WASHINGTON President George W. Bush, hosting
major polluting nations last week, sought to convince skeptics
that he wants to help shape the next global deal on climate
change, despite his long history of shunning such efforts.
But with only 15 months left in office, his chances of
becoming a major player in the debate over climate change are
diminishing quickly, analysts and diplomats said.
They added that his resistance to the kind of mandatory
emissions limits sought by many allies in Europe and Japan may
further weaken his influence as negotiations intensify over a
successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocol. That treaty, which Bush
rejected, expires in 2012.
Bush told a gathering of envoys from the 17 biggest
emitters of greenhouse gases that he took global warming
seriously and that the United States would do its part to
His acknowledgment of a problem highlighted a shift from
his previous questioning of the science linking human activity
to rising temperatures.
But Bush found himself at odds with many of the invited
delegates as he tried to rally support for voluntary measures
and declined to embrace the binding targets many believe are
essential to tackling global warming.
"I think there was a lot of hope that the United States
would show some movement," said Alex Lennon, a national
security analyst and climate specialist at the Center for
Strategic and International Studies.
Now, Lennon said, "a lot of countries are already looking
past this administration."
A European participant in the two-day climate session
echoed that sentiment. "I know that with this administration we
will not reach any results because the time is too short," the
visiting official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
In another indication that Bush has failed to shed his
status as an outsider in climate talks, he skipped a
high-profile meeting on the subject at the United Nations a few
days before the Washington session. He did attend a U.N.
working dinner on climate, however.
When Bush first proposed convening a series of meetings of
major emitters in May, many worried it was an attempt to
undermine the U.N. negotiations on climate.
The countries attending the Washington session together
account for 80 percent of the global economy and 80 percent of
global emissions. They include large European countries such as
Britain and Germany as well as fast-growing developing
countries like China, India and Brazil.
"The mere fact that this meeting took place is a sign that
the administration has changed its tune," said Charles Kupchan,
professor of international relations at Georgetown University.
Still, Kupchan added, "The agenda he laid out for
addressing the problem falls well short of what many
industrialized countries -- particularly the Europeans -- would
like to see."
Bush tried to overcome some of the skepticism about the
gathering by emphasizing that he hoped it would help build
momentum for the U.N. talks. The next set of U.N. negotiations
are to take place in December in Bali.
Just one month before that, Bush will host German
Chancellor Angela Merkel at his ranch in November and is sure
to find himself in the familiar role of facing pressure to
support tougher climate steps.
But the message Merkel brings may be aimed as much at the
American public as at Bush himself.
In the years since Bush rejected the 1997 Kyoto treaty, the
debate within the United States has shifted toward growing
concern about global warming.
The Democratic-led Congress is considering several bills
that would set mandatory emissions limits. Prominent
corporations like General Electric and DuPont are calling for
strong action on global warming, as are some Republican
politicians such as California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
That has led many to many to believe that the president who
succeeds Bush in early 2009 is almost certain to be more
sympathetic to a tougher approach on climate change.
"I don't think that anyone believes that the next president
-- whether Republican or Democrat -- will follow Bush's lead on
climate," said Nicholas Eisenberger of Green Order, a New York
consulting firm that advises companies on climate issues.
"The question for President Bush is whether he has anything
relevant left to say," Eisenberger said. "If he does not, the
world will just move on without him."
(Additional reporting by Jeff Mason)