Washington: President Bush, fending off international accusations that he was ignoring climate change, proposed for the first time on 31 May to set "a long-term global goal" for cutting greenhouse gas emissions, and he called on other industrial nations to join the US in negotiations aimed at reaching an agreement by the end of next year.
If carried through, such an agreement would be the first in which the US, the world's biggest source of emissions that scientists say are warming the planet, has committed itself to a specific target for cutting them.
It would be a major shift for Bush, who has resisted such absolute goals in part for economic reasons. The President has also steadfastly rejected the so-called Kyoto Protocol, which limits greenhouse gas emissions, on the grounds that two other major polluters -- China and India -- are not bound by the accord in the same way as the US would be if it joined. The proposal, delivered in a speech at the US Agency for International Development here, reflects the difficulties the Bush administration is facing in grappling with climate change as the scientific consensus has continued to build in favour of action to control the buildup of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere.
"In recent years, science has deepened our understanding of climate change and opened new possibilities for confronting it," Bush said, previewing the climate change package he is to present when he meets the leaders of the Group of 8 industrialized nations in Germany next week. "The US takes this issue seriously."
The speech was greeted with intense skepticism by environmental advocates and some European officials. Some critics accused Bush of trying to hijack continuing environmental talks like those under the Kyoto treaty by substituting his own program, which even if successful would not bear fruit until he is about to leave office in 2009. And, they said, the president delivered no clear statement on what steps the US will take to limit emissions over the next 10 to 20 years, while he is working on long-term goals for the next 50 years and beyond.
Even those goals, said James L. Connaughton, the President's top environmental adviser, are "aspirational." They would not be binding unless individual nations choose to bind themselves.
The speech on 31 May was the biggest shift on climate change by Bush. In July 2005, he offered his first explicit acknowledgment that humans might be contributing to the problem of global warming. This year, for the first time, he mentioned climate change in his State of the Union address.