President Bush on Tuesday called on the US to set policies that stabilize greenhouse-gas emissions by 2025. To achieve that objective, the president said, emissions from the utility industry must peak within the next 10 to 15 years.
During the Rose Garden speech, Mr. Bush also outlined what he perceives as the right way to craft domestic legislation to deal with global warming, and suggested ways of designing a unified set of incentives to speed the development and deployment of climate-friendly technologies. He put special emphasis on developing a new generation of nuclear reactors and technologies to capture and sequester carbon dioxide from burning coal.
On Capitol Hill, where Congress is about to debate measures that would be far tougher than those the president outlined, responses to Bush's speech ranged from lukewarm to frosty.
"I am glad the president finally wants to engage on the issue of climate change." said Rep. John Dingell (D) of Michigan and chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. "The best way for him to do that is by coming forward with a concrete legislative proposal."
His colleague at the other end of the Capitol building, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) of California, called the president's approach one that would "have America stand by while greenhouse gases reach dangerous levels."
The approach drew a more sympathetic response from utilities. Describing Mr. Bush's proposal as "thoughtful," Tom Kuhn, president of the Edison Electric Institute in Washington, said, "He touched on a number of crucial elements that must be incorporated into an effective response."
The president's latest approach to climate change comes on the eve of the third in a series of major economies meetings the White House has called. These meetings, in parallel with United Nations-based negotiations, are aimed at developing a new climate treaty to pick up after 2012, when the 1997 Kyoto Protocol's first enforcement period expires.
Bush noted that the European Union and Canada were also setting interim emissions objectives as they weigh post-Kyoto steps. But at least in Europe's case, the target emissions levels are more specific, based on a goal of holding the rise in global average temperatures to about 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F.).
To accomplish that, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has estimated that global greenhouse-gas emissions would have to peak by 2015. By 2020, industrial countries would have to cut emissions by up to 40 percent below 1990 levels, and by as much as 95 percent by 2050 to maintain the 2 degree trajectory – even if developing countries make substantial reductions on their own.
The Bush plan, by contrast, calls for US emissions to stabilize by 2025 and does so without specifying the leveling-off point. Given carbon-dioxide's long lifetime in the atmosphere, stabilizing emissions at an unspecified level still means carbon-dioxide emissions are building in the atmosphere at a time when many scientists say emissions should be falling. The ultimate goal – stabilizing greenhouse-gas levels in the atmosphere, and hence stabilizing global average temperatures – means that emissions must fall to virtually zero.
"In 2002 the administration laid out a plan that allowed US emissions to grow until 2012 – the current proposal will allow our emissions to grow until 2025," observes Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. "This proposal is a nonstarter both domestically and internationally."
Staff writer Ron Scherer contributed to this report.