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U.S. Backs Proposal to Reduce Emissions of Greenhouse Gases

By Larry B. Stammer
and Douglas Jehl

Los Angeles Times


The Bush administration has decided to embrace a compromise proposal calling for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, and President Bush has telephoned several European leaders this weekend to tell them "we're on board," White House officials said Sunday.

The flurry of telephone calls by Bush to German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and other European leaders was described by some administration officials as part of a pressure campaign to urge the U.S. allies to support the plan, which is more modest than the Europeans had endorsed.

The officials said that the White House hoped to forge a broader backing for the watered-down plan so that Bush could attend a global environmental summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, next month as part of a coalition of developed nations.

One official declined to specify which leaders Bush had consulted apart from Kohl during a spate of telephoning that began Friday afternoon. Asked whether they had included French President Francois Mitterrand, the official said that Bush may have placed that call Sunday.

The official described the calls, made by Bush from the White House and his weekend retreat in Camp David, Md., as "an opportunity to touch base with the leaders and say not so much `come on board' but that `we're on board.' "

There were other signs of the White House's growing involvement in negotiations here. On Saturday, White House official Robert E. Grady, who has played a key role in fashioning a U.S. position, dropped in on the negotiations and was expected to report back to Washington.

Despite the stepped-up efforts by Washington, some European governments have held out for a much tougher deadline for stabilizing the emissions.

Indeed, the German delegation went out of its way Saturday -- one day after Bush's call to Kohl -- to knock down rumors among negotiators here that the weaker language was acceptable.

"I'd like to avoid any misunderstanding," Ansgar O. Vogel told negotiators during an open session. `The German delegation has not accepted this text." He said that Germany was committed to reducing its carbon dioxide emissions by 25 percent to 30 percent by the year 2005.

Several European nations, as well as developing countries, are calling for stabilizing emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to 1990 levels by the year 2000 as a minimum. The compromise backed by Bush has no binding deadline but offers the year 2000 as a guideline or goal for stabilizing emissions.

Carbon dioxide, which is released when fossil fuels such as gasoline and coal are burned, trap the sun's heat in the atmosphere, much as a greenhouse does, causing temperatures to rise. While calculations are imperfect, most scientists say it is probable that the Earth's average temperature will rise from 2 to 8 degrees in the next century unless emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are curbed.

Despite the scientific concerns, the Bush administration has opted for a more lenient treaty, in part because of scientific questions and in part because it fears a binding deadline would force the United States to make economic sacrifices to fulfill the treaty's terms.

Bush's direct involvement in negotiations comes at a time when the United States has come under intense pressure from allies and environmentalists to sign a strong climate-change treaty. But the United States has steadfastly declined to commit itself even to attend the Rio summit, although there are growing indications that Bush will join more than 100 other heads of state at the meeting, known as the U.N. Conference on the Environment and Development.

But with the United States still at odds with its allies over how quickly greenhouse gas emissions ought to be reduced, advisers have been seeking to ensure that Bush does not find himself in embarrassing isolation.