A meeting of delegates from the nations that emit the most pollutants ended without concrete targets for slashing greenhouse gas emissions, but participants praised what they saw as a new willingness by the United States to discuss possible solutions.
Delegates from 16 nations, plus the European Union and the United Nations, gathered in Hawaii this week at the invitation of the U.S. to discuss what should be included in a blueprint for combatting climate change.
Among the topics were energy-efficient technologies, ways rich countries could help developing countries and countering deforestation.
Delegates said the U.S. showed a new flexibility since earlier climate change meetings, and that they were able to talk frankly about their differences.
"We're happy the position of the United States is changing," Brice LaLonde, France's climate change ambassador, said at a news conference Thursday following the two days of closed-door talks at the University of Hawaii.
LaLonde pointed to bills in Congress addressing climate change and the Bush administration's move to host the Hawaii meeting as evidence for a shift for Washington. But he said France hoped for additional changes, specifically for the U.S. to join other industrialized nations in agreeing to a national mandatory greenhouse gas reduction target.
"Of course, we want more. We hope in the next weeks after these discussions that we'll be able to deliver more," LaLonde said. "But it's a good start."
Delegates didn't discuss the details of a European Union proposal for industrialized countries to slash emissions by 25 to 40 percent, said Artur Runge-Metzger, the European Commission's head of climate change negotiations.
The emissions reduction proposal — and U.S. opposition to it — was one of the biggest sticking points of a contentious climate change conference in Bali, Indonesia, last month.
The conference ended with the U.S. agreeing to join nearly 190 countries to craft a blueprint for fighting climate change by 2009. But that only happened after participants loudly booed repeated U.S. objections to the document.
Britain's environment minister, Phil Woolas, said no nation wants to be singled out as the obstacle to progress on climate change.
"Bali has put the spotlight on you, doesn't it. There's no country that wants to be the party pooper," Woolas said during a break in the Hawaii talks.
He added that delegates shared a sense that work needs to get done because of the dire consequences of rising temperatures, sea levels and environmental catastrophes.
"There's a realization that we have to get an agreement; otherwise we're all going to drown," Woolas said.
Chief U.S. delegate Jim Connaughton, the White House environmental chief, said President Bush has long highlighted the importance of reducing emissions.
He pointed to U.S. efforts supporting hydrogen energy, funding for energy efficient technologies and partnerships with other countries.
"We like to prepare, plan and announce. This is what the president has done consistently since 2001, as you can see it's gaining increasing appreciation," Connaughton said after the talks.
The U.S. has been seeking voluntary pledges from nations for specific cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.
Nations represented at the conference account for 80 percent of emissions that scientists say contribute to global warming. In addition to the U.S., Britain and France, they are Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, South Korea and South Africa.
Environmentalists had voiced skepticism about what the Hawaii talks would accomplish, given the U.S. opposition to mandatory national reduction targets of the kind agreed to under the Kyoto Protocol a decade ago.
The EU has proposed cutting its overall emissions by 20 percent from 1990 levels, or 14 percent from 2005.
Demonstrators were absent Thursday, but about a dozen had protested the day before outside the meeting to object to what they said was insufficient commitment from the Bush administration to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Others drew blue chalk lines along Honolulu city streets to show where high tide would be after decades of global warming and rising sea levels.