( LatWp ) - On the eve of a major international summit, President Bush proposed Thursday that the United States and the other nations that produce most of the gases responsible for global warming initiate a campaign to limit emissions and set long-term goals for reductions.
The president, who is leaving Monday for a week-long European trip built around the meeting of the Group of Eight industrialized nations, unveiled a proposal to set an international course to fight global warming, calling for an attack based on clean-environment technology, efficient use of fuel and the conservation of forests, which absorb carbon dioxide.
``The United States takes this issue seriously,'' Bush said.
The president has long been criticized for inaction on what is now widely seen as one of the most critical issues facing the world. He has rejected limits on emissions, which might hurt industries, and the Kyoto Protocol, which calls for emissions to return to 1990 levels by 2012.
Bush's announcement follows his imposition Tuesday of sanctions intended to pressure Sudan to stem the violence in Darfur and his call Wednesday to dramatically increase U.S. spending on HIV/AIDS.
Taken together, the announcements made in a slow news week with Congress in recess suggested a burst of administration energy directed at some of the most troublesome international issues it faces.
On Thursday, neither the president nor senior administration officials presented specific goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Such targets would be set in the next 18 months -- a period that would run one month past the election that will choose his successor.
As he has before, Bush emphasized technological innovation as the solution. ``We need to harness the power of technology to help nations meet their growing energy needs while protecting the environment and addressing the challenge of global climate change,'' he said.
Some of his most persistent critics praised him for taking on the issue, but expressed skepticism, because they said mandatory limits on emissions are the only way to turn around the growing release of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases blamed for causing the earth's temperature to rise.
``Gathering the world's largest emitters to discuss global warming is a good idea,'' said David Sandalow, a Brookings Institution scholar who dealt with environmental issues at the National Security Council and State Department during the Clinton administration. ``However, relying on voluntary targets for a problem as serious as global warming is a bad idea.''
Others said Bush was merely responding to the approaching summit. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the host, had pressed to set limits on global warming that would effectively cut emissions to half of 1990 levels by 2050. U.S. representatives objected to the proposal.
Daniel Lashof, climate center science director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said, ``It seems to me that he felt like he needed to say something before going to the G-8 meeting where Germany and other countries are putting a lot of pressure on the U.S. to get with the program in terms of addressing global warming.''
Bush's unexpected initiative drew cautious praise from Merkel. Speaking to reporters in Berlin, she said, ``What is positive is that we can see from the speech that the U.S. president made earlier today that nobody can ignore the question of climate change.''
In an interview with Sky News, British Prime Minister Tony Blair called Bush's proposal a ``huge step forward.''
``I think the important thing is -- for the first time America is saying it wants to be part of a global deal,'' he said.
Bush's effort is intended to negotiate an agreement that would replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. The United States never ratified that agreement and is not bound by it.
The Bush administration and some Democrats have argued that it would unfairly put heavy restraints on the U.S. economy while letting India, China, and other growing but less developed nations build their emerging industries on the increased use of highly polluting oil and coal.
The response of India and China, which are not G-8 members but will take part in some sessions, could be crucial to the outcome of the talks. A senior White House official said that China was expected to pass the United States in greenhouse gas emissions perhaps before the end of this year.
China and India ``are still very sensitive to . . . committing to long-term objectives,'' said the official, who spoke anonymously because he did not want to upstage the president. He said there would be a ``very intensive, very high-level'' international discussion in the next six months, but that ``trying to pull this off in 18 months will be Herculean.''