One European diplomat described the US meeting as a spoiler for a UN conference planned for Bali in December. Another, who spoke to the Guardian on condition of anonymity, claimed that the US conference was merely a way of deflecting pressure from other world leaders who had asked at the G8 summit this year for the US to make concessions on global warming.
They predicted that Mr Bush, who is to address the meeting tomorrow, will stress the need to make technological advances that can help combat climate change but will reject mandatory caps on emissions.
The British government shares the frustration of other European governments with the lack of urgency on the part of the Bush administration. The British assessment of Mr Bush's conference is reflected in the level of representation - Phil Woolas, a junior environment minister.
Mr Bush invited 15 countries, plus all EU members.
The highest-ranking representative from outside the US is the German environment minister, Sigmar Gabriel. He said yesterday he did not expect the US or other nations attending the conference to budge. "One cannot expect concrete results."
One of those attending said the conference reflected "political hardball" on the part of the Bush administration, aimed at undermining the UN, for which it holds long-term suspicion. Another said the conference was aimed at domestic politics, with Mr Bush seeking headlines and television coverage implying that he was doing something about climate change while, in fact, doing almost nothing.
There was criticism too from within the US. Philip Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust, described the conference as "a sidelight, not a process that leads to anything". He accused the White House of seeking "an alternative to a binding treaty ... you're seeing the Bush administration make this up as they go along."
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European diplomats say they detect a change in recent months in the Bush administration, with some - though not necessarily Mr Bush - accepting that humans are responsible for climate change. But they add that this has not so far turned into a willingness to abandon resistance to mandatory limits on emissions or reliance on fossil fuels.
Connie Hedegard, the Danish environment minister, who is attending the conference, told members of Congress that she and other European leaders "are getting a bit impatient, not on our own behalf, but on behalf of the planet".
She added: "We need the support of the US. China, India and the other industrialising countries, they will not do anything unless the US is moving."
John Ashton, the special envoy of the British foreign secretary, David Milliband, told the UN Foundation on Tuesday that he and others would judge the conference on whether it produced a concrete commitment rather than a voluntary pledge.
"The question on the mind of everybody heading into those meetings ... will be, is this talking about talking, or deciding about doing?" he told the audience.
Kristen Hellmer, of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said in an interview with the Washington Post that the president did not object to other countries committing themselves to mandatory curbs on carbon emissions but rejected that strategy for the US. Mr Bush preferred a "portfolio" of approaches that included higher efficiency standards for appliances and alternative fuels.
In New York, at the annual Clinton Global Initiative conference, Charlie Crist, the governor of Florida, joined Bill Clinton to announce plans by Florida Power & Light to build a solar power plant as part of a $2.4bn (£1.19bn) clean energy programme. "This is a huge deal for America and I think potentially a huge deal for people all around the world who want to do this," Mr Clinton said.
© 2007 The Guardian