U.S. Booth Sets Tone for Change at Climate Talks

Within the chaos of the Copenhagen environmental summit, where negotiations among 192 countries nearly broke down Monday, there's at least one oasis of apparent calm and progress.

The U.S. booth in the conference hall — an elaborate, two-room complex with a giant, rotating computer screen shaped like the planet Earth— has been used for scientific lectures, business meetings and the announcement of several "green" initiatives by the Obama administration.

On Monday, Energy Secretary Steven Chu gave a presentation detailing how $4.5 billion in stimulus funds were being used to create a more efficient electrical grid. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is set to announce today a deal with U.S. dairy farmers to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

The U.S. presence in Copenhagen is dramatically larger than at environmental conferences under President George W. Bush, when the booth often consisted of a lone U.S. official handing out pamphlets. The Bush administration was reluctant to participate in an international pact that would exempt other nations such as China. It supported funds for technologies to lessen emissions and additional research into global warming predictions.

"I think the symbolism (of the booth) is that we're back — that the U.S. is again taking a leadership role on this issue," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said.

Other events scheduled for this week include a presentation by Environmental Protection Agency officials on new U.S. fuel economy standards for cars; a panel discussion on how global warming could endanger U.S. national security; and a presentation by James Steele, chairman of the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes of Montana, on how American Indians are trying to cut emissions.

Salazar said the agenda shows that the U.S. is committed to addressing global warming regardless of whether the summit succeeds in producing a worldwide pact to limit carbon dioxide levels.

That goal appeared to be in doubt ahead of Obama's arrival in Copenhagen on Friday. Poor countries boycotted negotiations for several hours to pressure wealthier nations, including the U.S., to embrace more ambitious emissions targets.

Countries still disagree on whether developing nations such as China should be held to enforceable emissions targets.

"We have lost some time. There is no doubt about that," Canadian Environment Minister Jim Prentice said Monday.

Presenters at the U.S. booth were trying to add urgency to the talks. James Balog, a U.S. photojournalist, used the spherical computer screen to show a crowd of about 100 an animated display of the spread of black carbon — a particularly strong greenhouse gas.

Those gathered said they were impressed by the glitzy display but worried about whether it would translate into action.

"I feel relief that things have changed since Bush," said Erich Streicher, a Danish university student. "My concern is that understanding that global warming is a problem and being strong enough to do something about it are two entirely different things."

Contributing: The Associated Press

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