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Bush Announces National Goals on Emissions

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

President Bush today set a new goal for the U.S. to address global warming. He wants the country to stabilize emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases by the year 2025. The goal is far weaker than Europe's and weaker than proposals currently circulating on Capitol Hill.

As NPR's Richard Harris reports, critics say the Bush proposal would have no measurable effects on global warming.

RICHARD HARRIS: Not long after taking office, President Bush rejected the Kyoto climate treaty which would have required the United States to reduce emissions sharply by the year 2012. Instead, he instituted a policy that allow the country to continue increasing emissions by about 1 percent a year, which should it has been doing on average since 1990.

And now, with just a few months left in office, Mr. Bush appeared in the Rose Garden to update his policy.

P: We've shown that we can solve emissions growth. Today, I'm announcing a new national goal: To stop the growth of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2025.

HARRIS: So emissions can continue to grow until today's newborns are in high school. The president did not propose any specific new measures to achieve the goal, but he said some recent laws will help. For example, Congress passed a law that will increase automobile fuel efficiency by 2020.

And the president also pointed to a major international agreement to control potent industrial chemicals called HFCs, which contribute significantly to global warming.

P: Taken together, these landmark actions will prevent billions of metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions from entering the atmosphere.

HARRIS: Mr. Bush's speech comes in advance of a congressional debate on dramatic new climate legislation. One favored approach is to establish limits for carbon dioxide, just as there are limits for acid rain chemicals, and then let industry buy and sell the right to pollute. The president repeated his opposition to this legislation.

P: The wrong way is to raise taxes, duplicate mandates, or demand sudden and drastic emissions cuts that have no chance of being realized and every chance of hurting our economy.

HARRIS: Of course, that's not the view of congressmen and senators on Capitol Hill from both sides of the aisle who have proposed that legislation. They say if you put a price on carbon, you'll create a strong economic incentive for new climate-friendly technologies.

Edward Markey is a Massachusetts Democrat who heads the House Committee on climate change.

NORRIS: The president's short-term goal is to do nothing. His medium-term goal is to do nothing much. And his long-term goal is to do nothing close to what's needed to save the planet from global warming.

HARRIS: David Sandalow at the Brookings Institution says the Bush speech was aimed at Congress.

BLOCK: The train is moving toward legislation that will control greenhouse gases in the United States. And this announcement appears to be an effort to throw sand in the gears.

HARRIS: Sandalow says Mr. Bush's plan appears to be providing political coverage at those in Congress who oppose the climate bill.

BLOCK: President Bush is putting out an alternative that opponents to the bill can say they're for as opposed to just simply being against a piece of legislation.

HARRIS: Politics aside, it's evident that the president's new goals fall far short of what would be needed to control global warming. Climate scientists assembled by the United Nations last year concluded that Earth will continue to warm up fast until global emissions are, not only stopped, but reduced dramatically by perhaps 50 to 80 percent by the middle of the century.

And that's not just for the United States, but for the rest of the world as well. President Bush tipped his hat to that fact today.

P: Even if we reduce our own emissions to zero tomorrow. We would not make a meaningful dent in solving the problem without concerted action by all major economies.

HARRIS: Europe has already established its mid-term goal, which is much more ambitious than the president's plan. It's striving to slash emissions by more than 20 percent in the next 12 years. But so far, despite the tough talk, emissions there are still on the rise.

Richard Harris, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Award-winning journalist Richard Harris has reported on a wide range of topics in science, medicine and the environment since he joined NPR in 1986. In early 2014, his focus shifted from an emphasis on climate change and the environment to biomedical research.