Even as Czech President Václav Klaus, Europe's chief climate skeptic, this week attacked global warming as a hoax, his environment minister has been working behind the scenes in Washington, D.C., to drum up support for a global emissions pact.
Jan Dusík, first deputy minister of the environment, is Europe's point man on climate change while the Czech Republic holds the rotating E.U. presidency. And in meetings Monday and yesterday with a series of Obama administration officials, Dusík said he is encouraged by what he called the United States' commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
"The appearance of the U.S. on climate negotiations so far was as an observer," Dusík said. "Now the U.S. wants to be very much part of the process. They want to be part of the deal."
So, too, Dusík insisted, does the Czech Republic -- a stance that, he allowed, might not always be evident from the statements of his president.
On Saturday, Klaus -- a fierce critic of the European Union he now leads, who refuses to fly the E.U. flag at Prague Castle -- took direct aim at former Vice President Al Gore, challenging Gore to "listen to competing theories" on climate change.
Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Klaus said he sees no "statistical data" to prove global warming.
"I don't think that there is any global warming," Klaus declared at Davos. "Environmentalism and the global warming alarmism is challenging our freedom. Al Gore is an important person in this movement."
'We need a global deal on this'
Chatting in the lobby of the U.S. Department of Energy after a meeting with Secretary Steven Chu, Dusík directly contradicted Klaus and insisted that the majority of the Czech population does, as well.
"We at the ministry think that climate change is an important issue that can have very dangerous impacts if it's not tackled," Dusík said. "We need a global deal on this."
Dusík said he is optimistic that U.N. negotiators will hammer out a treaty by December, when leaders are to meet in Copenhagen, Denmark, to establish a new climate pact. And, he said, it's a goal the Czech Republic is working hard to help achieve -- Klaus' comments notwithstanding.
A ministerial-level meeting of U.S., Czech and Swedish environment officials is expected in Washington in March (Sweden will assume the E.U. presidency in July), and another informal meeting of environment ministers will occur in Prague sometime in mid-April.
Klaus' climate skepticism, Dusík said, "doesn't have a direct influence on our work as president of the E.U. Of course, people recognize that there is not a single voice coming from the Czech Republic," he said.
"The presidency of the Czech Republic is not the same as the presidency of the European Union," he said. "We have our own private policies and energy policies in the E.U., and that's one thing. We want to achieve a global deal."
Dusík met Monday with Obama's top energy and environment adviser, Carol Browner, before meeting yesterday with Chu. He said Chu was interested in specific details of the European Union's emission trading system and had a number of concrete questions about carbon pricing.
Most Czechs want to keep their emissions in check
"It was very positive for me to see the secretary of Energy has such a deep understanding of the issues," Dusík said.
Dusík said he believes the "political will globally is there" to achieve an international emissions pact, and said he thinks negotiators will emerge from Copenhagen with at least a strong framework for how emissions will be reduced in industrialized countries and how specific contributions will be made by fast-developing economies like China and India.
Citing the overarching strategy outlined recently by the European Union, Dusík said he expects developing nations to commit to a 15 to 30 percent reduction from "business-as-usual" emissions. At the same time, the industrialized world will need to pony up about $224 billion annually in technology transfer and other investments to keep emissions in check.
Within the Czech Republic, Dusík said a recent poll found that 80 percent of the population believes climate change is a serious issue that needs to be addressed on a global level.
"In a way, it's a pity that the most visible person on climate change is the president, who has a different view than the majority of the people," he said.