PARIS (Reuters) - A U.S. plan to cap rising greenhouse gases by 2025 drew criticisms as too little, too late from delegates at 17-nation climate talks in Paris on Thursday but some welcomed it as a first firm U.S. ceiling.
On Wednesday, President George W. Bush unveiled a plan to halt the growth of U.S. emissions by 2025, toughening a previous goal of braking the growth of emissions by 2012. The United States and China are the top emitters.
“The president gave a disappointing speech,” German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel said in a statement issued in Berlin headlined “Gabriel criticises Bush’s Neanderthal speech. Losership, not Leadership”.
Many delegates at the U.S.-led climate talks, on Thursday and Friday in Paris, said far faster action was needed to avert the worst effects of global warming. Most other developed nations are trying to cut emissions below 1990 levels.
“President Bush recognised the need for mandatory federal legislation to tackle climate change but what he proposed ... will not contribute to the effective tackling of climate change,” European Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas told Reuters. He said Washington should be more ambitious.
“The American administration is starting to awaken,” French climate change ambassador Brice Lalonde said. “It’s a bit late.”
Bush will step down in January and Republican presidential candidate John McCain and Democratic hopefuls Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have all urged tougher caps on emissions than those he proposed.
“We are looking forward to whoever succeeds the present (U.S.) administration, because we believe we can probably only do better,” South African Environment Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk told reporters.
Projections by the U.N. Climate Panel indicate emissions by rich nations will have to fall by 25 to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 to avert the worst effects of more droughts, heatwaves, floods and rising seas.
“That’s the most extreme curve,” said James Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. He said there were other, less demanding scientific scenarios for addressing global warming.
“We try to steer away from rhetorical commitments that have no prayer of being met,” he told a news conference. Previous U.S. data have suggested U.S. emissions could rise to about 30 percent above 1990 levels by 2025.
The Paris talks involve the United States, France, Germany, Italy, Britain, Japan, China, Canada, India, Brazil, South Korea, Mexico, Russia, Australia, Indonesia and South Africa. The European Commission, current European Union president Slovenia and the United Nations are also attending.
The big economies account for 80 percent of world greenhouse gas emissions and Paris is the third meeting of a series begun in September to work out ways to contribute to a new U.N. treaty to succeed the Kyoto Protocol beyond 2012.
Delegates are also examining the idea of a long-term aspirational goal of cutting world emissions by perhaps 50 percent by 2050. Connaughton said Washington had not given up on a 2007 promise to seriously consider such a target.
French Secretary of State for European Affairs Jean-Pierre Jouyet said it would be “a big step” just to get accord on key principles — rather than numbers — for combating climate change by the time of a Group of Eight summit in Japan in July.
The United Nations noted the U.N. Climate Panel reckoned world emissions will have to peak before Bush’s ceiling to avert the worst of climate change.
“It’s good to have something on the table,” Yvo de Boer, head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat, said of Bush’s plan.
“The science tells us we need to peak emissions in the next 10 to 15 years and then reduce them by half by the middle of the century. ... So this needs to be considered in that context,” he told Reuters.
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