With his long and sorry record of denial and obfuscation regarding human-caused climate change, and international efforts to combat it, there is no way to judge the sincerity of Bush's call Thursday for global cooperation to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. Significantly, Bush's policy reversal came just days before he was to attend this week's annual meeting of the Group of Eight leading nations, where climate change tops the agenda.
The immediate significance of Bush's proposal is this: The United States - the world's top emitter of greenhouse gases - no longer is the only major power disputing the efficacy of international cooperation to reduce global warming.
"The United States takes this issue seriously," Bush said. He proposed a series of meetings this fall between the top 10 to 15 polluting nations, including rapidly developing China and India, that would lead by 2009 to an agreement in which each country would set its own, non-binding targets for reducing emissions over the next 10 to 20 years. They also would work toward a longer-term plan.
The huge missing pieces in the Bush initiative are mandatory goals for greenhouse-gas reductions and a protocol for international enforcement, as in the 1997 Kyoto accord aimed at slashing emissions by 5 percent below 1990 levels in 2012 . Bush envisions voluntary goals, but gave no indication what the U.S. reduction target might be or how it might be achieved.
It is doubtful that German Prime Minister Angela Merkel, who is hosting the G8 assembly, will see Bush's johnny-come-lately proposal as anything more than an effort to neutralize more aggressive plans. The White House already has rejected a German plan, backed by Britain and Japan, that would require a 50 percent reduction in global greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050.
The challenges posed by global warming are too dire for the U.S. to be proposing vague and voluntary half-measures. The international community, and a majority of Bush's constituents, increasingly and rightly are demanding more aggressive measures. And it appears that Bush will keep resisting them until he leaves office.