WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President George W. Bush unveiled plans on Friday for global warming talks next month that will bring together the world's biggest polluters to seek agreement on reducing greenhouse gases.
Under pressure for tougher action against climate change, Bush invited the European Union, the United Nations and 11 industrial and developing countries to the September 27-28 meeting in Washington to work toward setting a long-term goal by 2008 to cut emissions.
Bush was following through on his pledge in late May to convene a series of conferences with economic powers responsible for producing most of the greenhouse gases blamed for global warming.
The United States is the world's top emitter of greenhouse gases and the only G8 country outside Kyoto, the U.N.-sponsored plan for cutting greenhouse gases.
Some environmentalists voiced skepticism about the conference, seeing it as a bid to deflect attention from U.N. efforts and evade international calls for strict U.S. limits on emissions.
"In recent years, science has deepened our understanding of climate change and opened new possibilities for confronting it," Bush said in his invitation letter.
He insisted the United States "is committed to collaborating with other major economies" on a new global framework for curbing greenhouse gas emissions.
But a senior U.S. official said the administration stood by its opposition to mandatory economy-wide caps. Many climate experts say that without binding U.S. targets, the chance for significant progress is limited.
Bush agreed with leaders at a Group of Eight summit in June to make "substantial" but unspecified reductions in greenhouse emissions and to negotiate a new global climate pact that would broaden the Kyoto Protocol beyond its 2012 expiration.
But Bush has refused to sign up to numerical targets, insisting it would hurt U.S. business as long as fast-growing countries like India and China remained exempt.
China and India are invited to the conference, together with Japan, Canada, Brazil, South Korea, Mexico, Russia, Australia, Indonesia and South Africa. The EU will include representatives from France, Germany, Italy and Britain.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will host the meeting, and U.S. officials are confident all invitees will attend.
PRAISE AND SKEPTICISM
"We welcome U.S. engagement in the international efforts to combat climate change," British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said.
Yvo de Boer, the head of the Bonn-based U.N. Climate Change Secretariat, also praised the planned talks but said the proof would be in the outcome.
John Coequyt, a policy analyst with Greenpeace, expressed concern the Washington conference would be used to "erode support for the process that's strengthening at the U.N."
The talks, where the Bush administration will control the agenda, will take place three days after a U.N. summit on climate change in New York in which U.S. policy on global warming may come under sharp criticism.
The White House said the U.S. meeting was meant to supplement, not upstage, ongoing international initiatives.
Bush said he would address the conference, the first in a proposed series of meetings where he wants delegates to discuss ways to reach agreement by the end of 2008 on a long-term global goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Bush's position on climate change has evolved from questioning the science linking human activity to global warming in 2001 to agreeing to work to curb the problem.
But Bush blocked German-led efforts at the G8 summit to secure agreement on 50 percent cuts from 1990 levels by 2050. He agreed, however, to fold his own plans into the U.N. framework.
Bush is likely to be out of office by the time any post-Kyoto deal is clinched.