Environmentalists have fired a broadside into President George W. Bush's State of the Union address, saying he had once more failed to grasp an opportunity for tackling climate change.
"He remains delusional," was the view of Greenpeace's Steve Sawyer after Bush called for production of domestic oil and crop-made ethanol fuel to be ramped up to ease US dependence on energy imports.
"He's still trying to drill his way out of the problem, and he's found an ingenious method for increasing US farm subsidies while pretending to do something about the energy problem," said Sawyer Wednesday.
One of the targets in Bush's annual speech to Congress on Tuesday is to cut petrol use in the United States by 20 percent over the next decade.
To achieve this, Bush seeks regulations encouraging a five-fold increase in the production of "renewable and alternative fuels" for the US petrol supply by 2017, and wants to overhaul fuel efficiency standards for cars.
Domestic oil production must be increased "in environmentally sensitive ways," Bush added.
Jan Kowalzig at Friends of the Earth Europe said biofuel and fuel-efficiency initiatives were "worthwhile measures" but did not tackle the critical problem posed by US emissions of greenhouse gases.
Only a mandatory cap on these emissions could drive down this pollution, said Kowalzig.
He added that biofuels could in fact worsen the greenhouse-gas problem.
"In theory, they only produce as many greenhouse gas emissions as they suck up when growing, so they would be carbon neutral.
"In practice, in most places, they are not, because transportation of the fuels, processing of the fuels, all that requires energy which is currently driven by a fossil-fuel economy. So all these biofuels projects currently add to the greenhouse-gas effect."
Bush's address had been trailed by several media reports that forecast a U-turn on climate change.
In 2001, Bush abandoned the Kyoto Protocol for curbing greenhouse-gas emissions, saying the pact's binding caps were unfair and too costly for the US economy.
Bereft of the United States, which by itself accounts for nearly a quarter of global carbon pollution, Kyoto has limped along and negotiations on cuts beyond 2012 are set to be long and bitter.
But Bush made no reference at all to the Kyoto process or the voluntary initiatives on emissions and alternative energy that he has launched bilaterally and regionally.
He did refer to global climate change, though, as a "serious challenge" that these technologies would help to confront.
The executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Yvo de Boer, said Bush's speech marked a shift towards a more sustainable form of energy and noted his choice of words about climate change.
"That I think is very encouraging," de Boer told AFP in Tokyo.
Sir Nicholas Stern, chief economic adviser to the British government and author of a report in 2006 that warned of the mounting costs of climate change, said Bush's speech was "a movement in the right direction."
"There is a recognition of the link between climate change and human activity," he told reporters at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
"You have to recognise what everyone is doing. The United States is doing a lot on technology, a lot on standards. But then of course we have to scale up our action."
Some observers said Bush was out of kilter with domestic demands for action on climate change, as reflected by the popularity of former vice president Al Gore's Oscar-nominated docufilm and measures envisaged at state level and by the Democratic-controlled Congress.
"He's clearly out of step with where the American public and US Congress are right now on climate change, which is ready to go much further than continuing technology initiatives," said Jennifer Morgan, a Europe-based consultant on climate change and former spokesman with the green group WWF.
"President Bush took an important first step in saying that global climate change is a serious challenge," Dan Esty, director of the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy, told AFP in Davos.
"But I think there were a lot of people across America and across the world who would have liked to have heard a bit more in terms of leadership in putting in place incentives for change that will bring us to a different energy future to the past."
Copyright © 2007 AFP