If the US focused on curbing climate change as soon as a new president took office – or sooner – it could help pull the world from the financial brink, according to environmental policy experts.
"Skyrocketing energy prices and the financial crisis have been a wake-up call that something's got to change," says Cathy Zoi, chief executive officer of the Alliance for Climate Protection, which is chaired by former US vice president Al Gore.
"My very strong belief is that we need to reorient our investments toward this transition to a clean energy economy, and it will be the engine of growth for getting us out of the doldrums that we've gotten in right now," says Zoi.
The reorientation must include limits on emissions of climate-warming carbon in the US, she said: "Unless we take action at home, we're not going to be able to have much influence in the international arena about what gets done."
The Bush administration accepts that human-spurred climate change is a reality, but rejects mandatory across-the-board caps on carbon as a disadvantage when competing with fast-growing, big-emitting countries like China and India.
The US is alone among the major developed countries in staying out of the carbon-capping Kyoto protocol, but is part of international discussions on new targets to fight climate change, due to be finalised in Copenhagen at the end of 2009.
Both major US presidential candidates– Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain – favour requiring reductions in greenhouse emissions, and environmental activists says whoever wins the White House in the 4 November elections will be an improvement over president George W Bush.
"There is an urgent need for whichever party wins the US election to give an early signal [of an intent to do more to combat global warming], or there cannot be a credible reason for 190 nations to come together in Copenhagen," says Achim Steiner, head of the UN Development Programme.
Rajendra Pachauri, who shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Price with Gore and who chairs the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, says an Obama presidency would probably be more favourable to the fight against climate change.
But he adds: "Even if McCain wins, he has been very committed."
There is little chance of passing a US law to mandate a programme to cap and trade carbon emissions before Bush leaves office in January.
However, the first draft of a cap-and-trade bill was released this week by US Democratic representatives John Dingell of Michigan – home of the Big Three auto manufacturers – and Rick Boucher of Virginia – coal-mining country – that is likely to frame debate next year.
The draft legislation drew measured applause from environmental activists, who noted it contains options that could substantially weaken controls on greenhouse emissions from some sectors.
But the fact that these two law makers are crafting legislation aimed at curbing climate change indicates a possible change in tone in Washington.