Leading players in talks to forge a pact for tackling climate change took the lash on Thursday to President George W. Bush’s new blueprint for global warming, with Germany mocking it as “Neanderthal.”
At a ministerial-level meeting of major carbon emitters, South Africa blasted the Bush proposal as a disastrous retreat by the planet’s number-one polluter and a slap to poor countries.
The European Union — which had challenged the United States to follow its lead on slashing greenhouse-gas emissions by 2020 — also voiced disappointment.
His proposals “will not contribute to the fight against climate change,” EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas told AFP, adding he hoped the US would “reconsider its options and policies.”
“Time is running out and we have the duty to reach an agreement in Copenhagen in 2009,” said Dimas.
Germany accused Bush of turning back the clock to before last December’s UN climate talks in Bali and even to before last July’s G8 summit.
In a statement entitled “Bush’s Neanderthal speech,” German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel said: “His speech showed not leadership but losership. We are glad that there are also other voices in the United States.”
Bush’s speech on Wednesday came at a key time in efforts to craft a new UN treaty for slashing the heat-trapping fossil-fuel gases that scientists fear will ravage Earth’s climate system.
The Bali talks yielded a two-year “roadmap” designed to culminate in a planetary deal that will tackle carbon emissions beyond 2013, after the present pledges in the Kyoto Protocol run out.
These negotiations have the delicate task of bridging the US on one side and the European Union and developing countries on the other — and Bush’s critics said his speech had provocatively staked out old positions already blamed for prolonged stalemate.
Instead of setting a date for cutting US emissions, Bush had merely outlined a year — 2025 — by which the emissions would peak, they said.
In addition, he renewed his attack on Kyoto-style mandatory emissions caps and pressed big emerging countries to make concessions, saying they should not get “a free ride” in the next climate treaty.
“There is no way whatsoever that we can agree to what the US is proposing,” South African Environment and Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk said, describing the Bush administration as “isolated.”
“In effect, the US wants developing countries that already face huge poverty and development challenges to pay for what the US and other highly industrialized countries have caused over the past 150 years,” he said.
White House spokesman Tony Fratto shrugged off what he called “hot-blooded reaction” to the Bush speech and compared what he said was the administration’s record of setting goals and achieving them with those who sought “short-term political benefit” from rhetoric.
Launched by Bush last September, the so-called Major Economies Meeting (MEM) aims at being a forum for plain and informal talk, thus helping to speed the overall UN negotiation process.
It is also looking at how to enlist smart technology and energy-intensive industries in action to cut greenhouse-gas emissions.
MEM leaders are expected to meet at the Group of Eight (G8) summit in Japan in July when they will issue a statement on future action.
Delegates in Paris, though, said debate remained lively as to whether this statement should include a specific goal for long-term reductions or instead be confined to vaguer ambitions.
The MEM gathers Australia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Russia, South Africa and the United States. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and European Union are also represented.
The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, gathering top climate scientists, last year urged rich countries to slash their emissions by 25-40 percent by 2020 compared with 1990 levels.
The European Union has pledged a 20-percent cut by 2020, and offered to deepen this to 30 percent if other developed countries follow suit.
At present, US emissions are already more than 16 percent above the 1990 benchmark.
The United States by itself accounts for roughly a quarter of global carbon emissions, but it is closely followed — and by some estimates already surpassed — by China.
by Marlowe Hood and Richard Ingham
Thu Apr 17, 3:30 PM ET