PARIS (AFP) — Leading players in talks to forge a pact for tackling climate change took the lash on Thursday to President George W. Bush's new blueprint for global warming, with one country mocking it as "Neanderthal."
At a ministerial-level meeting of the world's major carbon emitters, South Africa blasted the Bush proposal as a disastrous retreat by the planet's number one polluter and a slap to poor countries.
The European Union -- which had challenged the US to follow its lead on slashing greenhouse-gas emissions by 2020 -- voiced disappointment, delegates said.
Germany accused Bush of turning back the clock to before last December's UN climate talks in Bali and even to before last July's G8 summit.
In a statement entitled "Bush's Neanderthal speech," German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel said: "His speech showed not leadership but losership. We are glad that there are also other voices in the United States."
Bush's speech on Wednesday came at a key time in efforts to craft a new UN treaty for slashing the heat-trapping fossil-fuel gases that scientists fear will ravage Earth's climate system.
The Bali talks yielded a two-year "roadmap" designed to culminate in a planetary deal that will tackle carbon emissions beyond 2013, after the present pledges in the Kyoto Protocol run out.
These negotiations have the delicate task of bridging the US on one side and the EU and developing countries on the other -- and Bush's critics said his speech had provocatively staked out old positions already blamed for prolonged stalemate.
Instead of setting a date for cutting US emissions, Bush had merely outlined a year -- 2025 -- by which the emissions would peak, they said.
In addition, he renewed his attack on Kyoto-style mandatory emissions caps and pressed big emerging countries to make concessions, saying they should not get "a free ride" in the next climate treaty.
"There is no way whatsoever that we can agree to what the US is proposing," South African Environment and Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk said.
"In effect, the US wants developing countries that already face huge poverty and development challenges to pay for what the US and other highly industrialized countries have caused over the past 150 years," he said.
"On this issue, the current US administration is isolated. It is them against the overwhelming majority of the world, developed and developing countries alike."
Jim Connaughton, heading the White House's Council on Environmental Quality, said this had been a "misreading" of what Bush had said, and hoped countries would focus on the practicalities of a deal rather than on the "rhetorical."
UN climate chief Yvo de Boer added that he saw a positive contribution from Bush, in that by putting a proposal on the table, the US would spur real negotiations.
Launched by Bush last September, the so-called Major Economies Meeting (MEM) aims at being a forum where a small group of countries can talk plainly and informally, thus helping to speed up the overall UN negotiation process.
It is also looking at how to enlist smart technology and energy-intensive industries in action to cut greenhouse-gas emissions.
The MEM gathers Australia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Russia, South Africa and the United States. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and EU are also represented.
The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), gathering top climate scientists, last year urged rich countries to slash their emissions by 25-40 percent by 2020 compared with 1990 levels.
The European Union (EU) has set its sights on a 20-percent cut, and offered to deepen this to 30 percent if other developed countries follow suit.
At present, US emissions are already more than 16 percent above the 1990 benchmark.
The United States by itself accounts for roughly a quarter of global carbon emissions, but it is closely followed -- and by some estimates has already been passed -- by China.
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