March 16, 2005

Climate Change Is Called Economic Threat at Talks

The New York Times


LONDON, March 15 - The British government gathered together environment and energy officials from 20 countries on Tuesday to discuss climate change, which Britain has declared a top issue as it takes the leadership of the Group of 8 industrialized nations.

Britain's finance minister, Gordon Brown, told the delegates here at the opening of the meetings that the changing climate could no longer be considered just an environmental issue, but a real threat to economic activity.

"We have sufficient evidence that human-made climate change is the most far-reaching and almost certainly the most threatening of all the environmental challenges facing us," Mr. Brown said. Problems from soil erosion to the depletion of marine stocks "threaten future economic activity and growth" around the world, he said.

Mr. Brown called on wealthy nations to solve these problems, both because they had caused them, he said, and because less developed nations will feel their effects more keenly. "Climate change is an issue of justice as much of economic development," he said.

The British government and the Bush administration differ over the importance of greenhouse gases, mostly notably in the Kyoto agreement on limiting emissions that went into effect last month without the backing of the United States.

The same day that Mr. Brown talked about cutting emissions, an American delegate, James L. Connaughton, chairman of the United States Council on Environmental Quality, told the BBC in an interview that the science was still contested. "We are still working on the issue of causation, the extent to which humans are a factor" in global warming, he said. He added, though, that they might well be a factor.

The United States rejected the Kyoto treaty, an international pledge to cut carbon emissions that went into effect last month, because the quotas assigned to the country were "unreasonable," Mr. Connaughton said. Instead, the United States government plans to focus on technology, he said.

At the meeting, a Chinese delegate, Liu Jiang, vice chairman of the country's National Development and Reform Commission, emphasized the country's willingness to work on controlling greenhouse gas emissions even as its rapid economic expansion continued.