Q&A: White House Hosts Climate Change Talks

President Bush on Wednesday kicked off a two-day climate change meeting of the world's 16 biggest economies at the White House. The president announced the meeting at the G-8 summit this past summer in Germany. He wants these countries to set a global goal for reducing emissions over the long term and outline individual national plans for helping meet that global goal. Here, an overview of the meeting and its goals:

Q: Which countries are attending the White House climate change conference Thursday and Friday?

A: Representatives from countries with the 15 largest economies, plus the U.S., will attend the White House conference. Together, these countries are responsible for 90 percent of the world's emissions of greenhouse gases. They include: The United States, France, Germany, Italy, United Kingdom, Japan, China, Canada, India, Brazil, South Korea, Mexico, Russia, Australia, Indonesia and South Africa. Representatives from the United Nations and European Union also will attend.

Q: What is the goal of the conference?

A: President Bush wants these countries to start a process to agree on a goal for reducing greenhouse gas emissions over the long term. He also wants each country to come up with national goals for reducing its own emissions over the next couple decades, and plans for how it will accomplish those goals.

Q: When would the countries announce these goals?

A: President Bush has said the goals would be ready by the end of 2008, before the end of his term.

Q: Does this take the place of the Kyoto Protocol?

A: No, the countries that signed the Kyoto Protocol — which includes most developed and developing nations, but not the United States — will continue to be guided by that treaty in their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. These countries want a new, binding treaty to take Kyoto's place when that treaty expires in 2012. President Bush's initiative would not be binding; countries would set voluntary goals.

Q: What efforts is the United States undertaking to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, considering that it is responsible for about a quarter of the world's emissions?

A: Bush administration officials point to the president's proposal to replace 20 percent of petroleum with renewable fuels, such as ethanol, by 2017. They also point to the president's goal of restraining the growth of greenhouse gas emissions by reducing the emissions produced for each unit of gross domestic product. Following a Supreme Court Ruling earlier this year, the Environmental Protection Agency is considering regulating greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles.

Meanwhile, Congress is considering bills that would require cuts in greenhouse gas emissions and set up a market for companies to buy and sell the right to pollute. So far, White House officials say the president opposes any such mandatory cap-and-trade system.

Q: What are other countries doing to cut greenhouse gas emissions?

A: The European Union has set up a system for trading greenhouse gas emissions. The countries in the EU have committed to different levels of emissions reductions under the Kyoto Treaty. Germany and Denmark have agreed to the most ambitious targets: 20 percent emission cuts by 2020, as compared to 1990 levels. Both countries have significantly ramped up their production of electricity from renewable fuels, especially wind power.

Q: Will other issues come up at the conference?

A: The countries will spend a lot of time talking about technologies that will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Bush administration and China are especially interested in ways to capture the greenhouse gas emissions created when electricity is generated from coal. Participating countries will also discuss reducing tariffs on technologies that cut greenhouse gases.

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