"There is no sense in negotiating an agreement if it will have no practical impact in reducing emissions to safer levels," Clinton told the participants at the start of the two-day meeting. "So we all have to do our part, and we need to be creative and think hard about what will work in order for us to achieve the outcomes we hope for."
The Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate was announced in March by President Barack Obama and includes the countries responsible for 75 percent of the global emissions of heat-trapping gases. Its goal is to lay the groundwork for an international agreement to curb climate-changing pollution by December.
That's when delegates from 175 countries will meet in Copenhagen, Denmark, to write a new treaty to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. The Kyoto Protocol required 37 countries to cut emissions by a total of 5 percent by 2012.
During Bush's tenure, the United States refused to take part in the Kyoto regime, calling it unfair since it made no demands on rapidly developing economies like China and India.
Since then, China has surpassed the United States as the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases. But 15 to 25 percent of its emissions are generated by manufacturing goods for export, and China's leaders have said they want importers such as the U.S. to be responsible for their share.
India, which along with the European Union, Russia, China and the United States, rounds out the Top 5 biggest greenhouse gas polluters has said its top priority is economic growth to end poverty while switching to clean energy.
Clinton told leaders it was possible to have both a robust economy and control climate-changing pollution.
"Of course each economy represented here is different. And some, like mine, is responsible for past emissions, some for quickly growing present emissions," she said. "But people everywhere have a legitimate aspiration for a higher standard of living. ... We just hope we can work together in a way to avoid the mistakes that we made that have created a large part of the problem that we face today."
She also tried to separate the Obama administration from its predecessor, which was reluctant to engage in the international process. When Bush held a similar forum in January 2008, he was criticized for negotiating outside the formal United Nations talks.
"The United States is fully engaged and ready to lead and determined to make up for lost time, both at home and abroad," Clinton said.
As evidence that the U.S. was taking action, Clinton cited the recent finding by the Environmental Protection Agency that six greenhouse gases pose threats to human health and welfare.
Calling it "a decisive break with past policy," Clinton said the ruling opened the door to tighter regulations on tailpipe emissions from cars and trucks. But those regulations will take time.
Another Obama initiative - new legislation setting mandatory limits on greenhouse gases - is meeting stiff resistance in Congress, where House Republicans and moderate Democrats are concerned about the cost. That bill will be the primary mechanism for the U.S. to reduce emissions and will set the targets necessary to negotiate and follow through on an agreement.
At the last major meeting on a new climate treaty in Bonn earlier this month, little progress was made on two key issues: the carbon emissions targets to be adopted by rich countries and how to raise an estimated $100 billion a year to help poor countries adapt to climate change.
Developing countries want industrial nations to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases by at least 40 percent from 1990 levels by 2020. The Obama administration has called for a 14 percent reduction from 2005 levels by 2020.
Legislation being considered by Congress would reduce greenhouse gases by 20 percent by 2020, but opponents are already pushing for a more modest reduction.
Outside the State Department Monday, police shut down a street and arrested seven Greenpeace activists for unlawful entry. Two of the environmentalists had climbed a construction crane and hung a 600-square-foot banner with an image of Earth that read: "Too big to fail. Stop global warming, rescue the planet."
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