With a “serious disciplined effort” to develop energy-saving technology, he claimed, “we could meet and surpass the Kyoto targets in a way that would strengthen and not weaken our economies”.
Mr Clinton, a champion of the Kyoto Protocol, the existing emissions-controls agreement opposed by the Bush administration, spoke in the final hours of a two-week UN climate conference at which Washington has come under heavy criticism for its stand.
Most delegations appeared ready to leave an unwilling US behind and open a new round of negotiations on future cutbacks in the emissions blamed for global warming.
“There’s no longer any serious doubt that climate change is real, accelerating and caused by human activities,” said Mr Clinton, whose address was interrupted repeatedly by enthusiastic applause.
Canadian officials said the US delegation was displeased with the last-minute scheduling of the Clinton speech. However US delegation chief, Paula Dobriansky, issued a statement saying events such as Clinton’s appearance “are useful opportunities to hear a wide range of views on global climate change”.
In the real work of the conference, delegates from more than 180 countries bargained behind closed doors, making final adjustments to an agreement to negotiate additional reductions in carbon dioxide and other gases after 2012, when the Kyoto accord expires.
Efforts by the host-country, Canada, to draw the United States into the process appear to have failed. The Bush administration says it favours a voluntary approach, not global negotiations, to deal with climate issues.
“It’s such a pity the United States is still very much unwilling to join the international community, to have a multilateral effort to deal with climate change,” said Kenya’s Emily Ojoo Massawa, chair of the African group of nations at the two-week-long conference.
The Montreal meeting, attended by almost 10,000 delegates, environmentalists, business representatives and others, was the first annual UN climate conference since Kyoto took effect last February.
The protocol’s language requires its member nations to begin talks now on emissions controls after 2012, when the Kyoto regime expires.