In his final months in office, President Bush is mounting a last-ditch effort to forge a new global deal to limit greenhouse gas emissions but finds himself once again at odds with much of the rest of the world on how to address climate change.
Bush aides said that a deal might be struck when the president sits down next week in Japan with the leaders of the world's largest industrialized nations and developing countries such as China and India. Japan is pushing for leaders at the G-8 summit to agree to a goal to cut global carbon dioxide emissions in half by 2050, a proposal that the White House appears to be considering seriously.
The Bush administration is also conducting its own negotiations with other countries on including more specific targets for each to meet by 2020 or 2025. Germany is pushing for more significant cuts in emissions than the United States and some other countries are willing to consider, while China and India want the United States and other industrialized countries to do most of heavy lifting for the next 10 to 15 years. Previewing his G-8 agenda Wednesday in the Rose Garden, Bush emphasized the necessity of including the developing countries in any agreement struck by his administration.
“We can't have an effective agreement unless China and India are a part of it,” Bush told reporters. “It's as simple as that. I'm going to remind our partners that's the case.”
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Both China and India, which have been invited to the summit in Japan, say that numerical targets would slow growth and stall poverty alleviation. India also wants aid and technology from industrialized countries to help it cut emissions.
“Sustainable development has to be supported by both financial resources and technological resources,” Shyam Saran, India's special envoy for climate change, told reporters this week. “Until that happens, how do you expect the developing countries to take up quantitative restrictions?”
India was the fourth-largest carbon-dioxide emitter in 2004, after the United States, China and Russia, according to the United Nations. Japan was fifth. On a per capita basis, though, both India and China are below many industrialized countries on the list of major emitters.
Bush has had tense relations with allies over his approach to climate change from the beginning of his first term, when he ruled out U.S. participation in the Kyoto Protocol. Other countries, and U.S. environmental groups, regarded that treaty as an essential first step to stopping the man-made emissions scientists believe are contributing to the earth's warming, but Bush argued it would cripple economic growth and present unrealistic targets for cuts. He also complained that it exempted China and other developing countries from its targets.
In recent years, Bush has shifted to some degree, accepting the scientific conclusion that human action is contributing to global warming. After he was isolated at last year's G-8 summit in Germany in opposition to Japan's proposal for a long-term reduction of 50 percent, he also moved to create a vehicle to bring China, India, and other big developing countries the debate.
The Major Economies Meeting on Energy Security and Climate Change (MEM) is comprised of 17 countries that account for about 80 percent of global greenhouse emissions. Senior officials of the 17 nations have met four times, but the leaders of the countries will meet for the first time in Japan after the G-8 summit concludes.
The United States has insisted to Japan that climate change issues should be discussed only at a MEM meeting after the main G-8 sessions. Japan, though, is trying to persuade United States to discuss emissions targets during the G-8 meeting, according to reports in Japanese newspapers.
Environmentalists contend Bush's moves on global warming are too little, too late. They say even an agreement on a long-term goal would be meaningless because it would likely not bind the United States to making actual reductions.
In many ways, they said, G-8 nations have begun to shift their focus to Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama, both of whom have indicated a willingness to consider steeper reductions than Bush — the kind of cuts the White House regards as unrealistic.