PARIS - President Bush has finally set a target date for reining in U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases but the plan is falling flat in the international arena, where critics have long accused him of not moving quickly enough on tackling global warming.
"Losership instead of leadership," Germany's environment minister said Thursday of Bush's new strategy. A major disappointment, South Africa said. Too little and too late, a Chinese official added.
Bush's speech Wednesday, in which he said the United States must stop the growth of its emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases by 2025, dominated U.S.-sponsored climate talks in Paris involving the world's major economies.
Beyond the buzz over Bush, negotiators at the closed-door meeting pushed ways to expand the production of biofuels from sources beyond corn and other food crops, the chief French delegate said. The growing use of biofuels is blamed in part for grain shortages and rising food prices that have caused recent riots in several countries.
Bush's speech hung like a shadow over all the discussions.
Since Bush rejected the Kyoto Protocol in 2001, many nations have viewed him as an obstacle to the fight against global warming, which scientists say is worsened by carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
Bush argued that the risks of climate change weren't clear and that the Kyoto pact's mandatory emissions cuts for industrialized nations would hurt the U.S. economy while not covering rapidly growing economic competitors like China and India.
Over the past year or so, Bush has gradually acknowledged the dangers of planetary warming, amid increasingly alarming studies about human-caused carbon emissions. His White House address Wednesday marked the first time he set a specific target date for reductions in U.S. emissions.
American environmentalists and congressional Democrats criticized the Bush plan for not setting an earlier deadline for curbing emissions, and his speech was widely viewed elsewhere as being out of touch with the rest of the world.
Bush is "lagging hopelessly behind the problems with his proposals," German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel said in a statement in Berlin.
"His speech follows the motto: 'losership instead of leadership,'" Gabriel said. "We are glad that there are other voices in the USA."
In Paris, Chinese delegate Su Wei said it was good news that Bush was talking about emissions. But he joined critics in saying the United States needs to cut its emissions — not just limit their growth.
"We think the United States should already have cut emissions," Su said, because that would have encouraged other countries to follow the lead of the world's biggest economy.
China's emissions have soared with its economic boom and it now rivals the U.S. as the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases. But China and other developing nations say they should not be saddled with binding cuts when their per-capita gas emissions are much below those in rich countries.
Australia's climate change minister, Penny Wong, welcomed Bush's announcement as "a significant step" but said the United States must do more.
South African Environment Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk said Bush's speech "takes us backward," because it does not call for mandatory emission cuts.
France's chief climate negotiator, Brice Lalonde, said, "The current American administration is just beginning to wake up, a bit late," to the dangers of global warming.
The chief U.N. climate change official, Yvo de Boer, was diplomatic about Bush's speech, saying, "I see it as an offer on the table."
Bush's chief adviser on climate change, Jim Connaughton, defended the U.S. position.
"It was a speech directed at domestic audiences," he said. Bush's aides said the president's plan was aimed at heading off a "train wreck" of varying emission legislation in Congress.
Connaughton confirmed the Americans and their negotiating partners remain divided over how to figure the steps needed to rein in emissions.
The U.S., he said, will calculate its emissions goals based on the most modest U.N. scientific projections of overall global warming in the coming decades. The European Union is basing its goals — reducing emissions by 50 percent of 1990 levels by 2050 — on more dire projections.
A U.N. climate panel of scientists released reports last year warning of fast-rising seas, extensive droughts and flooding, severe heat waves and other dire effects from global warming. Its estimates ranged from a 3.6-degree rise in global temperatures by 2100 to an 11-degree jump.
While long critical of Bush's approach to global warming, the EU's member states have had varied success in meeting their commitments under Kyoto. But the bloc has been a key backer of the protocol and is pushing for more dramatic global cuts in the Kyoto follow-up negotiation process launched in December.
Washington has been sponsoring talks in parallel to the broader negotiations. The meeting in Paris involves countries that produce about 80 percent of the world's greenhouse gases, including the U.S., China and India. Previous sessions were New York in September and in Honolulu in January.
Associated Press writers Geir Moulson in Berlin and Tanalee Smith in Sydney, Australia, contributed to this report.