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Bush vows US role in warming fight

Activists want limits placed on emissions

Activists gathered yesterday near a conference on the climate in Washington, D.C. President Bush tried to assume a leadership role in crafting 'a new international approach.' Activists gathered yesterday near a conference on the climate in Washington, D.C. President Bush tried to assume a leadership role in crafting "a new international approach." (Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON - President Bush assured the rest of the world yesterday that he takes the threat of climate change seriously and vowed that the United States "will do its part" to reduce the greenhouse gases that are warming the planet. But he proposed no concrete new initiatives to reach that goal.

The president's speech at a conference of major economic powers represented a symbolic turn for a leader who once expressed doubt about global warming and angered foreign partners by renouncing the Kyoto treaty.

After nearly seven years on the defensive, Bush tried to assume a leadership role in crafting "a new international approach" to preserving the world's climate.

Yet he found himself largely isolated at a meeting that he had organized to address the issue, lambasted by foreign officials, US lawmakers, and environmental activists who saw his effort as more show than substance.

Although critics welcomed his newfound attention to the dangers of shifting climatological conditions, they contended that it would not add up to anything unless he reverses himself and embraces some form of mandatory limit on emissions, something he did not do yesterday.

Instead, he touted technology as the ultimate solution, citing ideas he has promoted for years, such as cleaner coal production; more nuclear, solar, and wind power; additional ethanol as a substitute for gasoline; and increased vehicle fuel-efficiency standards. "I want to get the job done," he told hundreds of envoys, lobbyists, and activists. "We have identified a problem. Let's go solve it together."

Bush said he wants to forge an agreement with other heads of state by next summer setting a long-term goal for reducing emissions, but each nation would decide how to meet it. "By setting this goal, we acknowledge there is a problem," he said. "And by setting this goal, we commit ourselves to doing something about it."

Other than a new fund to finance clean-energy projects in developing countries, Bush announced no new initiatives. Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. will confer with other nations on establishing the fund.

Bush's speech disappointed critics looking for more tangible proposals.

Daniel Weiss, an analyst at the Center for American Progress, said Bush essentially was relying "on waving a magic technology wand" with measures that "won't make a dent in global warming." John Passacantando, executive director of Greenpeace USA, said Bush's speech underscored "his do-nothing approach to global warming" and proved that "his position is a lie" that no one believes.

"The president says his goals are aspirational, but his goals are really procrastin-ational," said Representative Edward Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts and chairman of a new House committee on global warming. "The UN is saying the planet is urgently sick, and the Bush administration is saying, 'Take two aspirin and call me when I leave office.' "

Everton Vargas, the head of Brazil's delegation, said Bush "didn't bring any new ideas, any new proposals [to] the US position. What we saw was more of a reiteration of what we have heard before."

John Ashton, Britain's special representative for climate change, said "what has emerged at this conference, and also at the United Nations, is how isolated the administration is now on this issue, especially on the issue of mandatory targets."

Some delegates said they must turn to Congress for leadership. Fred Krupp, president of Environmental Defense, drew rousing applause at the conference when he called for a mandatory US limit on carbon dioxide emissions. "The delegates came with all eyes towards the United States to see if there's movement, and they found out there is movement; it's in Congress," he said.

Delegates plotted climate strategy with lawmakers, with European delegates urging senators to pass a cap-and-trade system before US climate talks open in Bali, Indonesia, in December. Markey and Senator John F. Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, plan to lead congressional delegations to the Bali talks.

The two-day White House conference that ended yesterday brought in envoys from 15 other major polluting nations, including European powers, Japan, Russia, Canada, Australia, and South Africa. Especially important was the participation of China and India, the world's most populous nations, which were exempt from Kyoto.

The conference represented the most serious effort Bush has made to play an international leadership role on climate change. After taking office, he renounced the Kyoto treaty and broke a campaign promise to impose mandatory reductions in power plants' carbon dioxide emissions.

Since then, his views have evolved to the point that now, he has decided to make a push to find an international pact to replace Kyoto when it expires in 2012.

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