President Reveals Plan to Cut Greenhouse Gases

President Bush on Wednesday set 2025 as the target date for stopping the growth of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, but offered few specifics to achieve the objective in advance of an international meeting on climate change in France this week.

In a speech at the White House, the president said he is concerned that Congress might pass climate legislation that would hurt the country's economic growth. But he also said it is critical that all countries including China and India be aggressive in joining the rest of the world on an approach to cutting greenhouse gases.

"Like many other countries, America's national plan will be a comprehensive blend of market incentives and regulations to reduce emissions by encouraging clean and efficient energy technologies," Bush said. "We're willing to include this plan in a binding international agreement, so long as our fellow major economies are prepared to include their plans in such an agreement."

The United States and other countries agreed at a December 2007 meeting in Bali, Indonesia, to work toward firm targets for reducing greenhouse emissions by the end of 2009, as a follow-up to the Kyoto reduction targets that expire in 2012.

The president said the rise in the amount of greenhouse gases in the air has already been slowed, but he said emissions from power plants must stop growing in 10 to 15 years and level off by 2025 if the target date is to be met.

"To reach our 2025 goal, we will need to more rapidly slow the growth of power sector greenhouse gas emissions so that they peak within 10 to 15 years, and decline thereafter," he said. "By doing so, we will reduce emission levels in the power sector well below where they were projected to be when we first announced our climate strategy in 2002."

The development of new technologies is key to achieving that goal, he added. "There are a number of ways to achieve these reductions, but all responsible approaches depend on accelerating the development and deployment of new technologies," he said.

Environmentalists, long among the president's strongest critics, said his latest proposal falls short of European goals and is evidence that the White House refuses to take tough steps on climate change.

Bush, who leaves office in January, rejected new taxes, abandoning nuclear power and more trade barriers.

"If we fully implement our strong new laws, adhere to the principles I've outlined and adopt appropriate incentives, we will put America on an ambitious new track for greenhouse gas reductions," he said.

Global warming will top the agenda for the G-8 summit in Japan this summer.

What's Old, What's New in Bush's Climate Strategy

President Bush delivers remarks on climate at the White House on Wednesday.

President Bush delivers remarks on climate at the White House on Wednesday. hide caption

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In his first major Rose Garden speech on climate change, President Bush set a goal of halting the growth of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2025.

Bush's approach underscores his long-stated belief that emissions mandates like those in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which the United States did not sign, are economy-killers. No international climate treaty, he has said, will be effective unless major emitters like China and India are held to the same standards as other nations.

The president also emphasized Wednesday that new technologies such as clean-burning coal can help combat the problem of climate change. But that it should not cost consumers or require changes in lifestyle. Here, a look at the president's climate strategy:

What is Bush proposing?

The president laid out two new goals in Wednesday's address. First, he called for stopping the growth of U.S. emissions by 2025. Second, he singled out the electric power industry as the first responder for these efforts. Bush said power plants should flatten emissions growth in 10 to 15 years. Power plants emit the bulk of greenhouse gases in the United States — they produce about 40 percent of human-made sources of carbon dioxide, the leading greenhouse gas.

How does Bush's speech change previous White House policy on climate change?

Although the president's remarks were among his most detailed on the issue, they reiterated many of his long-standing beliefs. He again expressed his support for raising automobile mileage minimums and for making more renewable fuels from corn or cellulose. Bush previously had laid out these goals during his State of the Union addresses, and his address Wednesday did not specify how those goals will be reached.

What has Bush done so far?

Greenhouse gas emissions are rising in the United States by an average of about 1 percent a year. (Last year's warm weather led to a 1 percent decrease, however, because Americans needed less energy to heat their homes.) Bush said the government is spending billions of dollars on new technology to reverse the emissions trend, and he called for new nuclear power plants, many of which are already in the regulatory pipeline. But investors and utility companies have been leery of backing new nuclear plants, and the government does not require power plants, the auto industry or the manufacturing sector to adopt new technologies.

How does his approach differ from the Kyoto Protocol?

The Kyoto treaty, which Bush says is flawed, requires that by 2012, industrialized countries must reduce greenhouse gases by 5 percent below their 1990 emissions levels. The European Union has taken it a step further, pledging to reduce emissions by 20 percent by 2020, and 50 percent by 2050. Many scientists say these cuts are necessary to keep global temperatures from rising to dangerous levels. The United Nation's climate science experts, for example, say worldwide emissions must peak no later than 2015 to prevent serious effects on the environment.

Bush administration officials note that despite setting these ambitious goals, most countries within the Kyoto system haven't even begun to reduce their greenhouse emissions.

In his speech Wednesday, Bush emphasized an approach that urges the major emitting nations — including China and India, which have no obligations under Kyoto — to come up with their own plans to reduce greenhouse gases. If they did, Bush said, he would be willing to commit to an international treaty to enforce those goals. However, he is likely to be long gone from the White House before that could happen.

Bush criticized pending legislation in Congress to limit greenhouse gases. What would these proposed measures do?

Congress has proposed several bills, and the leading measure requires U.S. industry to sharply reduce emissions. Bush opposes such mandatory limits.

Most of these bills would institute either a tax on greenhouse gases or a "cap and trade" system that would set an emissions quota for companies. Those that exceed their quota could buy credits from companies that emit less than the quota, creating a "market" in carbon credits. The White House so far has not shown support for a tax or the cap and trade idea. Administration officials have been meeting with Republican congressional leaders to hash out what Republicans might endorse when debate begins in Congress this summer.

Bush also condemned the U.S. Supreme Court's recent ruling that the federal government must determine if climate-warming carbon dioxide is a threat to human health and, if it is, limit the country's emissions. He said laws written to protect the air or endangered species or other parts of the environment should not be applied to climate issues. Most environmental groups disagree. They note that Bush proposed six years ago that U.S. emissions should peak in 2012. He backed off that promise and has now extended it to 2025.

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