Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney broke with Republican orthodoxy Friday by saying he believes that humans are responsible, at least to some extent, for climate change.
"I believe the world is getting warmer, and I believe that humans have contributed to that," he told a crowd of about 200 at a town hall meeting in Manchester, New Hampshire.
"It's important for us to reduce our emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases that may be significant contributors."
The former Massachusetts governor fielded questions on topics ranging from the debt ceiling to abortion on his first official day of campaigning for 2012 Republican primary nomination.
Romney leads opinion polls in New Hampshire by a wide margin, and is among the top contenders nationally to win the Republican contest to challenge Democratic President Barack Obama.
But the candidate lost the publicity battle on Thursday when his campaign launch in New Hampshire was overshadowed by Republican star Sarah Palin, who swooped in as part of her East Coast bus tour to dominate local media coverage.
In addressing climate change and energy policy, Romney veered from the party's usual skepticism on global warming when he called on the United States to break its dependence on foreign oil and expand alternative energies including solar, wind, nuclear and clean coal.
"I love solar and wind (power) but they don't drive cars. And we're not all going to drive Chevy Volts," he said, referring to electric cars.
The United States cannot go it alone in attempting to trim emissions levels and give a free pass to countries such as China and Brazil, Romney said. "It's not called American warming, it's called global warming," he said.
Republicans in the U.S. Congress oppose cap-and-trade legislation to reduce carbon emissions and are generally cool to the idea that global warming is caused by human activity.
As Massachusetts governor in 2005, Romney backed a carbon-trading pact among northeastern U.S. states.
Software developer Michael Hillinger, 60, of Hanover, New Hampshire, posed the climate change question at the town hall.
Romney's answer provided plenty of wiggle-room, Hillinger said, but "he is taking a more forthright stand than any of the other candidates."
At an event in Manchester last week, former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich, also running for president, said that climate change is "the newest excuse to take control of lives" by "left-wing intellectuals."
Republican candidates Tim Pawlenty and Jon Huntsman have distanced themselves from support they showed for cap-and-trade plans when they were governors of Minnesota and Utah, respectively. Pawlenty in 2007 pushed for large reductions in greenhouse gases, but later flipped to call plans to curb climate change "overly bureaucratic" and an economic burden.
Republican primary voters are typically the most conservative and the least likely to embrace climate measures.
In a Gallup poll in March, Democrats were found to be 40 percentage points more likely to register concern about global warming than Republicans, and 35 points more likely to agree that global warming was caused by humans.
(Editing by Doina Chiacu)
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