The Bush administration yesterday announced what it called an "action agenda" to combat global warming, predicting that it will cut emissions of some climate-warming gases to 1987 levels by the turn of the century.
But the plan, unveiled at the first day of a U.N.-sponsored conference on global warming remedies, is essentially a repackaging of policies devised for other purposes and contains no assurances that emissions will not resume growing after the year 2000.
Nor does the plan set targets and timetables for control of carbon dioxide emissions -- the principal warming gas -- that most of Europe, Japan and Canada have pledged to stabilize or reduce early next century. U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide, produced when any fuel is burned, would increase by 15 percent under the plan.
Criticized by some European delegates as disingenuous, the plan was praised by other conference officials as a positive step for an administration that previously has talked more of scientific uncertainties than of remedies.
"We are united in the belief that despite large uncertainties, the potential threat of climate change justifies taking action now," Michael R. Deland, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, told the conference.
"If this is their program, it signifies a shift," said Mostafa K. Tolba, executive director of the United Nations Environment Program. "They are stabilizing" warming gases.
More than 130 nations are participating in the conference, which is supposed to meet intermittently over the next 18 months to draft a strategy to fight global warming. Tolba convened the nations after an international scientific panel concluded last summer that heat-trapping gases from industry and farming will raise world temperatures 2 degrees by 2025 and 6 degrees by 2100.
With the United States responsible for one-quarter of world carbon dioxide emissions, diplomatic pressure has been building for U.S. policies to match the commitments of other countries. But because of the economy's reliance on fossil fuels -- chiefly coal and oil -- the administration has been slow to move beyond the research stage.
Yesterday's announcement by Deland speaks of a "comprehensive strategy," which shifts the focus of control efforts from carbon dioxide to other warming gases.
The strategy, outlined in a pamphlet called "An Action Agenda," includes the phaseout of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), a policy that Washington agreed to last summer as part of a treaty to protect the stratospheric ozone layer.
Provisions of the new Clean Air Act, which Congress passed last October, also are included in the plan. Under the act coal-burning utilities were to adopt energy-conserving measures to combat acid rain. The same measures would reduce carbon dioxide emissions. The act also sets tougher limits on auto and industrial pollution to reduce smog, which acts as a warming gas.
Deland said the plan would result in the emissions of global warming gases in 2000 "being equal to or below 1987 levels." He did not use the verb "stabilize," which advocates of tougher measures prefer to characterize more ambitious programs to permanently cap emissions at current levels.
Environmentalists accused the administration of "double-counting," noting, for example, that the CFC phaseout alone will account for 85 percent of the global warming gases to be reduced by the plan.
Willem Kakebeeke of the Dutch Ministry of the Environment said the U.S. program was "hiding a little bit" by taking credit for CFC phaseout and failing to target carbon dioxide for controls. "They should come out in the open and say what they are going to do with carbon dioxide."