From: Deborah Zabarenko, Environment Correspondent
Published October 4, 2007 09:34 AM

White House says Climate talks beyond platitudes

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S.-sponsored climate change talks have moved beyond the political positioning and platitudes that can mire such discussions, the top White House environment official told Reuters on Wednesday.

James Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said last week's two-day Washington meeting of the 17 countries that emit the most greenhouse gases featured candid dialogue instead of "the formalistic presentations and set speeches that are typical of these climate discussions."

"It was not hostile but it was frank and we engaged the issue at a level of substance that moved us beyond the platitudes," Connaughton said at the Reuters Environment Summit. "It was intense and it's going to be more intense, because this is hard."

Connaughton disputed news reports in which participants in the talks complained that President George W. Bush seemed isolated in urging voluntary, rather than mandatory, requirements to curb the greenhouse gas emissions that spur global warming. 

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"By the end of the meeting there was unanimity on the value of the discussion and the need to reconvene after Bali," he said, referring to a U.N. conference on climate change set for December in Bali, Indonesia.

Those who described dissent were part of the "political positioning ... that goes with the territory," Connaughton said.

THE "AFTER YOU" PROBLEM

He acknowledged that the most difficult issue to tackle is what has become known as the "After You" problem, where neither the United States -- by most counts the world's biggest emitter of climate-warming gases -- nor the fast-developing economies of China and India want to take the first step toward mandating limits on carbon dioxide and other emissions.

"One way forward is to recognize that there are overlapping and complementary objectives," Connaughton said. "We know that that can work."

Even if the developed world reduced its carbon dioxide emissions -- those gases spewed by coal-fired power plants and petroleum-fueled vehicles -- to zero by 2050, the developing countries would still have to cut their emissions by 50 percent from their peak to have meaningful global progress, Connaughton said.

The solution may lie in an expanded discussion of possible solutions, including what Connaughton called the "shared challenge" of how to make coal more efficient and to have zero carbon dioxide emissions.

"If we can't make (coal) zero-emission rapidly, then the globe is going to have to make a pretty dramatic decision to go with nuclear energy, supplemented by an even greater share of renewable power, and that's a choice we'll have to make sooner rather than later," he said.

"So that's where you end up with the common interest that had been lacking in the discussion."

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