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Leading Article: Bush's hollow words on climate change

Anyone unacquainted with the White House's tactics over the years of sabotaging international efforts to combat climate change might be excused from taking some encouragement from this week's US-hosted conference in Washington.

The noises emanating from the meeting, which gathered together 16 of the world's most polluting countries, suggested progress. The US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, stressed that all nations need to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels and emphasised the necessity of developing new non-polluting technologies.

Few in the environmental movement would disagree with that. Most encouragingly of all, Ms Rice argued that this "growing problem" should be resolved under United Nations auspices. She even admitted that the US is "not above the international community on this issue". But when it comes to climate change it is important to pay attention to what political leaders do, rather than what they say. Despite Ms Rice's warm words, the Bush administration is not about to embrace a multilateral approach to mitigating climate change. This week's conference has been an exercise in public relations to benefit the White House, rather than a serious attempt to address the issue of global warming.

When it comes to policy, President Bush has barely shifted. The White House is still pushing for voluntary emission cuts, rather than the legally binding approach recommended by the UN. Ms Rice let the cat out of the bag when she argued: "All nations should tackle climate change in the ways they deem best." That is a recipe for inaction. Runaway climate change is too serious and urgent a threat to be dealt with in this piecemeal fashion. Clean technology is an admirable goal, but it is never going to be developed in the absence of a market framework that penalises existing carbon-emitting technologies.

There is only one show in town when it comes to responding to climate change on a global level. Representatives need to come together in Bali in December for the latest round of UN Climate Change Convention negotiations and agree on a successor to the Kyoto protocol. And that agreement must include mandatory emission cuts on all developed nations.

It is a relief of sorts that the White House is no longer in the business of denying that climate change is taking place. But the wretched and irresponsible stalling tactics of the world's biggest polluter show no signs of abating.