President Bush on Monday declared the Kyoto global warming agreement of 1997 to be "fatally flawed" and said more scientific research must be done before the world can devise a workable strategy for dealing with climate change.
Bush's unequivocal remarks doused the hopes of environmental activists and foreign officials who thought he might show more willingness to accept some of the international community's efforts to address global warming.
Speaking to reporters in the White House Rose Garden, Bush acknowledged the seriousness of global warming and announced a U.S. initiative to fund research and development of new technology to reduce so-called greenhouse gas emissions.
But he said the Kyoto, Japan, agreement is based on inconclusive scientific evidence and would require unattainable reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
"No one can say with any certainty what constitutes a dangerous level of warming and therefore what level must be avoided," Bush said.
Bush also attacked the Kyoto agreement for not setting binding targets for developing countries, including China, the world's second-largest source of greenhouse gases.
"We recognize the responsibility to reduce our emissions," the president said. "We also recognize the other part of the story, that the rest of the world emits 80% of all greenhouse gases, and many of those emissions come from developing countries."
Noticeably absent from his remarks was any mention of mandatory caps that would force industry to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, considered a leading cause of global warming. Nor did he propose a national target for greenhouse gas emissions or a timetable for reaching it.
Bush's remarks came shortly before his departure for Europe, where he is expected to be pressed to explain his unilateral rejection of the Kyoto accord, a decade-long international effort to combat global climate change.
Global warming is a phenomenon caused by increasing concentrations of certain gases in the Earth's atmosphere, including carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxides and water vapor. The gases trap solar heat, causing surface temperatures to rise over time. Most scientists say the long-term environmental effects could be profound, including increased drought in semiarid regions and higher sea levels in coastal areas.
At least some portion of greenhouse gas emissions are attributable to the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas. According to a chart distributed by the White House, the United States generates 23% of all greenhouse gas emissions.
The Kyoto agreement, which was signed by President Clinton, set binding targets for reductions of greenhouse gas emissions by developed countries. Details of the agreement were still being negotiated by the participants when Bush announced his intention to abandon the accord.
Bush's approach rejects the position of many Kyoto advocates that binding emission targets are needed because voluntary goals will not bring about the kind of investments required to reduce emissions.
"The emperor of Kyoto was running around for a long time, and he was naked. It took President Bush to point out that he didn't have any clothes on," White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. said.
Industries that would be affected by the Kyoto accord's mandatory caps on emissions expressed support for Bush's approach.
"The president is helping to lead the world out of the Kyoto quagmire and toward an effective global response to this complex challenge," said Glenn Kelly, executive director of the Global Climate Coalition, which represents a broad range of businesses interested in the global warming issue. But representatives of environmental advocacy groups said Bush's proposals are unlikely to placate European leaders, who may try to keep the Kyoto process on track even without U.S. participation.
"He offers criticism of Kyoto with no alternative," said David Sandalow, an assistant secretary of State in the Clinton administration with responsibility over global warming. "It leaves much of the rest of the world with two bad choices: Go forward on Kyoto without the United States, or delay action to fight global warming while the Bush team takes more time to decide what to do."
Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, said Bush's policy overlooks knowledge gained since Bush's father signed a 1992 treaty calling for voluntary reductions in greenhouse gas emission "It's a throwback to a time when we knew much less," she said. "We've come a very long way since 1992 in our understanding of the science, and more important than that, we've come a long way in our understanding of what the private sector can and will do to reduce emissions."
"This is like someone staring up at a hole in the roof with the rain pouring in, and saying let's research roof science," said David Hawkins of the Natural Resources Defense Fund.
One specific commitment offered by the president Monday was a promise to contribute $25 million in U.S. funds toward construction of climate observation facilities in developing countries.
The president also directed Commerce Secretary Don Evans to review priorities for climate change research and promised to fully fund those priorities.