A climate change on climate change

Might Bush shift course and move forward on the Kyoto Protocol?

Around here, when they talk of climate change, they usually mean change in the political climate.

Now the change in the climate on global warming presents President Bush with the opportunity for the kind of legacy-building reversal of policy that led President Reagan in his second term to embrace Mikhail Gorbachev and the former "evil empire" in Red Square.

Until now, the Bush administration has turned its back on the Kyoto Proto- col requiring some three dozen industrialized countries to meet specific deadlines for reducing their greenhouse-gas emissions. He called the treaty "unrealistic" and not based on science.

That has left his political adversary, Al Gore, to fly the banner on combating climate change. And it has left the president at odds with leading Republicans such as Sen. John McCain of Arizona and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

And now, it has kept him at odds with his most loyal coalition partner, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has endorsed the results of a searching study of the need for stronger action to combat the spread of greenhouse gases.

The president's opportunity for a shift in policy comes next week. Even while America is voting, the signatories to the Kyoto Protocol will be meeting in a two-week session in Nairobi, Kenya.

As of now, the Bush administration will participate in the sessions dealing with voluntary action to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, to which the United States is a signatory. But the US is not scheduled to participate in the phase of the conference dealing with mandatory action.

At stake is whether Mr. Bush, in the twilight of his tenure, will join other advanced countries in creating the infrastructure necessary to start moving away from fossil fuels and perhaps save the melting icebergs.

No one should expect the president to reverse himself and submit the treaty to the Senate for ratification. But, then, no one expected Mr. Reagan to show up glad-handing Mr. Gorbachev in Red Square, either.

Daniel Schorr is a senior news analyst at National Public Radio.

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