President Bush's sudden conversion last week from skeptic to global warming warrior was probably best summed up by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who observed: "Nobody can ignore the question of climate change."
Mr. Bush should be welcomed to the party, however late his arrival. But his proposal to convene global talks aimed at setting long-term targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions can't be allowed to slow the momentum for swifter, more tangible efforts in the meantime.
In fact, the president should demonstrate his new concern for the environment by backing legislation to impose a mandatory emission cap and trade program for the United States - thus leading by example.
As host of this week's Group of Eight summit of industrialized nations, Ms. Merkel has proposed a 50 percent cut below 1990 greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and a mandatory increase in energy efficiency. But the White House balks at binding targets and dismisses energy efficiency as a cheap and easy tactic that will yield only limited returns.
Environmental advocates understandably suspect that Mr. Bush's proposal to write a new international accord on greenhouse emission targets by the end of next year is intended as a distraction and a stall.
But it doesn't have to be. As Ms. Merkel and California Sen. Barbara Boxer, another advocate for swift, binding action, both noted, Mr. Bush's new position can provide the impetus to finally make progress.
Throughout his presidency, Mr. Bush has refused to participate in the Kyoto treaty to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, contending it would hurt the U.S. economy - especially because the developing nations of China and India were not included. His new proposal would require participation by both of those countries.
China can be expected to resist, contending that its industrial economy should be allowed to develop unfettered as those of Western nations did. It's a self-destructive argument, to be sure, but all the more reason that the United States - still the world's major source of greenhouse gases - should take the lead and impose domestic curbs.
"We're the world's leader when it comes to figuring out new ways to power our economy and be good stewards of the environment," Mr. Bush proclaimed. If so, it's time to show the rest of the world the way.