess right now is that governments will agree to a process, something that builds on the dialogue they’ve had over the last two years, and elevates the conversation but is something short of an outright negotiation,” Mrs. Claussen said.

She noted the biggest reason there will not be outright negotiations is because “the Bush administration doesn’t want them.”

Mrs. Claussen said that the best way to judge the effectiveness of meetings on Thursday and Friday is to see if it moves us “toward or away from a new set of multilateral commitments.”

“Countries are not just eager, but desperate, for U.S. engagement on this issue and are becoming hopeful,” Mr. Diringer added.

“If you look at the agenda [of the upcoming meeting],” Mrs. Claussen said, “it wouldn’t give you a lot of hope that what’s going to come out of here will help … .”

This article is based in part on wire service reports

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