WASHINGTON The world's biggest greenhouse
gas-polluting countries are sending delegates to Hawaii this
week for a U.S.-hosted meeting aimed at curbing climate change
without stalling economic growth.
The two-day gathering, which starts on Wednesday in
Honolulu, is meant to spur U.N. negotiations for an
international climate agreement by 2009, so a pact will be
ready when the current carbon-capping Kyoto Protocol expires in
The Bush administration rejects the Kyoto plan, saying it
unfairly exempts developing countries from cutting back on
emissions, and could cost U.S. jobs. Instead, Washington favors
voluntary measures and "aspirational goals" to limit climate
change, aided by easier transfer of environmental technology.
In addition to the United States, by many counts the
biggest emitter of climate-warming carbon dioxide, the
conference is expecting representatives from Australia, Brazil,
Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan,
Mexico, Russia, South Africa, South Korea and the United
The United Nations and the European Union will also be
This is the second time this group has convened -- the
first time was in Washington in September -- and there has been
some skepticism among environmentalists about the effectiveness
of this process.
"The question back in September was, 'Does the fact that
they're launching this process indicate some change in the
position of this administration?"' said Angela Anderson of the
non-partisan Pew Environment Group.
The answer, Anderson said in a telephone interview, is no:
"There has been no change in position whatsoever in this White
House. They were hoping to sell their position to the rest of
the world and that's not working."
COLLABORATION AND CRITICISM
James Connaughton, the head of the White House Council on
Environmental Quality, played down expectations for the Hawaii
"I think these will be iterative discussions, which the
initial goal will be to lay out a variety of options without
holding any country to a particular proposal," Connaughton told
reporters at a briefing on Friday. "... We're trying to do this
in a collaborative way, rather than in the more classic 'You
bring your number, I bring my number, and we start kicking them
President George W. Bush drew criticism at the September
meeting for his opposition to the mandatory limits on carbon
emissions specified by the Kyoto agreement and supported by
every other major industrialized country.
The criticism continued in December at a global climate
meeting in Bali, Indonesia, where U.S. representatives --
including Connaughton -- were booed for opposing demands by
poor nations for the rich to do more to help them fight climate
Back in Washington, the Democratic-controlled Congress last
week grilled Connaughton and another top Bush administration
official, Stephen Johnson, chief of the Environmental
Protection Agency, over two hot-button issues: EPA's rejection
of a push by California and 15 other states to set higher
standards than the U.S. government for vehicle emissions, and
the administration's overall policy on climate change.
Another environmental case drawing unwelcome attention is
the U.S. government's delay in deciding whether polar bears
should be classified as threatened by climate change as their
icy habitat melts. The postponed deadline for issuing this
decision is February 9 -- three days after an expected sale of
oil and gas leases in the Chukchi Sea off the Alaskan coast,
where thousands of polar bears live.
The Hawaii meeting begins two days after Bush's final State
of the Union address. Connaughton declined to say whether Bush
would discuss greenhouse emissions in this major speech, but
said climate change was "among the items at the top of the
agenda" in presidential discussions with world leaders.
"World leaders and the president are very, very engaged,
and I think you'll see that continued engagement all the way
through this year," Connaughton said. Bush leaves office on
January 20, 2009.
(Editing by Eric Walsh)
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