POZNAN, Poland (AFP) — Global warming rivals the Iraq War as the policy for which George W. Bush has been most savaged, with critics accusing him of braking or even sabotaging efforts to tackle climate change.
But the chief US delegate at the UN climate talks here, in an interview on Wednesday, said Bush's administration had shown "an evolution" over two terms and had made practical contributions in shaping the global debate.
Paula Dobriansky, under secretary for democracy and global affairs, told AFP she had no regrets for Bush's strategy on climate change but argued a better job could have been done in articulating it to the public.
"I think this issue (climate change) is important, we care about it greatly. Looking back, if there was anything that maybe I would have hoped, it's that we could have done a more effective job in getting our message out, in other words, (in) public diplomacy," she said.
She added: "President Bush said very early on in his administration, 'we will act, we will learn and we will act again.' And our approach has been an evolutionary one. I think you have seen an evolution from the beginning of the administration to the present time."
Dobriansky did not spell what she meant by an evolution. But, in defending the administration's record, she chose to stress its shift towards multilateral action, which became prominent in the final years of Bush's tenure.
This apparent change of tack saw talks launched with Asian countries and major carbon emitters, initiatives to boost the transfer of clean technology, and mustering finance to tackle climate change.
Bush has been a bogeyman to greens ever since he announced in March 2001, in one of his first decisions in office, that he would never ratify the Kyoto Protocol, the cornerstone of attempts to deal with climate change under the UN flag.
Bush argued Kyoto's curbs on greenhouse-gas emissions were too costly for the US economy and unfair because the binding targets only apply to industrialised countries, not to China, India and other emerging giants.
The walkout nearly wrecked Kyoto, whose framework had been designed in 1997 largely to accommodate American needs.
Anger towards Bush boiled over, especially in Europe. For many analysts, it became a landmark in the loss of US "soft power," or diplomatic clout.
Kyoto was saved after it was championed by the European Union, but the effort to negotiate a successor, after the treaty's provisions expire run out in 2012, remains deeply troubled.
Even though the United States remains an active participant of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Kyoto's parent forum, progress has been dogged by entrenched suspicions of Bush and Washington's continued opposition to emissions "caps" -- a stance that President-elect Barack Obama has vowed to erase.
Dobriansky argued that, beneath the headlines, the United States had made "substantial contributions" in several practical ways.
These include placing the focus on beefing up funds to help poor countries cope with climate change and gathering major emitters in a smaller forum that was linked to the UN talks -- an initiative that many analysts also say has been a success.
Developing countries remain fiercely opposed to having binding targets on emissions.
But, suggested Dobriansky, Bush's argument that these big emitters of tomorrow have "measurable, verifiable, reportable" forms of emission control was making headway.
While the Bush administration has been blasted as selfish and unilateralist on climate, Dobriansky paid tribute to the global process.
"This is a global issue, it requires global action and it also requires global give and take and exchange of information and assistance, so from that end, I think the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change is an appropriate and important forum."
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