U.S., Europe argue on environment

Bush administration favors specific projects, not goals or deadlines


JOHANNESBURG, South Africa - For days now, the battle between rich and poor nations has dominated the United Nations talks here on the environment and development, with marches and fiery debates over how to reduce poverty.

But one of the fiercest struggles has been raging behind the scenes as the United States and the European Union clash over strategies to preserve the planet.

The allies are battling over the question of targets and timeframes for the conversion from oil and gas to windmills and solar panels, for the cleanup of garbage and pollutants, and for the preservation of endangered plants and animals.

The European Union says these talks must produce a strong plan with firm deadlines so that the world's leaders can be held accountable for their actions. The United States, which has the world's largest economy and is the world's largest polluter, opposes targets and deadlines, saying it would rather finance specific projects than support goals that might ultimately prove meaningless.

The negotiators on both sides are cordial. But everyone agrees this dispute has aggravated tensions that have been simmering since President Bush angered his European colleagues last year by refusing to ratify an international treaty aimed at combating global warming.

Nowhere is that rift more visible than in the debate over renewable energy.

Scientists say that industrialized nations are endangering Earth by using fossil fuels that contribute to global warming. Renewable energy sources, such as wind power and solar energy, produce smaller and more expensive amounts of electricity than traditionally fueled plants, but they generate a tiny fraction of the carbon dioxide and gases that are believed to accelerate global warming.

Under the plan favored by the European Union, nations would commit to ensuring that renewable energy sources account for 15 percent of the world's total energy production by 2010.

The United States has rejected such proposals. Canada and Saudi Arabia, significant producers of fossil fuels, have also objected.

In the coming days, the United States will announce programs aimed at providing clean water and reliable electricity in developing countries. Action, U.S. officials say, matters more than words.

"We have maintained consistently that targets alone will not deliver the energy services needed," said Griff Thompson, the director of the Office of Energy, Environment and Technology for the United States Agency for International Development.

At the talks here, the United States has been repeatedly, and sharply, criticized for refusing to commit to concrete obligations.

Yesterday, two Democrats, Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio and Jerry Brown, the mayor of Oakland, Calif., criticized the Bush administration's energy policy at a news conference here.

"There are people in the administration who will say, `We don't need to talk about timetables,'" Kucinich said. "But when scientists can show that over a period of time that global warming can, in fact, impact on the increase in world temperature, we better be talking about timetables."

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