By Michael A. Fletcher and Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, May 31, 2007
President Bush sought yesterday to take the initiative on global warming talks in which the administration had previously been a reluctant participant, offering to launch negotiations aimed at having the world's most prolific polluters agree on long-term goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The proposal, which Bush unveiled in a speech outlining his priorities for the Group of Eight summit in Germany next week, signaled a shift in the administration's often-criticized approach to combating global warming while offering what the president called a "new framework" for addressing the issue.
Though the president is still not backing a mandatory cap on carbon dioxide emissions, he made it clear that he would like the United States to play a major role in shaping global environmental policy after the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012.
"In recent years, science has deepened our understanding of climate change and opened new possibilities for confronting it," Bush said. "The United States takes this issue seriously. The new initiative I am outlining today will contribute to the important dialogue that will take place in Germany next week."
The White House said Bush's proposal has drawn positive reactions from several European leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has called for more prescriptive measures for limiting global warming. Still, environmentalists and their supporters in Congress criticized Bush's proposal as a weak substitute for cutting greenhouse gas emissions through binding rules.
Bush's speech came as several members of the Group of Eight have been pressing -- despite U.S. opposition -- for specific cuts in greenhouse gases as part of the June 6-8 summit in Heiligendamm, Germany. The German proposal calls for limiting the worldwide temperature rise this century to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit and cutting global greenhouse gas emissions to 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, both of which the administration rejects as impractical.
By contrast, Bush is calling for a new set of talks aimed at bringing together a broad array of nations -- including China, India, Brazil and members of the European Union -- to negotiate goals for cutting greenhouse gas emissions after 2012. This new discussion, which would run parallel to the U.N. framework that produced the Kyoto Protocol, could include specific reduction objectives as well as voluntary measures.
Bush refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, which required industrialized nations to bring greenhouse gas emissions below 1990 levels by 2012, calling the plan -- which excluded many fast-growing countries such as India and China -- unworkable.
Instead of specifying binding targets, the Bush proposal will call on the 15 nations responsible for 80 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions to set what his top environmental adviser calls "aspirational goals" for cutting emissions. Individual countries could meet those targets through a broad portfolio of actions, including increasing vehicle fuel-efficiency standards and the deployment of cleaner energy-generating technology.
"Each country will develop its own national strategies on a midterm basis in the next 10 to 20 years on where they want to take their efforts to improve energy security, reduce air pollution and also reduce greenhouse gases," said James L. Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
Bush's announcement is the latest in a series of moves he made this week in hopes of blunting criticism of his administration by the G-8 nations as he prepares to leave for the summit in Germany. Earlier this week, he announced new economic sanctions against Sudan in response to the crisis in Darfur.
He also called on Congress to double the U.S. funding commitment in the battle against the global AIDS crisis and nominated Robert B. Zoellick, a longtime diplomat and well-respected internationalist, to head the World Bank. Zoellick would take over from Paul D. Wolfowitz, who proved to be a polarizing figure during his two years as head of the bank. In his speech yesterday, Bush also urged modest increases in funding for a program that provides education to the world's poorest children and for a program aimed at strengthening capital markets in Africa.
While some European leaders appeared impressed with Bush's proposal, it came under heavy fire from key members of Congress. "It is vitally important for America and this president to reengage internationally on this issue and agree to targets for reducing heat-trapping pollution," said Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), chairman of the House committee on global warming. "Instead, all President Bush is willing to do is engage in fruitless discussions until the very end of his administration."
Virtually without exception, environmentalists questioned why Bush has devised a plan that lacks mandatory cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.
"The president is not offering commitments, and he's not asking for commitments, and without them we won't get the job done," said Elliot Diringer, director of international strategies for the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. "The administration has done all it can to squelch discussion of future climate commitments. This could keep them off the table until the end of this administration."
Stephen L. Johnson, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, said in an interview that what the president announced is a "a global strategy" aimed at bringing in fast-growing countries that have not had to make the same emissions cuts as other nations. He noted that the EPA has calculated that by 2015 developing countries will outpace developed nations in greenhouse gas emissions.
"This is the right time and the right place to do it," Johnson said. "There is greater certainty, and it's that certainty that's why the president is concerned, and why we're all concerned, about global warming."