Bush plan aims to reshape climate talks
The US wants to gather leaders of the biggest emitting nations to craft a voluntary plan to curb greenhouse gases.
Is it a new course for the Bush administration on climate change, or simply old wine in new bottles?Skip to next paragraph
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That's the question many are trying to answer following the May 31 announcement that the White House aims to spearhead an international effort to build a framework for action on global warming. The framework would shape efforts to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions after 2012, when the first five-year commitment under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol ends.
Under the plan, the United States would gather leaders of 15 nations that comprise the leading emitters of heat-trapping gases and the largest consumers of energy. Their objective: Develop a long-term reduction goal that, according to administration officials, countries would aspire to, rather than be required to meet. Each country would then develop its own sets of programs to achieve the goal.
President Bush unveiled the plan on the eve of this year's G-8 summit, set to start June 6 in Heiligendamm, Germany. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who will chair the meeting, has put a high priority on committing G-8 members to reaching specific emissions goals. Drafts of the meeting's final communiqué already in circulation include statements on the need to reduce emissions significantly by 2050.
Her effort is driven in no small part by three recent reports on global warming that show its effects and offer strategies for reducing emissions of greenhouse gases – mainly carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels such as coal or oil. The reports, which aim to inform policymakers as they craft ways to reduce human influence on climate, were issued earlier this year by the UN-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
During the run-up to the G-8 meeting, the Bush administration has come under intense criticism from environmental groups and some European officials. The White House rejected the way large sections of the draft's climate provisions were worded. It argued that the offending elements clearly run counter to the president's policy on dealing with global warming.
For example, Washington's proposed changes to the draft G-8 document virtually wipe out any reference to various emissions-reduction goals by 2050 or an objective of trying to hold global average temperature increases to about 2 degrees Celsius. These are based on IPCC projections of possible future emissions trends and the kinds of emission controls that could avoid what past UN agreements have referred to as "dangerous human-made influence on climate."
In retrospect, it appears that the White House also may have been trying to adjust the draft communiqué text in ways that conformed it more closely to provisions of the plan Washington was getting set to announce. The White House has long rejected mandatory emissions-reduction targets and timetables. Excising those references in the communiqué would leave the door open to selecting a goal through the administration's proposed set of meetings.
"The declaration by President Bush basically restates the US classic line on climate change – no mandatory reductions, no carbon trading, and vaguely expressed objectives," EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas told Reuters through a spokeswoman.
Some environmental groups saw the Bush plan as merely trying to defuse a barrage of criticism aimed its way.
"This is a transparent effort to divert attention from the President's refusal to accept any emissions reductions proposals at next week's G-8 summit," says Philip Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust in Washington. "The White House is just trying to hide the fact that the president is completely isolated among the G-8 leaders by calling vaguely for some agreement next year, right before he leaves office."