THE Bush administration's firm refusal to give in to global pressure to embrace specific goals and deadlines for cutting carbon dioxide emissions appears to be paying off.
The new working text of the global warming treaty, the central document to be signed in Rio de Janeiro at the United Nations Earth Summit, is now a compromise the United States is likely to buy.
However, the document's lack of specific commitments to limit gas emissions is shaping up as a major disappointment to many developing nations, to industrialized nations which were prepared to go further, and to environmentalists.
"This is worse than a compromise; it's a retreat," insists National Audubon Society vice president Brooks Yaeger.
"The wording is all very mushy. There's no legally binding commitment to take any specific action whatsoever on greenhouse gases."
The European nations and Japan earlier had made it clear that they were willing to accept a goal of stabilizing carbon dioxide emissions by the year 2000 at 1990 levels. For a long time, those goals were in the working text.
The new text under debate in the final round of UN climate talks here, ending Friday, could change again.
"It's not a done deal," says Sean Fox, a Climate and Energy Program Fellow at the World Resources Institute, one of the many representatives of nongovernmental organizations sitting in on the talks.
He notes that many delegates say the language of the text now under discussion is convoluted and ambiguous. Yet he concedes, "It would definitely take a strong, concerted effort by those already committed to stabilization of emissions to get that goal back on the agenda."
Jean Ripert, chairman of the UN committee overseeing the negotiations of the 140 governments, announced the new compromise text late last week. He called it his own effort, arrived at after talks with members, to take out some of the most controversial portions in the interests of time. "We've got to start somewhere," he said.
UN negotiators stress that a climate treaty is only a first step in a long process requiring major lifestyle changes.
Since US cars, factories, and electric utilities account for more than 20 percent of the world's man-made carbon dioxide emissions, most nations want the US to be a party to any treaty they sign.
The Bush administration has long resisted any binding commitment to what it calls targets and timetables. Mr. Bush has said he doesn't want to do anything which might jeopardize American jobs.
Robert Reinstein, chief US negotiator at the climate talks, has said that "you paint yourself into a corner" if you happen to make the wrong assumption about economic growth.
Environmentalists concede that the point is politically sensitive but argue that the US can easily meet the emissions goal embraced by other industrial nations. They note that the Bush administration a few days ago released a paper indicating that the US expects greenhouse gas emission levels to be only 1.5 percent to 6 percent higher in the year 2000 than they are now. US officials say the amount would be 7 percent to 11 percent less than previously projected levels for that year. Environmentalists say the US calculations do not include state energy saving measures, private sector efforts, or congressional measures now under consideration.
Alden Meyer, director of the energy and climate change program of the Union of Concerned Scientists, says the US figures were compiled in response to European projections of carbon dioxide emissions.
The US action "really proves the point that you need goals if you're going to get governments and bureaucracies to act on these issues," he says.