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Europe and U.S. Reach Climate Deal

By Mark Landler and Sheryl Gay Stolberg (The New York Times) - June 7, 2007

The United States agreed today to “seriously consider” a European proposal to combat global warming by halving greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, breaking a trans-Atlantic deadlock at a meeting here of the world’s richest industrial nations.

The compromise, hammered out in tough negotiations between the United States and Germany, also endorses President Bush’s recent proposal to gather together the world’s largest emitting countries, including China and India, to set a series of national goals for reducing emissions.

The agreement does not include a mandatory 50 percent reduction in emissions, a key provision sought by Chancellor Angela Merkel. Nevertheless, Mrs. Merkel, the host of the meeting, proclaimed it a “huge success.”

After days of discord between Europe and the United States, which had threatened to veto any reference to concrete reductions, the deal amounted to a face-saving compromise for Mrs. Merkel. It also reaffirmed that climate negotiations should take place under the auspices of the United Nations — something else sought by Mrs. Merkel.

Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has also prodded Mr. Bush to embrace a stricter climate policy, said it represented “a very substantial coming together” of the world’s leaders over how to tackle climate change.

Environmental campaigners, however, played down the agreement, saying it does not fundamentally alter the Bush administration’s refusal to accept binding targets for reducing emissions.

“The president came to Germany with a simple message for the G8 leaders: not on my watch,” said Philip E. Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust, an Washington-based advocacy group.

“This is the kind of language that emerges from a discussion in which the participants say, ‘we have to have something to take back to our publics,’” Mr. Clapp said.

The White House had said it would hold firm against concrete long-term targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. After lunch with Mr. Bush on Wednesday, Mrs. Merkel seemed to concede — without explicitly saying so — that her climate change plan was off the table.

“There are a few areas here and there we will continue to work on,” she said, standing side by side with the president outside an elegant white castle on the grounds of the Kempinski Grand Hotel. When Mr. Bush turned to her and said he has “a strong desire to work with you” on the issue, the chancellor pursed her lips.

Specifically, Mrs. Merkel was pressing the Group of 8 to adopt the plan to cut emissions in half by 2050 and to limit the rise in global temperature to two degrees Celsius — terms the president’s chief environmental adviser, James L. Connaughton, said Wednesday the United States was not prepared to accept.

Instead, he said, the final communiqué approved by the Group of 8 nations — the United States, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Russia and Japan — would probably reflect a merging of Mrs. Merkel’s plan with a proposal by Mr. Bush. In a major speech on climate change last week, the president spelled out his plan to convene major polluting nations, including China and India, in a series of meetings aimed at setting long-term goals by the end of 2008.

“Here’s a way to get China and India at the table,” Mr. Bush said Wednesday, in a roundtable with reporters before his lunch with Mrs. Merkel.

He said the United States “can serve as a bridge between some nations who believe that now is the time to come up with a set goal” and “those who are reluctant to participate in the dialogue.”

The climate change issue, though, is a delicate one for Mrs. Merkel and Mr. Bush, who have forged a strong bond since she took office in November 2005. With Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain planning to leave office later this month, and the new French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, an unknown quantity to Mr. Bush, Mrs. Merkel may be the president’s best friend in Europe, and he can ill afford to cause strain to the relationship.

Mrs. Merkel, a former physicist who has made global warming her signature issue, has staked her reputation on making real and significant progress on the problem during this year’s meeting. Experts agree that she has more at stake than Mr. Bush; if she appears to be caving in to the president’s demands, she risks a backlash at home. But neither does she want a public dispute with Mr. Bush.

“She does not want to make this a public spat,” said Julianne Smith, director of the Europe program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “But she was elected in part because she’s a scientist, she has a very strong position on this, and Germans are huge fans of any effort to cope with climate change. So for her own public, she has to show that she’s being a bit forceful with the United States and she’s putting her foot down.”

Mrs. Merkel’s chief adviser on climate issues, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, had said he did not expect and agreement on long-term targets for reducing emissions. But he said he was even more worried that the leaders would not agree to another part of the German proposal: a pledge to increase energy efficiency 20 percent by 2020.

“It would be very disappointing if the energy efficiency issue is marginalized,” Mr. Schellnhuber said in a telephone interview before today’s meetings. “It’s a huge, low-hanging apple, which can be plucked now.” But Mr. Connaughton has said the White House believes efficiency goals should be set by individual nations. He had sought to play down the notion of a rift between the United States and Germany, saying that in fact there was more agreement than disagreement, and any assertion to the contrary would be a “gross distortion.”

One question is what role Russia will play; a spokesman for Mr. Putin, Dmitri Peskov, said Wednesday that Mr. Putin found “positive and pragmatic aspects” in both the Bush and Merkel plans. Another question was how hard Mrs. Merkel would push Mr. Bush behind closed doors, and what kind of concessions — if any — she would be able to extract in the language of the final communiqué.