December 7, 2004

U.S. Defends Global Warming Strategy

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) -- The United States, facing international criticism for its rejection of the Kyoto Protocol, argued Tuesday it spends billions of dollars seeking new technologies to cut emissions of the greenhouse gases blamed for global warming.

At the last major conference on global climate change before the Kyoto accord takes effect in February, the United States showed no signs of budging from its opposition to the treaty, which requires initial cuts in "greenhouse" gases by 2012.

The United States, along with Australia, is the biggest industrialized country to reject the accord, a landmark agreement obligating 30 of the world's developed nations to reduce their output of heat-trapping gases produced by industry, automobiles and power plants.

Many scientists believe the gases seriously threaten life on Earth by causing a gradual rise in the planet's temperature. Global warming has been blamed for more violent storms, rising sea levels and shrinking animal habitats.

Harlan L. Watson, a U.S. climate negotiator, insisted the Bush administration was aggressively seeking ways to limit U.S. output of harmful emissions, arguing investments in cleaner energy was the best strategy.

"We match or exceed what any other country is doing to address the issue," he said. "I would challenge any of the Kyoto parties to match us both internationally and domestically."

Watson said the Bush administration was planning to spend more than $5 billion annually researching climate change and the development of new cleaner fuels and ways to manage and store carbon dioxide, the leading greenhouse gas.

The United States has also decided to implement its own voluntary carbon dioxide emissions. President Bush opposes mandatory emissions controls and has refused to endorse the Kyoto agreement, which enjoys broad support in Europe.

The U.S. stance, which has rankled European allies, hung over the annual United Nations gathering. Government policy-makers and environmental groups from nearly 200 nations are looking at ways to address global warming even beyond 2012.

U.S. officials have said they want to use the conference to highlight Bush administration efforts to develop cleaner energy technologies and ways to capture and safely store carbon dioxide.

"I'm not sure why we're considered the 'bad boys'," Watson said. "Much more focus ought to be put on actions," not the commitments posed in the protocol, he said. "Kyoto was a political agreement. It was not based on science."

Developing countries, facing possible emissions controls for the first time after 2012, also have resisted opening talks about the "post-Kyoto" future - another focus of the meeting.

However, Raul Estrada, an Argentine negotiator who chaired the 1997 United Nations conference where the protocol was negotiated, said international efforts to confront global warming would be limited without stronger U.S. involvement.

"Of course, to be more effective, you need to have the United States in," he said, pointing out that the United States is responsible for one-quarter of the world's emissions.

Under the Kyoto treaty, governments pledged to set limits on emissions by industrial nations.

Over the next eight years, the European Union, for example, would reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases by 8 percent below 1990 levels, Japan by 6 percent, and the United States by 7 percent.

Although the Bush administration rejects Kyoto, northeastern U.S. states are moving toward capping carbon dioxide on their own and allowing emissions trading. California also has acted to sharply reduce auto emissions.