(J. Scott Applewhite ~ Associated Press)
WASHINGTON -- President Bush, under international pressure to take tough action against global warming, on Thursday called for a summit of the United States and other nations that spew the most greenhouse gases on the planet.
The goal: set a long-term global strategy for reducing emissions -- and counter allegations the United States is foot-dragging.
The White House said the president's proposal addresses "life after" the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012, and he wants to bring India, China and other fast-growing countries to the negotiation table so they are part of the solution, not the problem.
"The United States takes this issue seriously," Bush said.
Critics disagree. They say Bush wants to set unenforceable targets for curbing greenhouse gas, not concrete limits on emissions. They contend he is ignoring other international efforts on climate change already underway, and is trying to avoid taking action until he leaves office.
David Doniger, climate policy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said Bush will have no credibility with the countries he wants to bring to the table unless he's committed to specific limits to cap the United States' own contributions to global warming.
"The president is warming up to throw his opening pitch while business, states and the rest of the world are already at the top of the ninth inning," Doniger said. "It is nothing less than embarrassing that three of the world's biggest oil companies are calling for tougher measures than the White House."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, just back from a climate change fact-finding trip to Greenland and European capitals, said getting nations to set voluntary emissions targets was not enough to reverse warming of the planet.
"Today's announcement fails to respond to the severity of the crisis that most of the rest of the world has long since recognized," she said.
The president outlined his proposal in a speech just days before he attends a summit in Germany of leading industrialized nations. Global warming is a major topic on the agenda and Bush will be on the spot.
"The new initiative I'm outlining today will contribute to the important dialogue that will take place in Germany next week," he said.
The administration is resisting parts of a climate change initiative being pushed by the host of the G-8 meeting, German Chancellor Angela Merkel. She backs a plan that would limit the average global temperature increase to 3.6 degrees. Experts say that would require -- by 2050 -- a global reduction in emissions of 50 percent below 1990 levels.
Despite U.S. opposition to her plan, Merkel welcomed Bush's idea, saying it provided "common ground" for getting a new international agreement on global warming. Outgoing British Prime Minister Tony Blair, traveling in South Africa, said Bush's announcement shows that the United States is accepting global warming as a "real problem" and is prepared to be part of a global deal on reduction of emissions.
Bush is proposing that the United States and about a dozen other nations hold a series of meetings to set long-term goals by the end of next year for reducing greenhouse gases. The final list of nations has not yet been decided, but other participants would likely include India, China, Brazil, Russia, Canada, Japan, Australia, South Korea and the European Union.
He envisions that each country will set goals on how they want to improve energy security, reduce air pollution and cut greenhouse gases in the next 10 to 20 years. Leaders from power generation, alternative fuels and transportation industries would form working groups to share clean-energy technology.
"We will create a strong and transparent system for measuring each country's performance," 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."
Separately, the Bush-appointed head of the U.S. space program said Thursday that he was not sure global warming was a problem and that it was "a rather arrogant position" to say the world's climate should not change.
"I am not sure that it is fair to say that is a problem we must wrestle with," NASA Administrator Michael Griffin said on National Public Radio.
While the United States signed a 1992 global agreement on climate talks, it refused to ratify the 1997 Kyoto Protocol limiting emissions. Bush argued that Kyoto would harm the U.S. economy, unfairly excluded fast-growing nations like India and China and said nothing about cutting emissions after the treaty expires in 2012.
The White House argues that Bush's proposal does not ignore, but complements ongoing multinational efforts to address the problem.
More than 1,000 diplomats have begun working on a new accord to succeed Kyoto. The ideas will be put before a larger meeting of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change in December in Bali, Indonesia, when U.N. officials hope to launch formal talks on a post-Kyoto treaty.
In a voluntary program called the Asia-Pacific Partnership, Bush also is working with Australia, China, India, Japan and South Korea -- producers of half the world's greenhouse gases -- to attract private money for cleaner energy technologies.