A Week to Focus on Climate Change

World leaders discuss global warming, mostly without George Bush.


President Bush won't miss the dinner but otherwise will be notably absent from this week's meeting of world leaders on climate change at the United Nations—leaving the international organization once again trying to steer global action without the presence of one of the largest contributors to the climate change problem.

Instead, Bush will host his own party—a "Major Economies Meeting on Energy Security and Climate Change"—late this week in Washington. It's the summit Bush announced in June when he successfully blocked leaders of the eight largest industrialized nations from adopting binding targets for reductions in carbon emissions. Instead, Bush and other G-8 leaders agreed, in principle, on the need to make "substantial" cuts in the troublesome emissions caused by the burning of fossil fuels. And in the Bush administration's briefings with industry and environmental stakeholders over the past few weeks, it is clear that the president hopes to push world leaders at his summit toward a "goals-not-mandates" approach.

Angela Anderson, vice president for climate programs at the National Environmental Trust, said that the sessions—which will be kicked off on Thursday by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and headlined with an address by Bush on Friday—appear to be aimed mostly at showing how well voluntary steps are working to reduce carbon emissions in the United States. "I joked with our folks that this isn't a negotiation, it's climate kindergarten—let's show and tell what we're all doing," she said. "I think they'll listen politely and say that's nice, but the notion that you can get there with voluntary measures, particularly on the part of the developed world, is one that just will be rejected by a tremendous number of the countries present."

Significantly, the meeting in Washington will include not only European nations already involved in the Kyoto treaty to combat climate change but also developing countries like China, India, and Indonesia—nations that the Bush administration has said must be part of any worldwide agreement since their emissions are on the rise. Therefore, some advocates of climate change view the Washington summit as a positive development—but only if it leads to the kind of concrete steps the Bush administration has so far rejected. "The fact that more people will be present, and that the administration has at least acknowledged global climate change, may lead to a broader discussion that can contribute to the U.N. discussion of 'How do we come together around fixed goals, fixed targets?' " said Massachusetts Democratic Sen. John Kerry. "A lot of us have high hopes that we can move that ball in these next days."

The flurry of diplomatic meetings in New York and Washington—what some are referring to as "Climate Week"—comes just before a potentially major development on Capitol Hill. A bipartisan climate change bill, expected to be introduced in the Senate in early October by Connecticut Democrat Joseph Lieberman and Virginia Republican John Warner, has already garnered tentative support from members who have previously been opposed to measures mandating carbon limits. Senate leadership is hoping to push for a vote on the market-based approach advocated by Lieberman and Warner in the coming months.