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Bush's much-maligned climate talks could yet help global-warming treaty

At the meeting of the world's biggest polluters in Hawaii this week, host US has a chance to show it is serious about action on climate change.

By Peter N. SpottsStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / January 30, 2008

A factory emits pollutants at Keihin industrial zone in Kawasaki, south of Tokyo.

REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

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Leaders from the world's largest developed and developing countries gather in Honolulu today for two days of talks aimed at kick-starting broader international negotiations on a new global warming treaty.

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The agenda for those broader talks emerged from the UN climate conference in Bali in December, when ministers from more than 180 countries agreed on the issues negotiators need to deal with as they draft the new treaty over the next two years. The treaty would pick up where the 1997 Kyoto Protocol leaves off in 2012.

The Major Economies Meetings – which pull together representatives from 15 countries, the European Union and European Commission, and the UN – are designed "to focus on a few key areas from the Bali road map where the major economies can make a detailed contribution to be brought into the UN negotiations," said Jim Connaughton, head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, at a briefing last Friday. The group represents countries producing the majority of today's greenhouse gas emissions.

President Bush lifted the lid on the agenda a bit during his State of the Union address Monday night when he proposed spending $2 billion over the next three years to help developing countries pay for clean-energy technologies. Two days earlier, Japan had pledged $10 billion.

Financing for such technologies has long been a thorn in the side of developing countries. Delegates from these countries in Bali last month angrily noted that developed countries are giving far less than they have pledged. Developing countries insist they need the help to make the emissions reduction commitments – however limited – a new climate treaty might require.

While Japan is offering a larger check, Mr. Bush's represents "a major landmark in addressing global warming," says Phil Clapp, deputy managing director of the Pew Environment Group.

In addition to putting money into a global clean-energy fund, delegates in Honolulu are also expected to talk about setting long-term emissions reduction goals – another flash point in Bali.