For years, the Bush administration has been under pressure from scientists, environmentalists, and other countries to acknowledge and do more about climate change believed to be the result of human-caused greenhouse gases.
Now, as reported by several news outlets in recent days, the administration's own research shows US greenhouse-gas emissions increasing at a steady pace – yet the White House plans to deal with them mainly through voluntary measures.
The United States Climate Action report, required under the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, is still in draft form, although it was due in 2005. It reveals that the administration's climate policy predicts greenhouse-gas emissions growing 11 percent between 2002 and 2012, just about the same as in the previous decade.
"As governor of Texas and as a candidate, the president supported mandatory limits on carbon dioxide emissions," David Conover, who until February 2006 ran the administration's Climate Change Technology Program, told The New York Times, which first broke the story.
"When he announced his voluntary greenhouse-gas intensity reduction goal in 2002, he said it would be re-evaluated in light of scientific developments," added Mr. Conover, now counsel to the National Commission on Energy Policy, a nonpartisan research group that supports limits on gases.
"The science now clearly calls for a mandatory program that establishes a price for greenhouse-gas emissions."
If US emissions increase by the projected amount, this could bring "a distinct reduction in spring snowpack in the northwestern United States," warns the report. As quoted by the Associated Press, the report also notes that warmer temperatures could "exacerbate present drought risks in the United States by increasing the rate of evaporation."
Michael MacCracken, chief scientist at the nonpartisan Climate Institute in Washington, told the wire service:
"We're on a path to exceeding levels of global warming that will cause catastrophic consequences, and we really need to be seriously reducing emissions, not just reducing the growth rate as the president is doing."
For its part, the administration says it is meeting its goal to reduce "greenhouse-gas intensity," that is, emissions as related to economic growth. Still, notes the Press Trust of India, "US gas emissions that contribute to global warming will grow nearly as fast through the next decade as they did in the previous decade."
The administration's draft report comes a month after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, made up of hundreds of climate scientists from around the world, concluded that human activity is "very likely" to be behind a pattern of rising temperatures.
The reported increase in US emissions and consequent rise in temperatures "is in line with expectations, but underlines how out of kilter the US government is with world opinion and efforts to tackle climate change," reports the Guardian in London.
The new administration report notes that animal and plant species may be adversely impacted by shifting climate zones. The US Fish and Wildlife Service has been holding public hearings in Alaska and Washington, D.C., this week on the federal government's proposed listing of polar bears as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
Some biologists fear that the loss of year-round Arctic sea ice could reduce bear habitat, particularly since northern latitudes appear to be warming twice as rapidly as the rest of the globe.
At a hearing in Anchorage, Karla Dutton, director of the Alaska office of Defenders of Wildlife, said:
"There's no way around it – in order to conserve polar bear habitat in the long term, we must act immediately to reduce our greenhouse-gas emissions, the principal cause of global warming and this Arctic meltdown."
But representatives of the oil and gas industry, some native groups, and Alaska state officials remain wary of any listing which could hamper development.
Tina Cummings, a biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game told the hearing that polar bears adapt to use land for hunting, and though their preferred food, ice seals, may be declining, bears can find alternative food sources.
The agency is collecting public testimony until April 9. Its decision on listing polar bears is due next January.