US President George W. Bush on Thursday threw international efforts to control climate change into confusion with a proposal to create a "new global framework" to curb greenhouse gas emissions as an alternative to a planned UN process.
The proposal came less than a week before a G8 summit in Germany and appeared to hit European hopes that the world's industrialized nations would commit to halving their emissions by 2050.
A UN-brokered meeting in Bali in December, at which it had been hoped to agree to keep climate change to a 2?C increase in temperature, is supposed to provide a successor to the Kyoto Protocol. All that was thrown in doubt by the initiative announced on Thursday by Bush.
"By the end of next year, America and other nations will set a long-term global goal for reducing greenhouse gases. To help develop this goal, the United States would convene a series of meetings of nations that produced most greenhouse gas emissions, including nations with rapidly growing economies like India and China," Bush said.
He said that the 15 countries responsible for the overwhelming bulk of greenhouse gas emissions would meet in the autumn and a deal could be struck before the end of next year. He did not specify whether the global goal he referred to would be voluntary, but he has consistently opposed mandatory caps.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair hailed the Bush initiative as an important step forward.
"For the first time America's saying it wants to be part of a global deal," the prime minister told Sky News while on a tour of South Africa.
"For the first time it's setting its own domestic targets. For the first time it's saying it wants a global target for the reduction of emissions, and therefore for the first time I think [there is] the opportunity for a proper global deal," he said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is hosting next week's G8 summit, also welcomed the initiative.
"I think it is positive, and the US president's speech makes it clear that no one can avoid the question of global warming any more," Merkel said of the proposal. "This is common ground on which to act."
However, Bernd Pfaffenbach, the chief German negotiator on climate change was blunter. He told the Suddeutschen Zeitung newspaper that excluding the UN or weakening its role was a "red line" that Merkel "will never cross."
"The leading role of the UN on climate change is non-negotiable," he added.
Another German official described the proposal as a "poison pill" aimed at undermining G8 and UN efforts to tackle global warming.
Environmentalists were also furious.
Daniel Mittler, an analyst at Greenpeace International, said: "It's not even too little too late, but a dangerous diversionary tactic. He doesn't need to start a new process. There already is one. This is meant to slow down the UN process."