RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

President Bush today begins an effort to shore up his street cred on the environment. He's invited 15 countries to Washington for a two-day meeting on global climate change.

NPR's Elizabeth Shogren reports that he's got his work cut out for him.

ELIZABETH SHOGREN: America emits more than a fifth of the world's greenhouse gases, and so far, the Bush administration hasn't been willing to commit to cutting those emissions. So environmentalists, while hoping for the best, aren't counting on it.

Eileen Claussen is the president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.

Ms. EILEEN CLAUSEEN (President, Pew Center on Global Climate Change): Other countries are coming to Washington quite eager to engage the U.S. on this issue because they know that without us, there is no hope of a real solution. But many are skeptical of the administration's intentions.

SHOGREN: They feel their skepticism is justified. Six years ago, President Bush backed out of a promise to regulate emissions from power plants that contribute to climate change. And he took the U.S. out of the Kyoto protocol, the international treaty designed to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Other countries fear the White House might use this week's talks as a substitute for a binding treaty to take the place of Kyoto when it expires in five years.

Ms. CONNIE HEDEGAARD (Environment Minister, Denmark): You cannot just sort of sidetrack the whole international process by agreeing on a very low common denominator.

SHOGREN: Connie Hedegaard is Denmark's environment minister.

Ms. HEDEGAARD: Because we are getting a bit impatient, not on our own behalf, but on behalf of the planet because things have to move with the greater speed. That is what science tells us.

SHOGREN: White House environment advisor James Connaughton says the president is moving fast.

Mr. JAMES CONNAUGHTON (Chairman, White House Council on Environmental Quality): The Bush administration has put more on the table to advance more progress on the subject than most other nations. And so, you know, we'll stand proud on that record.

SHOGREN: For example, Connaughton points to the president's proposal to replace 20 percent of the country's gasoline with renewable fuels. It's not clear what, if anything, Mr. Bush will propose during the meetings this week with the other biggest greenhouse gas polluters. His aides say by the end of next year, he wants the group to set a long-term global goal for reducing emissions and outlining individual national plans.

John Ashton, the British foreign secretary special assistant for climate change, fears that whatever is discussed will be based on voluntary action.

Mr. JOHN ASHTON (Foreign Secretary Special Assistant for Climate Change, Great Britain): I think a voluntary approach to greenhouse gases is a bit like a voluntary approach to speed limits. They don't work. We actually know they don't work.

SHOGREN: Fifteen years ago at the Rio Earth Summit, world leaders agreed to just such a voluntary target.

Mr. ASHTON: And then we found that we didn't meet the voluntary targets that we set.

SHOGREN: But John Marburger, President Bush's science advisor, says the Europeans shouldn't be trying to shove their views about hard targets down other people's throats.

Dr. JOHN MARBURGER (President Bush's Science Advisor): There isn't a world government. We don't have a world dictator who can just tell people what to do and expect that it will happen.

SHOGREN: One thing is clear, without a strong commitment from the U.S. and China, real progress on global warming is a long shot. President Bush plans to address the meeting tomorrow.

Elizabeth Shogren, NPR News, Washington.

MONTAGNE: And the backdrop to the White House conference on climate change, read about it at npr.org.

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