By Nick Winnie

In a speech in Washington on May 31, President Bush offered more proof of what many in the international community have seen as an evolving stance on global warming. He called for a “long-term global goal to cut global greenhouse emissions” and for other industrial nations to join the United States by the end of next year in negotiations centered around climate change.

While Bush’s apparent willingness to engage in the fight to limit greenhouse gases has been a source of encouragement for some involved in the climate change debate, most environmentalists do not view the recent remarks favorably.

“We’re not seeing anything new with his speech, except for a change in tone,” said Daniel Press, chair of the environmental studies (ENVS) department at UC Santa Cruz. “Bush is reiterating his position of the U.S. not setting any mandatory limits on carbon emissions.”

Brent Haddad, professor of ENVS at UCSC, echoed Press’ sentiments, stating that Bush’s basic attitude toward climate change remains the same and that his recent proposal reflects this stance.

The president’s proposal, which calls for industrial nations to set their own goals for emissions reduction based on economic circumstances, stands in direct conflict with a much more ambitious plan. Several EU leaders are calling for a global target of cutting carbon emissions in half by 2050.

Bush delivered his speech in anticipation of the Group of 8 (G8) meeting in Germany — a gathering of leaders from the world’s eight wealthiest industrial nations — that will convene from June 6-8 to discuss the future of international climate change policy.

The conference, while not expected to produce concrete legislation, will be a definite factor in determining the nature of international climate change law when the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012. Bush’s critics have accused him of attempting to undermine the G8 and “water down” stronger environmental initiatives by presenting his alternative program before the conference takes place.

“He wants to throw a bomb into the meeting to throw it off course,” said Ronnie Lipshutz, professor of politics at UCSC.

Lipshutz shares the view of many environmentalists and EU officials that Bush’s proposal is a political move to deflect domestic criticism about his stance on global warming while extending his domestic policy that refuses mandatory emissions reductions in the international arena.

What remains to be seen is exactly how the other nations present at the G8 meeting will respond, and how these responses will affect climate policy in the post-Kyoto world.

“If the other seven nations are unanimous [in their opposition to Bush’s proposal], it could isolate the U.S.,” Press speculated, while wondering aloud how effective such isolation would be in influencing U.S. policy decisions.

Press concluded his speculation by explaining that “the G8 could still prepare the ground for the next administration.”

While the battle lines have been clearly drawn between the Bush administration and leading members of EU heading into the G8 conference, many environmentalists like Press remain buoyed by the hope that the conference can still serve to create momentum for a much more forceful response to the threat of global warming, to be taken up by the next occupant of the Oval Office.