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Last Updated: Thursday, 31 May 2007, 18:24 GMT 19:24 UK
Q&A: President Bush's climate goals
Power station (Getty Images)
Mr Bush says technology holds the key to curbing emissions
US President George W Bush has urged countries to agree on long-term goals for greenhouse gas emissions.

He said he would hold meetings bringing together the US and 14 other major emitters, including developing nations, to set targets by the end of 2008.

Mr Bush was speaking ahead of next week's G8 summit, where Germany is expected to call for cuts in emissions.

Has President Bush become the latest convert to the cause of tackling climate change by curbing emissions?

It is the first time the US president has publicly said that "long-term goals for reducing greenhouse gases" are needed.

Mr Bush's statement has caught the media's attention, but - so far - lacks the detail needed to assess whether the proposal marks a change of heart in the White House over the need for globally binding emission targets.

What is he proposing?

President Bush has called on 14 of the world's most polluting countries to join a new global framework to fight climate change once the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012.

He plans to host a series of meetings aimed at setting a global target by the end of 2008 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

As well as industrialised economies, he has invited India and China to participate in the scheme.

Each of the nations, he explained, would also "establish mid-term national targets and programmes that reflect their own mix of energy sources and future energy needs".

Is this an about-turn by the White House on the issue of global warming?

It would be an exaggeration to call President Bush's announcement a step-change in his administration's position on climate change.

Heat map

Although the US administration has refused to ratify the UN Kyoto Protocol and has been portrayed as the villain of global climate talks, it has been a keen advocate for "clean energy" technologies.

In his 2006 State of the Union address, he said alternative energy sources were needed to break the US's "addiction to oil".

His enthusiasm for biofuels and hydrogen power, it can be argued, are motivated by economics and energy security reasons.

However, the same cannot be said for his decision to invest billions of dollars in developing ways to capture and geologically store carbon dioxide from coal-fired power station.

Analysts have observed that there is no reason to do this other than to limit the emission of greenhouse gases.

And in 2005, President Bush set up the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate.

The coalition, which included Australia, Japan, China and India, rejected the idea of capping emissions and focused on the role of technology in averting dangerous climate change.

But the partnership was criticised by environmentalists, who saw it as an attempt to undermine the role of UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which oversaw the Kyoto Protocol.

Critics, such as the US-based National Environmental Trust, say Mr Bush's latest announcement is designed to deflect attention away from the president's refusal to accept binding reductions.

Does this mean that June's G8 summit in Germany will result in the world's leading industrialised countries reaching a consensus on how to prevent dangerous climate change?

There is still a wide gulf between the climate policies of the European Union and the United Nations, and what President Bush is proposing.

The EU has set a clear target of preventing global temperatures rising 2C (3.6F) above pre-industrialised levels. The bloc plans to achieve this by cutting emissions by 50% below 1990 levels by 2050.

The main vehicle for delivering these cuts, under EU proposals, would be a global carbon trading scheme. Mr Bush remains opposed to both of these policies.

Instead, he said: "We need to harness the power of technology to help nations meet their growing energy needs while protecting the environment."

US negotiators recently rejected a draft G8 statement on climate change that included the 50% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050.

They voiced "fundamental opposition" to the communique prepared by Germany, which currently holds the G8 presidency.

As there will now be at least two proposals on the table for the political leaders to consider, there are fears that the summit in Heligendamn will end in stalemate and the opportunity to cement a meaningful framework to curb future emissions will again be missed.

US urges new greenhouse gas goals
31 May 07 |  Americas

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