The ongoing meeting of the world's major economies on climate
change in Honolulu, Hawaii, aimed to build on guidelines forged
last month at a UN summit in Bali, Indonesia, for reaching a treaty
by the end of 2009 on cutting global greenhouse gas emissions.
However, for the United States, as the host, the meeting has
deep political implications, too, both in international and
One major incentive for the Bush administration to bring the
world's 16 major economies plus the United Nations to Hawaii to
discuss climate change is to show the world that it really wants to
do more to address global warming.
"The major economies process is designed to contribute to and
advance the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change
negotiations," said Paula Dobriansky, undersecretary of State for
Democracy and Global Affairs.
Many political analysts said the Honolulu meeting could serve as
an important chance for the US government to mend international
fences after it faced sharp criticism in Bali for its
In terms of a worldwide perception on environmental issues, "the
United States has reached the lowest point I've ever seen," said
Philip Clapp, deputy managing director of Pew Environment Group, a
research and advocacy group.
"In the final session of Bali, we were abandoned even by our
closest allies," Clapp noted.
Andrew Hoffman, who studies business, environmentalism and
sustainability at the University of Michigan, said it would behoove
the United States to come out with some substantive proposals in
Hawaii, especially in the wake of the Bali criticism.
"If they come to this table without any kinds of sincere
proposals to go forward, I think they're just going to open
themselves up to more embarrassment," Hoffman said.
However, the Bush administration will still stick to its
familiar positions – some of them are globally unpopular
– on how the country should deal with the issue, since it will fall
to the next US president to sign off on the next global climate
While the United States joined more than 180 other countries in
Bali in agreeing to develop a new treaty to replace the Kyoto
Protocol, its negotiators refused to bow to pressure from the
European Union (EU) and others to impose mandatory caps on
greenhouse gas emissions.
Voluntary, not mandatory, caps have been President George W.
Bush's unwavering stance since he took office in 2001, and US
officials held firm to that position in Hawaii.
The Bush administration is not ashamed of being the only
developed nation staying out of the Kyoto Protocol and the
accusation that it is resisting mandatory pollution reduction goals
is not "accurate", Boyden Gray, the US special envoy to the EU,
told a press briefing at Honolulu on Wednesday.
Commenting on the EU's commitment to cutting greenhouse gas
emissions, Gray insisted that the US government is doing more
"aggressively" in environmental protection, citing the energy bill
signed by Bush last month.
The bill mandates the first major increase in vehicle fuel
efficiency standards over three decades.
One idea the Bush administration is pushing in Hawaii is to
increase worldwide funding of technologies aimed at curbing
greenhouse gas emissions.
But analysts said the United States risks international
embarrassment if its climate ideas are found wanting by the major
nations attending the Hawaii meeting.
In Bali, the EU threatened to boycott the Hawaii summit unless
the US government agreed to take part in a new round of global
Other countries booed the United States during the negotiations,
and representatives of the island country of Papua New Guinea
publicly pleaded to the world's biggest superpower to either lead
or get out of the way.
Furthermore, former US Vice President Al Gore complained, "My
own country, the United States, is principally responsible for
obstructing progress here in Bali."
Growing domestic pressures
On the domestic front, the Bush administration is also under
growing political pressures to move beyond its resistance to
mandatory pollution reduction.
One reason is that most major contenders in this year's
presidential election is favoring hard targets for greenhouse gas
emissions and the issue has become a hot topic on the campaign
Democratic presidential election front-runners Hillary Clinton
and Barack Obama both pledged to cut US emissions by 80 percent
from the 1990 level by 2050, saying this can only be achieved by
legal caps on emissions.
The leading Republican presidential candidate John McCain has
made similar promises, but he is only aiming for 65 percent cuts by
As for other Republican candidates, Mike Huckabee also supports
emission caps, though he has not proposed any specific target for
The Bush administration officials tried to play down the
expectation for a sharp turn in post-Bush climate policy.
This year's US presidential election is unlikely to have a great
impact on the consistency of the country's climate policy, Andy
Karsner, assistant secretary of energy told Xinhua Wednesday.
Speaking at a press briefing on the sideline of economies
meeting, held at Honolulu on January 30-31, Karsner
said that the groundwork of US climate policy is actually laid down
by mid-level officials who are often bipartisan.
"We are building a continuity in the civil service," he
Karsner also said that whoever becomes the new president,
whether Republican or Democrat, he must make climate policy
decision based on broad bipartisan support.
However, analysts said the appeals for mandatory pollution
reduction targets have become a growing consensus in the United
States, and the Bush administration's unpopular stance on climate
change could hurt Republican candidates.
Although Bush is still resisting compulsory targets for
pollution reduction, 22 US states with about 145 million people are
exploring mandatory carbon-dioxide caps and emission-credit markets
similar to that of the EU.
"The clear message from the states is that we need mandatory
action", said Elliot Diringer, director of international strategies
at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.
"There appears to be consensus within the United States and
abroad that we need to move beyond the voluntary approach,"
The two-day closed-door conference in Honolulu, known as the
Major Economics Meeting on Energy Security and Climate Change, has
drawn representatives from the United Nations, EU as well as 16
(Xinhua News Agency February 1, 2008)