Using unusually blunt language, several high-ranking ministers from abroad, as well as American lawmakers, said the Bush administration's resistance to a national, economy-wide carbon cap is jeopardizing the world's ability to address climate change. Administration officials said they hope the talks will help the major carbon-emitting nations set a goal for cutting greenhouse gases by the end of 2008, but several foreign climate negotiators said that approach will not avert catastrophic climate change.
Environment Minister Connie Hedegaard, a self-described "Danish conservative," said she and other European leaders "are getting a bit impatient, not on our own behalf but on behalf of the planet."
"We need the support of the U.S.," she said at a Capitol Hill briefing with Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, and other U.S. and European officials. "China, India and the other industrializing countries, they will not do anything unless the U.S. is moving."
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's special representative for climate change, John Ashton, reinforced that theme an hour later at a meeting downtown before the United Nations Foundation, saying he and others would judge the administration's talks by whether they produce a concrete commitment rather than another voluntary pledge.
"The question on the mind of everybody heading into those meetings... will be, 'How serious is this? Is this talking about talking, or deciding about doing?' " he told the audience, echoing a phrase that California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) used at the United Nations recently. "The word 'voluntary' means what you can do without heavy lifting."
Kristen Hellmer, spokeswoman for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said in an interview that the president does not object to other countries committing themselves to mandatory curbs on carbon emissions but rejects that strategy for the United States.
"These national strategies can certainly include whatever those countries feel is appropriate for their country," Hellmer said, adding that Bush prefers a "portfolio" of approaches that includes higher efficiency standards for appliances and the use of alternative fuels.
Several U.S. lawmakers also called on Bush to embrace a mandatory cap-and-trade system to cut greenhouse gases, though they acknowledged that the president has given no indication that he would sign such a bill.
Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), who spoke today on global warming, told the Washington Sustainability Forum that the president has not gone far enough to make the summit a success.
"Until he embraces a program that mandates specific cuts in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, the leadership role that President Bush is reaching for by convening this important meeting will elude his grasp," Lieberman said in an advance text provided to The Washington Post.