WASHINGTON - Myth: The president refuses to admit that climate change is real and that humans are a factor. Myth: The U.S. is doing nothing to address climate change. Myth: The United States refuses to engage internationally.
So begins a hand-sized handout, easy for reporters to pocket, issued at the State Department where President Bush on Friday was to cap two days of talks at a White House-sponsored climate change conference that is as much about salesmanship as it is about diplomacy.
Unwilling to cut U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases, which make up a fourth of the world's total output, Bush is turning to China, India and the other biggest polluters to swap green technology and other voluntary ways of doing something about global warming.
His administration also has set about creating a process for more such talks and a possible long-term global goal for reducing emissions, with each nation permitted to draw up its own strategies and plans.
Representatives from among the gathering of 16 nations, along with the European Union and the United Nations, expressed skepticism that not much more than talking and political goals might be accomplished, but also optimism that at least the United States was willing to become part of such talks.
Until recently, said Emil Salim, an economist and member of the Indonesian president's council of advisers, Bush offered "no dialogue on the Kyoto Protocol whatsoever. This time, the members of the Kyoto Protocol are invited to discuss. So from that point of view, there is some improvement," he said in an interview. "But on the other hand, I think it has more to do with the domestic politics, because you have election."
Though Bush rejected the Kyoto Protocol, the U.N.-brokered international treaty intended to cut greenhouse gas emissions that is due to expire in 2012, he is seeking ideas for what should come next. Critics have said they fear he might use his talks to undermine the next round of negotiations in December in Bali, Indonesia.
But on Thursday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson countered that the United States is serious about global warming and making progress to slow its growth rate in carbon dioxide and other industrial warming gases.
"I want to stress that the United States takes climate change very seriously, for we are both a major economy and a major emitter," Rice said. "Climate change is a global problem and we are contributing to it, therefore we are prepared to expand our leadership to address the challenge. That is why President Bush has convened this meeting."
They also gave reassurances that the U.S. intent is to contribute to the U.N. negotiations on climate change, even though those emphasize mandatory controls on carbon dioxide that Bush opposes. Bush rejected the Kyoto accord because he said it unfairly harmed the economies of rich nations like the United States and excluded developing nations like China and India from having to cut greenhouse gases.
"We want this year's U.N. climate change conference in Indonesia to succeed," Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said.
Bush's two-day conference, ending Friday, followed a U.N. meeting Monday at which Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon tried to build support among 80 world leaders for reaching agreement at the planned December talks. Other participants at the State Department conference were from Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Canada, Brazil, South Korea, Mexico, Russia, Australia and South Africa.
The meeting Thursday also drew about 70 demonstrators from Greenpeace and other environmental groups outside the State Department, where dozens were arrested for refusing to leave the premises after two hours of protest. The activists labeled the conference a fraud for not backing mandatory cuts in greenhouse gases.
The Bush administration proposes new "processes" and work teams for negotiating solutions. However, James Connaughton, who heads the White House Council on Environmental Quality, told the nations' representatives that their efforts must "be about more than presentations" and that "we need to take collective action to advance new technologies."
Yvo de Boer, the top U.N. climate official, told the 16 nations participating in the White House-led meeting that "this relatively small group of countries holds a key to tackling a big part of the problem" but that their response can succeed only by "going well beyond present efforts," especially among rich, industrialized nations.