The call comes days after the new UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, made climate change one of the top issues in his first meeting at the White House. In addition, top business and political leaders from around the world will be talking about it when they meet this week in Davos, Switzerland, for the annual World Economic Forum.
Among the U.S. business leaders who appealed to Bush are the heads of companies like General Electric, aluminum producer Alcoa, chemicals giant DuPont, and BP America.
'A Unique Responsibility'
So they attract quite a bit of attention when they get together and say it's time for the United States to take the lead in climate protection.
"The U.S. has a unique opportunity and a unique responsibility," said Peter Darbee, CEO of the utility Pacific Gas and Electric Corporation. "Our emissions far eclipse that of any other nation in the world and so we are undeniably part of the problem. We also have the wealthiest and the most innovative economy, so financially and technologically, we are in the best position to help solve the problem."
They may sound like unlikely partners.
These chief executives -- who run dozens of industrial plants -- have joined up with environmental advocates to form the United States Climate Action Partnership.
Their goal -- to press Congress to pass legislation quickly to reduce significantly harmful greenhouse-gas emissions over the next 15 years.
They want mandatory caps on industry's emissions of carbon dioxide. To help industry meet those standards, they also want a market system that allows businesses to trade emission credits.
And they say that what's good for the environment doesn't have to be bad for business.
"We think this kind of action unleashes the entrepreneurial spirit in this country, that people will innovate and lead with technology when they know what the market standards will be in the future," said Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of General Electric.
The call is the latest in a flurry of activity and debate over climate change.
It may not be connected, but no one can have failed to notice that the United States, like other parts of the world, has experienced unusual weather lately. While Washington D.C. has been much warmer than usual, on the other coast, icicles have been hanging from California orange trees.
Last week the House of Representatives, newly controlled by opposition Democrats, voted to repeal billions of dollars in tax breaks for oil and gas companies and use the money on researching renewable energy sources instead.
The call by the CEOs also comes a day before Bush makes his State of the Union speech, with some expecting the president to address climate change.
To be sure, White House officials say Bush does not favor economy-wide limits on emissions like the CEOs are advocating.
Instead, reports say Bush may call for more use of renewable fuels.
But commentators say even the mention of such action would be a significant shift.
View a photo gallery summarizing some key findings of the Stern report on the economic costs of global warming (epa)
THE STERN REPORT: In October, former World Bank chief economist Sir Nicholas Stern issued a 700-page report on the economic impact of global warming. The report, which was commissioned by the British government, estimates that climate change could cost between 5 and 20 percent of global GDP by the end of the century....(more)