Rumours are swirling that an announcement from the Bush administration signalling a profound departure from past climate policy may be days away.

Will it be enough to send fossil fuel lobbyists in DC scrambling to update their résumés? Speculation ranges from the sort of middling policy that will succeed only in annoying just about everybody, to a radical program of emissions reduction that would draw a cautious smile from the sulkiest environmentalists and simultaneous howls of betrayal from conservatives. Time will tell.

It’s difficult to imagine a genuine conversion – if there’s an epiphany to be had, it will be a political rather than an environmental one. The governator’s siding with the Democrats on a bill to slash California’s emissions hasn’t helped matters – there’ll be no Christmas card from the misunderestimated Texan this year, unless it reads something like, “Hey Arnold – you sucked in Junior! How much you sellin’ that Humvee for?”

So is the policy shift a knee-jerk response to the inconvenient Gore juggernaut? No doubt the film has hit a chord of concern amongst a surprising proportion of the public, but there is bound to be renewed speculation about those scrupulously structured answers from Mr Gore to questions concerning his plans. Two years ago climate change would have seemed an unwise platform for a run at the presidency. Will this still be the case two years hence? Maybe it all hinges on the next hurricane season.

Not generally known for his outspoken criticism of Bush administration policy, it will be interesting to see the position John Howard takes. This will of course depend on the substance of the proposal, but it’s hard to imagine Australia will be entirely taken by surprise. Bush may simply follow a similar “virtue of necessity” tack to Howard’s in using his climate change ground shift as leverage on the nuclear issue. If so, the lobbyists will know who to post their résumés to.

Still, unlikely as it may seem, there is talk of a Bush proposal to hold atmospheric CO2 concentrations to 450ppm, an extremely ambitious, some would say impossible, task. Though the devil is in the policy implementation details, this would be a historic announcement, one bound to win Bush a very different set of friends and enemies.

Peter Fray

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