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Last Updated: Thursday, 31 May 2007, 21:23 GMT 22:23 UK
US climate plans meet mixed response
By Roger Harrabin
BBC Environment Analyst

President George W Bush
Mr Bush offered to lead a new climate change initiative

US President George W Bush has seized the initiative on climate change in a move that pleased some fellow world leaders but infuriated his environmental critics.

In a striking change of tone, he says he wants America to be part of a global climate deal when the first period of the Kyoto Protocol ends in 2012.

And he has offered to lead a new process under which the world's leading 15 emitters of greenhouse gases - including China and India - will be invited to Washington to discuss what they can do to cut emissions.

He wants that group to reach a consensus on a framework for tackling climate change within 18 months.

The way to meet this challenge of energy and global climate change is through technology
President George W Bush

In the meantime each nation would set "midterm" goals "that reflect their own mix of energy sources and future energy needs" - code for: America will not sign up to anything that does not recognise its dependency on highly polluting coal.

"The United States takes this issue seriously," Mr Bush said. "The way to meet this challenge of energy and global climate change is through technology and the United States is in the lead."

He demanded that all nations should cut tariff barriers to the transfer of environmental technology - a move that would boost earning for high-tech American firms.

Scepticism

The statement was welcomed by UK Prime Minister Tony Blair as a major change in attitude.

This is a transparent effort to divert attention from the president's refusal to accept any emissions reductions proposals at next week's G8 summit
Philip Clapp

But critics accused the president of attempting to divert attention from next week's meeting of the G8 leading nations, where Mr Bush will be under intense pressure.

He is being pressed to accept caps on American emissions of greenhouse gases and to join the global system of trading carbon emissions credits which is channelling billions of dollars into clean development in poor countries.

But a White House spokesman made it plain that both were unacceptable.

His plan was greeted with immediate scepticism by environmental groups.

"This is a transparent effort to divert attention from the president's refusal to accept any emissions reductions proposals at next week's G8 summit," said Philip Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust in America.

President George W Bush
Critics Mr Bush's plans are just 'delaying tactics'

"After sitting out talks on global warming for years, the Bush administration doesn't have very much credibility with other governments on the issue," Mr Clapp added.

Tony Juniper, head of Friends of the Earth UK, said: "This is a deliberate and carefully crafted attempt to derail any prospect of a climate change agreement (at the G8 summit).

"The prospects of him getting this to some form of conclusion in 18 months are extremely slim," he said.

"Basically we should see this as a delaying tactic to keep the climate change issue off his back in terms of any real decisions until he leaves office (in early 2009)."

Worst-case scenario

In truth, it is impossible to write off the initiative completely.

The president's speech strikes a very different tone and any initiative to bring together politicians from the biggest polluters with business leaders must be a good thing - but only if it does not subvert the global negotiations at the UN and in the G8.

In a worst-case scenario the initiative could result in an American process held on American soil with American invitees discussing an American agenda.

The "goals" agreed might simply be goals to improve energy efficiency whilst increasing emissions.

And the process might undermine the already painfully slow process in the G8 and the UN.

We shall see.




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