The agreement struck in Bonn Monday by environmental leaders from Europe, Japan, Canada and Australia has left President Bush more isolated than ever on the issue of global warming, pitting him against invigorated opponents overseas and a Congress that has grown impatient with his go-alone approach.
Bush administration officials said they had achieved their goals in the talks by constructively engaging foreign leaders on a broad range of climate change issues without wavering from the president's staunch opposition to an international treaty he has deemed "fatally flawed."
"I think you know that we've been concerned that the climate change negotiations were producing a response to the problem that would not be effective over the long term . . . because they weren't leading to a truly global agreement," said Philip Reeker, a State Department spokesman.
Yet by taking a hard line against any deal that set mandatory targets for reducing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions, the United States was on the outside looking in as its chief allies finalized an agreement that some experts and lawmakers say could put many U.S. corporations at a competitive disadvantage in the long term.
"They're going to find out that when I say we're interested in reducing greenhouse gases that we mean it. They're also going to be pleased to hear that it's going to be in such a way that won't damage their largest trading partner."
George W. Bush
For instance, the Bonn agreement includes provisions providing substantial emissions credits to Japan and other countries with large carbon-absorbing forests and agricultural regions, but that would provide the United States with only minor benefits. Moreover, some U.S. multinational corporations will be forced to do business under differing sets of emissions rules at home and abroad because the United States is not a party to the agreement.
"I feel badly for us as a country that we have been put into this position," said Sen. John F. Kerry, D-Mass. "It will cost us in the long run, and it's already costing us in terms of credibility."
At issue were the details of a treaty first negotiated and signed by the United States and 167 other nations in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997 that committed those countries to the first binding limits on carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases that scientists say threaten catastrophic changes in the planet's climate.
Last March, Bush declared his opposition, saying the treaty's mandatory requirements for reducing carbon emissions were unfair because they would seriously hurt the U.S. economy while exempting China, India and other developing countries.
Until recently, Congress has been hostile to the Kyoto agreement; the Senate in 1997 voted 95-0 in favor of a resolution critical of the terms of the treaty. More recently, however, Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W. Va., a co-author of that resolution, urged Bush to seek a compromise on the treaty, while Republicans and Democrats alike have begun clamoring for legislation to control greenhouse gas emissions, including carbon dioxide.
Japan, Australia and Canada tended to side with the United States on key points and appeared reluctant to endorse the pact without U.S. participation. But with relentless pushing from Jan Pronk of the Netherlands, chairman of the international negotiating session, a deal was worked out Monday morning after 48 straight hours of tense bargaining and horse trading.
Bush officials dismissed claims by European diplomats that Bush had pledged to devise a global-warming proposal in time for an October international conference on the topic, suggesting such claims, also made by Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien and French President Jacques Chirac, came out of "thin air."
National security adviser Condoleezza Rice said Bush told his counterparts that he hopes "to have some ideas as soon as possible," but "I don't think he said a proposal." She said Bush's remarks were "not a view toward trying to get something on the table at any specific time." Earlier, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said flatly that "the president never gave such an indication" and "any such understanding is not correct."
But Mark Whitenton, a vice president of the National Association of Manufacturers, said Monday that he expects the United States to have its plan ready for the October session. "I think they're really seriously trying to," he said. "I think they have to. They'll come up with some plan."
Even if the United States made no effort to join international efforts to limit global warming, U.S. multinationals would still be affected because their operations could be held to more stringent emissions requirements in nations that approved the Kyoto accord. A carbon tax imposed overseas, he said, would harm U.S. manufacturers with operations in those countries. For that reason, the NAM was disheartened by the agreement between Japan and the Europeans.
"Obviously, it's disappointing," Whitenton said. "We always hoped they would start over and go back to the Rio Treaty" of 1992. "They made a wrong turn."
In recent days, Bush vowed rapid action on global warming but offered no specific date for action. "We're in the process of developing a strategy as quickly as we possibly can and one that we look forward to sharing with our friends and allies," he said, predicting the Europeans would be pleased. "They're going to find out that when I say we're interested in reducing greenhouse gases that we mean it. They're also going to be pleased to hear that it's going to be in such a way that won't damage their largest trading partner."
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