President Bush's new global warming plan may reflect a kinder, gentler approach to the politics of the environment. But it is unlikely to prevent him from getting an angry earful on the subject during his trip to Europe this week.
That's because the split between the US and its European allies is based on more than a difference of opinion about the seriousness of the issue. It also reflects a fundamental argument about the role of governments in any solution to climate change.
The free-market Bush team has long stressed that limits on greenhouse-gas emissions should be voluntary. Many European leaders, schooled in systems used to greater government intervention in society, think the problem so important that nothing but mandatory emission caps will do.
The subject will make for "intense dialogue" on Thursday, when Mr. Bush sits down with EU leaders for dinner in Sweden, European Commission President Romano Prodi said Monday.
"Europe will be discussing on an equal position with the United States.... Our interests coincide with those of the entire planet," said Mr. Prodi, voicing a common continental view of the relative US-European roles in global warming talks.
To this point, the entire Bush-Europe dialogue on global warming has been dominated by one signal event: the administration's rejection of the Kyoto Protocol, which calls for government-mandated caps on greenhouse-gas emissions, including a 7 percent reduction in US emissions from 1990 to 2012.
Administration officials now admit that they were taken aback by the ferocity of Europe's condemnation of the pullout. Partially in response to the uproar, they asked the National Academy of Sciences to review the state of global-warming science - a review that reiterated that the problem of human-induced climate change is serious and growing.
Pivoting off the NAS study, the administration announced the results of its own Climate Change Review on June 11.
Speaking just before leaving on his first European tour, the president announced government initiatives to advance global-warming research and technology and to create partnerships in the Western Hemisphere and elsewhere to address climate change.
However, the report was in no way an about-face embrace of the need for quick action on mandatory greenhouse-gas caps.
"Our actions should be measured as we learn more from science and build on it," said Bush at a ceremony releasing the study.
The administration report roundly criticized the Kyoto Protocol as not based on sound science. It called the emission-reduction targets contained in the pact "political."
The US target of a 7 percent reduction in emissions by 2012 actually would have amounted to a draconian 30 percent reduction, claimed the report, considering the projected growth curve of emissions produced by a growing economy.
The Kyoto Protocol "risks significantly harming the US and global economies," the report said, citing its effects as ranging from a 1 to a 4 percent reduction in the nation's gross domestic product (GDP).
Its effect would be comparable to that of the oil shock of the 1970s, said the administration, which reduced US GDP 2 percent.
"We should pursue market-based incentives and spur technological innovations," said Bush.
Investment in research for new emissions-control technology could have large payoffs in the future, claim business groups that are generally opposed to government intervention on the subject.
"New technologies are going to take us much farther than Kyoto could ever hope to take us," says Frank Maisano, spokesman for the Global Climate Coalition, a group of trade associations.
Environmental groups do not necessarily oppose more research. They simply believe that it should be one small part of a more comprehensive government approach - as do the Europeans.
An effective global-warming policy should substantially increase corporate average fuel economy for autos, sport utility vehicles, and light trucks, said a letter released by a consortium of environmental groups on Monday.
It should also clean up the four major pollutants emitted by electric power plants, and ensure widespread deployment and use of clean energy sources.
And it needs a nationwide cap on emissions.
"These caps need to be binding, without 'safety valve' schemes that would allow businesses to continue polluting at excessive levels," said the letter, whose signatories include Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club.
Some corporations are already moving to cap emissions on their own.
Eileen Claussen of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change says that DuPont and Alcoa, among others, have set emission targets for 2010 that are far more ambitious than those set in the Kyoto accords.
Staff writers Peter N. Spotts and Francine Kiefer contributed to this report.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor