"Losership instead of leadership," Germany's environment minister said late last week of Bush's new strategy. A major disappointment, South Africa said. Too little and too late, a Chinese official added.
Bush's speech Wednesday, in which he said the United States must stop the growth of its emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases by 2025, dominated U.S.-sponsored climate talks in Paris involving the world's major economies.
Beyond the buzz over Bush, negotiators at the closed-door meeting pushed ways to expand the production of biofuels from sources beyond corn and other food crops, the chief French delegate said. The growing use of biofuels is blamed in part for grain shortages and rising food prices that have caused recent riots in several countries.
Bush's speech hung like a shadow over all the discussions.
Bush argued that the risks of climate change weren't clear and that the Kyoto pact's mandatory emissions cuts for industrialized nations would hurt the U.S. economy without covering rapidly growing economic competitors like China and India.
Over the past year or so, Bush has gradually acknowledged the dangers of planetary warming, amid increasingly alarming studies about human-caused carbon emissions. His White House address Wednesday marked the first time he had set a specific target date for reductions in U.S. emissions.
American environmentalists and congressional Democrats criticized the Bush plan for not setting an earlier deadline for curbing emissions, and his speech was widely viewed elsewhere as out of touch with the rest of the world.
Bush is "lagging hopelessly behind the problems with his proposals," German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel said in a statement in Berlin.
"His speech follows the motto: 'Losership instead of leadership,'" Gabriel said. "We are glad that there are other voices in the USA."
South African Environment Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk said Bush's speech "takes us backward," because it does not call for mandatory emission cuts.
In Paris, Chinese delegate Su Wei said it was good news that Bush was talking about emissions. But he joined critics in saying the United States needs to cut emissions -- not just limit their growth.
"We think the United States should already have cut emissions," Su said, because that would have encouraged other countries to follow the lead of the world's biggest economy.
China's emissions have soared with its economic boom, and it now rivals the U.S. as the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases. But China and other developing nations say they should not be saddled with binding cuts when their per-capita gas emissions are much below those in rich countries.
The chief U.N. climate change official, Yvo de Boer, was diplomatic about Bush's speech, saying, "I see it as an offer on the table."