Bush earlier this week in a speech on his government's climate protection policies laid out the plan to halt the growth of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 "and begin to reverse thereafter, so long as technology continues to advance."
Bush said these were "realistic goals," whereas it was wrong to "raise taxes, duplicate mandates, or demand sudden and drastic emissions cuts that have no chance of being realized and every chance of hurting our economy."
While the speech was Bush's first connected to concrete emission caps, it fell short of what the U.S. delegation had agreed to at a U.N.-led conference on climate change last December in Bali, Indonesia.
At the time, the U.S. delegation under pressure gave up its blocking strategy and agreed to negotiate a new climate-protection accord by the end of 2009, also backing a conference paper that found that "deep cuts in global emissions will be required" to stop global warming.
Most observers gathered at the U.S.-led climate change conference, held Thursday and Friday in Paris, expecting these "deep cuts" in Bush's speech were disappointed. They said much more drastic action was needed to contain the disastrous effects connected to global warming.
The harshest response came out of Berlin, where German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel called Bush's policies "Neanderthal," adding that the U.S. president was preaching "losership instead of leadership."
"Without binding caps and reduction targets for industrialized nations, climate change won't be stopped," he said. "Europe and the United States must lead the way, if others are to follow."
Gabriel said Bush was risking undermining the Paris meeting, which summons officials from the Group of Eight countries and major developing economies, such as China, India and Brazil, to combat climate change. Together, the 16 countries represented in Paris account for some 80 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
European Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas lauded Bush for recognizing the need to tackle climate change, but added that what the U.S. president proposed wasn't enough to effectively tackle the problem.
The European Union has pledged to cut emissions by 20 percent by 2020 compared with 1990 levels; the cut would be raised to 30 percent if other rich countries follow. The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change even estimates that CO2 emissions must be cut by 50 percent by 2050 from 1990 levels to prevent the most severe impacts of climate change -- these numbers alone dwarf Bush's plan.
But maybe the U.S. president's speech shouldn't be taken too seriously. Bush is nothing more than a lame duck when it comes to the future of America's climate protection policy, observers say.
South African Environment Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk told reporters in Paris he was looking forward to whoever succeeds President Bush in office, "because we believe we can probably only do better."
Bush will step down in early 2009, almost a year before the international community is to find a post-Kyoto framework at a conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. Not only have the Democratic contenders for president, Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, lobbied for tougher emission reduction targets than Bush; John McCain, the likely Republican presidential nominee, has also vowed to do more than Bush when it comes to climate protection.
Gabriel, the German environment minister, thus expressed relief that there are "other voices in the United States" that take climate change more seriously.
Among them is California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who earlier this week urged his president to take "real action" to address climate change.
"I commend the president for acknowledging that we have a climate change problem and a responsibility to address it, but as I've said, the time for real action is now," Schwarzenegger said in a statement. "Targets for reduction are important, but I'd like to see the federal government follow the lead many states have taken on this issue and approve California's request for a waiver that would enable 17 states to clean their own air of greenhouse gases.
"We must not let our emissions ever hit 2025 levels," he said. "California's goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020."