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Bush Urges Curbs on Greenhouse Gases by 2009


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

The U.S. will reengage in international negotiations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. President Bush made that announcement today, just a week before he heads to Germany to talk about climate change with other world leaders.

NPR's Elizabeth Shogren reports.

ELIZABETH SHOGREN: Soon after President Bush took office, he took the U.S. out of the Kyoto Protocol. That agreement is supposed to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing global warming. Now, President Bush says the U.S. wants to be a leader in figuring out what to do after Kyoto expires in 2012.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: My proposal is this, by the end of next year, America and other nations will set a long-term global goal for reducing greenhouse gases.

SHOGREN: The president says he'll convene a series of meetings with the nations that emit the most greenhouse gases, including China and India, and come up with a target.

Pres. BUSH: In addition to this long-term global goal, each country would establish midterm national targets.

SHOGREN: The president did not say what the U.S. target would be, but he clearly wants to change the impression that he's blocking efforts to fight climate change. He says the solution lies in promoting innovation.

Pres. BUSH: The way to meet this challenge of energy and global climate change is through technology, and the United States is in the lead. The world is on the verge of great breakthroughs that will help us become better stewards of the environment.

SHOGREN: Such as plug-in cars and new ways to burn coal more cleanly. The president's top environmental advisor, Jim Connaughton, says the White House still opposes setting emission caps and allowing companies to trade the right to pollute. These cap-and-trade programs are supposed to create financial incentive for companies to clean up.

Mr. JIM CONNAUGHTON (Chairman, Council on Environmental Quality): We've been very concerned about cap-and-trade proposals, largely on the grounds that they have tended, in the context of climate change, not to work very well.

SHOGREN: The president's announcement comes after weeks of tensed diplomacy over climate change. Next week, President Bush is scheduled to meet with the leaders of the world's industrial powers at the G8 summit - Germany is hosting. And leaked documents show European governments want to commit to cutting greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2050. The documents show the U.S. opposes the idea.

Mr. HANS VEROLME (Climate Director, World Wildlife Fund): The White House has been blocking progress in these talks for weeks now.

SHOGREN: Hans Verolme from the World Wildlife Fund is in Berlin. He calls the president's new proposal a delay tactic.

Mr. VEROLME: I think this is more of a diversion than a conversion, and moreover, the process that the White House is proposing is actually casting a long shadow over the climate process that the U.N. has started.

SHOGREN: That United Nations process is working on an agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol. At the White House, Jim Connaughton says the president's plan won't get in the way of the U.N.

Mr. CONNAUGHTON: What we're doing instead is saying, no, let's speed up the clock and in the next 18 months, see if we can get agreement on the basic elements of this framework. If you do that, then the U.N. process actually has something to chew on.

SHOGREN: The president did get some unexpected praise from a lawmaker who is almost always a critic. Senator Barbara Boxer is a Democrat. She heads the Senate Environment Committee.

Senator BARBARA BOXER (Democrat, California; Chairman, Senate Environment Committee): If this is what I hope it will be, which is a major summit with major players convened by this president, I believe it's the start of a whole new ballgame. If this is simply just something for show, then it won't be. But at this point, I'm very optimistic.

SHOGREN: She was happy to hear the White House opened the door to action on climate change. But not all of the president's appointees are sure action is needed. Even as the president was making his announcement, White House officials had to answer questions about comments made by the head of NASA. Administrator Michael Griffin told NPR he wasn't sure climate change is a problem.

Elizabeth Shogren, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Elizabeth Shogren is an NPR News Science Desk correspondent focused on covering environment and energy issues and news.