Tony Blair has prepared the ground for a tactical retreat over climate change after George Bush rejected demands by Britain and Germany for him to commit to a specific target for cutting global carbon emissions.
At their last meeting before he stands down on 27 June, Mr Blair will meet the US President at breakfast today in the margins of the G8 summit in Heiligendamm, Germany, to press the case for a 50 per cent cut in emissions from 1990 levels by 2050.
But there are growing expectations that the US will agree only to a summit declaration backing a "substantial reduction" in emissions without including a specific figure.
In a setback to Mr Blair's hopes of securing a major breakthrough on climate change before he leaves office, James Connaughton, the head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said the US was "not prepared" to back the 50 per cent reduction proposed by Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor and summit host.
He said the US did not believe the G8 should be the forum for setting targets, telling reporters: "There is significant agreement that those should be established on a national basis, and the only area of disagreement is that the G8 should dictate the national policies of its members."
However, Mr Bush moved to reassure his critics by promising that a meeting of the world's 15 biggest polluters he has called this autumn will dovetail with UN-led talks involving more than 180 countries on a successor to the Kyoto treaty, which expires in 2012. There had been fears that America had embarked on a parallel process, but the US President said yesterday that the meeting he has called would "fold into the UN framework".
British officials welcomed the US commitment to the UN process but said there was a "need to tie that down". They put a brave face on Mr Bush's reluctance to sign up to a specific cut at this stage. Mr Blair and Ms Merkel will seek to persuade him to agree to a stronger commitment before the summit ends tomorrow. The US is also sceptical about a third Blair demand for a worldwide system of emissions trading, to put a price on carbon.
Mr Bush assured Chancellor Merkel yesterday of his "strong desire" to work with her on a climate change plan to succeed Kyoto. Ms Merkel said they had had a "good conversation and very good debate" but acknowledged "there are a few areas we will continue to work on".
Mr Blair said he was seeking "a specific target for a substantial reduction in greenhouse gas emissions" but did not mention the figure. He would portray a G8 declaration in favour of substantial cuts as a huge step forward even though it would fall short of his original demands.
"The question is how and when, not whether," said his spokesman.
The failure to win a cast-iron target would disappoint green groups. John Sauven, the director of Greenpeace, said: "It took George Bush precisely one week to prove his critics right by slipping back into his default position of blocking action on climate change.
"Binding international targets are an indispensable weapon in the fight to keep temperature rises below two degrees, but Bush would rather we cross our fingers and hope for a techno-fix."
Mr Blair also faced a battle to ensure that G8 countries, notably Italy and Canada, stick to the commitments they made at the Gleneagles summit to boost aid to the world's poorest countries by $50bn a year by 2010.
The G8 leaders began their summit last night with a dinner at a 300-year-old estate and former collective farm in the former East Germany, 25kms (15 miles) south of the summit venue on the Baltic coast.
© 2007 Independent News and Media Limited