Leading US climate scientists are disappointed over President George W. Bush's decision to abandon the Kyoto Protocol for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.

But unlike Bush's political opponents, who vehemently condemned the move, the researchers still hope Bush will act on climate change once he has appointed key officials.

“I think it would be very unfortunate to scrap the Kyoto Protocol at this point,” says James McCarthy, a Harvard oceanographer and co-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's working group on impacts, adaptation and vulnerability.

McCarthy says a key problem is that Bush has yet to fill all of the main scientific advisory positions in his administration. Sherwood Rowland, an atmospheric scientist at the University of California, Irvine, who shared the 1995 chemistry Nobel prize for his work on ozone, agrees. “The absence of any high-level scientific advice is quite noticeable,” he says.

Henry Jacoby, an environmental economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, believes the Bush administration will find a coherent approach to climate change. “Kyoto is a set of numbers and conditions they don't like, but it is also a process, and it is not clear they're rejecting the process,” he says.

Agreeing to disagree: Bush (right) and Schröder share a joke on their way to last week's meeting. Credit: DOUG MILLS/AP

Before meeting with German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder in Washington last week, Bush said that he would not accept any plan that harms the US economy, as he believes the Kyoto treaty does. After the meeting, Schröder said he disagreed with Bush, but that the United States must make its own decision on climate-change policy.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said repeatedly last week that the administration felt no obligation to the treaty because the Senate had rejected it. But the Senate has never voted on the Kyoto Protocol itself.

Senator Joseph Lieberman (Democrat, Connecticut) announced last week that he would investigate the methods used by the Bush administration to make environmental decisions, saying that they “ignore the public interest and defy common sense”.

International representatives will meet in Bonn in July to discuss the Kyoto accord.