Bush Moves on Climate Change

White House officials say a series of developments has stirred President Bush's new push for international action to limit global warming.

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White House officials say a series of developments has stirred President Bush's new push for international action to limit global warming.

Bush advisers say that he has been sensitive to the issue from the start of his presidency but that the media haven't given him credit for it. As a result, he has been at odds with the punditocracy over climate change since early in his first term.

White House officials say a big part of the media bias derived from Bush's rejection of the international Kyoto Protocol mandating actions to limit carbon emissions—a plan that many media observers endorsed. But Bush concluded that the protocol would have seriously damaged the U.S. economy and would have been unfair to American consumers. Bush believes that economic growth and a reduction of carbon emissions can go hand in hand.

It's only recently, however, that several additional factors have emerged, pushing him take a more active role on climate change. He started to do this very visibly last week when he convened a conference in Washington of the world's 16 biggest greenhouse gas emitters. At the conference, Bush called climate change one of the "great challenges of our time." This comment struck his critics as remarkable since he has barely mentioned the issue in recent months and has expressed doubt that scientists have proved that human activity is causing the global warming problem.

But as he approaches his eighth year in office, Bush has gotten more aggressive in trying to shape his legacy. He still calls for voluntary measures, not mandatory action. But he is confident that new technology can deliver improvements relatively painlessly. His thinking, aides say, was also shaped by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which called for strong international action.

And Bush is heartened that public opinion may be turning around at home on nuclear power, which he supports as a clean energy source. He has told aides he is pleased that an American company has finally shown a serious interest in building a new nuclear power plant after many years of inaction.

—Kenneth T. Walsh