To hear President Bush's top environmental adviser tell it, Europe is coming around to the administration's approach to confronting global warming.
"We are all working at the same realistically aggressive pace," James L. Connaughton said in an interview this week. "The world is coming to a more sustainable, collective vision of how to address climate change."
As the eight major industrialized nations struggle to reach an agreement on global warming policy before next week's Group of Eight summit, however, many European officials have a different take on the matter.
"I wish I could believe it was true," said Barbara Young, chief executive of Britain's Environment Agency. When it comes to Bush's climate change policy, she added, "the amount of energy that goes into denying the case and not getting on with the job is just criminal."
This clash of visions between the other seven industrialized nations and the United States will come to a head when their leaders meet at Scotland's Gleneagles resort starting Wednesday to outline how they plan to address global warming and poverty in Africa. Summit organizers hastily arranged a last-minute round of talks in London this weekend to try to forge a joint statement on the environment, but so far that has eluded them.
The Bush administration's success so far in resisting its allies' calls for bolder measures to mitigate global warming -- such as mandatory emissions limits for greenhouse gases, concrete dollar commitments to new technology and specific energy efficiency targets -- is a testament to America's continuing power to shape the international agenda on climate change. In a consensus-oriented process, the most skeptical -- and most economically and politically powerful -- player, the United States, is largely dictating the terms of the debate.
Other industrialized nations acknowledge they have yet to win serious concessions from Bush. A week ago, British Prime Minister Tony Blair -- who as the current G-8 president placed climate change atop the group's agenda this year -- told reporters that when it came to reaching a summit agreement, "climate change is obviously very difficult." French President Jacques Chirac said Thursday that he welcomed Blair's efforts to bring Washington "back on board" in terms of an international pact but that "results have been modest."
The other G-8 members are Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia. In addition, Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa will participate in next week's summit.
The most recent draft of the G-8 text on climate change, obtained by The Washington Post this week, shows that U.S. negotiators helped pare down a lengthy statement on scientific and policy details by two-thirds, in some cases inserting quotes directly from Bush's past speeches.
The language of previous texts called for specific funding to promote such things as clean energy research and creating sustainable energy markets in developing nations; the new statement includes no dollar amounts. Earlier drafts started with the sentence "Our world is warming"; that wording is now in dispute. European negotiators initially pushed for specific targets on energy efficiency and the sharing of emissions trading practices; the new document is now silent on these points.
Negotiators this weekend will debate whether to adopt a new sentence -- emphasizing the "need to slow, stop and then reverse the growth in greenhouse gases" -- that is lifted almost verbatim from the president's Feb. 14, 2001, speech on climate change.
A European Union official familiar with the negotiations -- and who asked not to be identified for fear of jeopardizing the final talks -- said Europeans were trying unsuccessfully to open up "a process, through whatever means possible, to jointly identify a series of next steps."
"There is a great reluctance on the part of the U.S. to accept anything meaningful," the official said. "There's still an effort to water down language on the science."
The administration's success in resisting pressure from the Europeans has won it praise from conservatives at home and criticism from environmental groups.
Myron Ebell, who directs the free-market Competitive Enterprise Institute's global warming and international environmental programs, said he and his colleagues are "pleased with the firm and consistent position Bush is taking on climate change." He added: "On the issue of climate change, Blair is going to make no progress in hoping the U.S. will accede." The institute gets funding from oil companies that oppose mandatory carbon emissions curbs.
By contrast, Jeff Fiedler, a climate policy specialist at the environmentalist Natural Resources Defense Council, said administration officials are seeking to craft "a fig leaf for the real action that's needed."
"The olive branch has been extended to find some effective policies that are acceptable to the White House, and as far as we can see, they have just slapped that branch away," Fiedler said.
Connaughton, the chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality, and other administration officials said they are focused on obtaining practical commitments industrialized countries can meet without damaging their economies. He said that although some G-8 countries are struggling to meet their goal of bringing greenhouse gas emissions down to 1990 levels by 2012, the United States is on track to fulfill its pledge to reduce its carbon intensity -- how much emissions are rising relative to overall economic growth -- 18 percent by 2012.
On Thursday, the Energy Information Administration announced that the nation's carbon emissions rose 1.7 percent in 2004 -- but that amounted to a 2.6 percent drop in carbon intensity, because the U.S. economy grew 4.4 percent that year. The rate of increase in U.S. carbon emissions more than doubled from 2003 to 2004 because of heightened economic activity.
"Our whole focus has been we need to get past these policy differences and get to deployment and implementation of these clean-technology opportunities," Connaughton said of the G-8 negotiations. "Perhaps I'm a Pollyanna, but this discussion is going to be historic."
But Europeans interviewed this week delivered a less sanguine assessment of the ongoing talks. Robert May, who served as Britain's chief scientist from 1995 to 2000 and now heads the Royal Society, the United Kingdom's independent scientific academy, said the Bush administration is resisting "scientific fact" and is trying to superimpose "one fundamentalist ideology . . . on the rest of the G-8."
Philip Clapp, who heads the U.S. advocacy group National Environmental Trust and will be an observer at next week's summit, said Bush's approach might backfire if other G-8 nations start negotiating a new global warming treaty to take effect in 2012 "and the U.S. will just sit on the sidelines as a spectator, not a participant."
But some British officials held out hope they can reach a compromise with the United States by the summit's end.
"We need to focus on the ground we have in common and not split hairs over differences," said one, who asked not to be identified out of deference to negotiators. "The G-8 is a massive opportunity. You have the world's richest economies taking practical measures to deal with the issue, and it's not just the world's richest economies, it's the world's emerging economies."