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Bush Links Economics, Global Warming Action

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a speech that was controversial before it was even delivered, President Bush told an international conference on global warming Monday that the United States is committed to “aggressive and thoughtful action” on world environmental issues, but he repeatedly stressed his belief that policies have to be “consistent with economic growth and free market principles.”

Delegates from about 50 countries, here for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to continue work on a massive report assessing the threat and consequences of global warming and recommending responses, gave the President’s opening speech a strikingly modest response. Representatives of environmental groups followed with a chorus of criticism that Bush had thrown away an opportunity for the United States to take effective leadership.

“It just shows that the Administration is still more concerned about polluters’ profits than protecting the Earth from global warming,” said Daniel Becker of the Sierra Club. “There is no reason that we can’t act.”

Environmentalists have for months urged that the United States set firm goals for reducing gases, particularly carbon dioxide, contributing to an acceleration of the Earth’s greenhouse effect. Faced with sharp differences within its ranks, the Administration continues to maintain that scientific evidence needs to be clearer before major long-term commitments are made.

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Some European governments, meanwhile, have already set firm targets for freezing carbon dioxide emission levels.

After its predecessor had set the year 2000 as a target for stabilizing emissions, the new Dutch government is considering a proposal to move the deadline to the middle of this decade.

After the President’s speech Monday, Dutch environmentalist Jan Henselman expressed concern that other countries will be reluctant to follow the lead of the Netherlands unless the United States, by far the world’s largest contributor of carbon dioxide, moves to control its emissions.

Renewing an offer he tabled at the Malta summit with Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev last December, Bush again proposed that Washington host the first negotiations toward an international global warming convention, once the report of the United Nations-sanctioned Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is completed.

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The President also told the delegates the White House will invite scientists to a spring conference on environmental and economic issues, and that he intends to participate personally.

The meeting, he said, will convene “top officials from a representative group of nations to bring together three essential disciplines, science, economics and ecology. And they will share their knowledge, assumptions, and state of the art research models to outline our understanding and help focus our efforts.”

Although, he announced no date, Administration sources said plans are to hold the meeting in April, just before the 20th anniversary commemoration of Earth Day.

Bush’s opening speech to the third plenary meeting of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had become a subject of sharp controversy in recent days after it was reported that White House Chief of Staff John H. Sununu, a skeptic of global warming evidence, had insisted on toning down the planned address after it had been endorsed by Secretary of State James A. Baker III, Energy Secretary James D. Watkins, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator William K. Reilly, and White House Science Adviser D. Allen Bromley.

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Sununu denied he had toned down the speech, and in a television interview Sunday, criticized “faceless bureaucrats on the environmental side” who tended toward a policy “that cuts off our use of coal, oil and natural gas.”

After the address was delivered Monday, Administration sources said Sununu had removed nothing of concrete substance from the speech, but had sharply moderated its tone by changes such as eliminating a reminder that the United States last year committed itself to a stabilization of carbon dioxide emissions “as soon as possible.”

The meeting here this week is designed to move the working groups a step further along the way to draft reports due to be submitted for approval in Stockholm next August.


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