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Bush climate plan is met with suspicion

On the eve of the Group of Eight (G-8) summit, the White House tries to gain the diplomatic initiative on climate change.

By Staff writer for the Christian Science Monitor / June 1, 2007

On the eve of the Group of Eight (G-8) summit in Germany June 6-8, President Bush is trying to gain the diplomatic initiative on climate change. For the moment, most political actors and expert analysts remain skeptical.

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"The new American initiative seems an admission that its previous strategy has failed," says The Economist magazine in its analysis of Mr. Bush's proposal.

Referring to plans put forth by German Chancellor Angela Merkel (who will host the G-8 meeting), other European countries, and the European Union, the Economist observes:

"All these proposals are much more ambitious than America's, and it will take a lengthy debate – and perhaps another president – to reconcile them."

Under the Bush plan, "the US would convene meetings over the next year among the world's 15 greatest polluters," reports The Times of London. "These would set their own, looser goals for reducing emissions – but allow individual nations to develop different strategies for meeting them."

The plan also involves cutting tariff barriers and sharing environmental technology. "It's important to ensure that we get results, and so we will create a strong and transparent system for measuring each country's performance," Bush said.

But at this point at least, the plan lacks specifics. Asked if the commitment to cut greenhouse gases would be voluntary or binding, White House environment adviser James Connaughton described it to reporters as "a long-term, aspirational goal."

Despite (or perhaps because of) the relative vagueness of the Bush announcement, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the president's closest foreign ally, was quick to laud Bush's move. During a visit to South Africa, Mr. Blair told Britain's Sky News:

"For the first time [the United States] is setting its own domestic targets, for the first time it is saying it wants a global target for the reduction of emissions, and therefore for the first time we've got the opportunity of getting a proper global deal."

During his term in office the outgoing British prime minister failed to push the US administration into taking a tougher stand on global warming.

Seeing a potential diplomatic opening, Chancellor Merkel called Bush's announcement "an important statement on the way to Heiligendamm," referring to the German resort where the leaders of the G-8 (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, Britain, and the United States) will gather next week with climate change as the main item on the agenda.

The plan put forth by Ms. Merkel for G-8 consideration goes much further than Bush has been willing to accept. It pledges to slow the rise in average temperatures this century to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, and to increase energy efficiency in power generation and transportation by 20 percent by 2020.

"As far as the concrete formulations for Heiligendamm are concerned, we will have to make significantly more progress," the German Chancellor said.