American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program

Global Climate Change Update (12-29-98)

Much debate occurred during this session of Congress on global climate change. Two international treaties were negotiated: the Kyoto Protocol and a follow-up agreement in Buenos Aires. This update also contains information on actions proposed by the Administration in its Fiscal Year 1999 budget request to increase energy efficiency and decrease greenhouse gas emissions and other Administration actions, Congressional actions on climate change, and background information. In addition, other updates on the AGI site at contain information on hearings held before and after the Kyoto negotiations and a summary of economic analyses of the treaty. Newly added documents on this site include a report on National Research Council activities on climate change and a summary of an August 1998 Capitol Hill seminar on global change research. The Committee for the National Institute for the Environment website has several excellent Congressional Research Service reports on climate change.

United Nations Negotiations
Kyoto Agreement
In December 1997, delegates at the Kyoto conference reached agreement on their final day of meetings. The United States agreed to reduce emissions of six greenhouse gases to 7% below what they were in 1990 by 2008. This agreement is much more stringent than the original proposal by the Clinton Administration, which would have reached 1990 levels in 2008, but lower than the European Union plan, which called for a 15% reduction below 1990 levels. The EU will make cuts of 8% below 1990 levels. The US succeeded in including emissions trading and joint implementation schemes in the agreement, but a major disappointment for the United States was a lack of inclusion of developing countries in the agreement. Those negotiations were delayed until the next climate summit, which occurred in November 1998 in Buenos Aires.

As expected, the reaction to the treaty was mixed. In his remarks about the treaty, Vice President Gore stated "Because of yesterday's agreement, we can now begin to reduce the forms of air pollution that cause global warming. Our air and water here at home will be cleaner, and our businesses will be more competitive in the new global economy." The Sierra Club called it "a narrow victory." But many in industry oppose the treaty because they feel it will harm the American economy. A majority of Republicans in Congress also oppose the agreement, primarily due to the lack of involvement of developing countries. Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), a member of the observing team at Kyoto, stated: "There's no way we'll even be close in the Senate to ratifying this agreement. We will kill this if the president signs it."

On November 12 -- during the Buenos Aires negotiations -- Acting U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Peter Burleigh signed the Kyoto Protocol, allowing the US to become the 60th nation to sign the protocol. Administration officials indicated, however, that they would not submit it to the Senate to be ratified. Vice President Gore stated: "Our signing of the Protocol underscores our determination to achieve a truly global solution to this global challenge. We hope to achieve progress in refining the market-based tools agreed to in Kyoto, and in securing the meaningful participation of key developing countries. Signing the Protocol, while an important step forward, imposes no obligations on the United States. The Protocol becomes binding only with the advice and consent of the U.S. Senate. As we have said before, we will not submit the Protocol for ratification without the meaningful participation of key developing countries in efforts to address climate change."

Several Republican members of the congressional delegation to Buenos Aires-- Representatives James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), Joe Knollenberg (R-MI), Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO), Joe Barton (R-TX), and Ken Calvert (R-CA) -- voiced their displeasure in the signing of the treaty and issued the statement: "Signing this treaty without intending to submit it to the United States Senate for ratification as required by our Constitution sends conflicting messages. In effect, the Clinton Administration is trying to have it both ways. The interpretation by other nations will be that the U.S. intends to implement the Kyoto Protocol. But by not submitting the treaty immediately to the Senate for ratification, the Administration is attempting to tell the American people who are concerned about soaring energy prices and the loss of jobs: 'Don't worry, signing this document doesn't mean anything.'" The representatives called on President Clinton to immediately submit the treaty to the Senate for ratification.

Buenos Aires
On November 14, 1998 in Buenos Aires, more than 160 nations agreed to a follow-up agreement to the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, negotiated in December 1997. The Buenos Aires agreement sets a deadline of late 2000 for establishing rules to enforce the Kyoto treaty and setting guidelines for a market-based trading program. More importantly, the negotiations showed that developing countries are beginning to become involved in the effort to reduce greenhouse gases, a condition necessary to gain the support of the US Senate for ratification of the Kyoto Protocol. More than 12 developing nations -- including host Argentina and Kazakhstan -- agreed to voluntarily reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Administration Actions
Throughout 1998, the Clinton Administration voiced its support for reducing greenhouse gas emissions but acknowledged that the Kyoto Protocol is a work in progress. In July, the administration produced an
economic analysis of compliance with the treaty in a modified form. White House support for greenhouse gas emissions limits is being both praised and criticized. Industry and business groups such as the Global Climate Coalition (GCC) and the International Climate Change Partnership (ICCP) along with the AFL-CIO have criticized the White House for rushing to action on the issue and for ignoring scientific uncertainties. Organizations such as the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and Sierra Club are supporting US action on global climate change, saying that developed nations must take a leadership role in the effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions. EDF supports a global permit trading system as a strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, the Sierra Club is opposed to the use of emissions trading schemes, saying that trading systems are basically unenforceable and that other steps should be taken to address global climate change, such as working to increase energy efficiency.

Partnership for Advancing Technology in Housing (PATH)
The Administration proposed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through three-way partnership between federal government, the homebuilding sector (which includes builders and suppliers and manufacturers, the insurance industry and others), and state and local governments. By promoting the use of energy-efficient technologies in new and existing homes, the new Partnership for Advancing Technology in Housing (PATH) aims to cut energy use by 50 percent in new homes, and by 30 percent in 15 million existing homes, while reducing the monthly cost of new housing by 20 percent.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Press Conference
During a press conference held on January 7, 1998, scientists with NOAA announced that 1997 was the warmest year on record, with an average worldwide temperature of 62.45 degrees Fahrenheit. That temperature is 0.15 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the previous high in 1990, and 0.75 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the thirty year average from 1961-1990. Although El Nino helped increase temperatures in December, scientists argue that 1997 would still have "been in the top 10," even without El Nino. In addition, scientists at the press conference surmised a link between the temperature increase and human effect on climate. Elbert "Joe" Friday, NOAA research chief, stated: "I believe we are seeing evidence of global warming at least some of which is attributable to human activities." NOAA held similar conferences throughout the year as other temperature records were broken.

FY99 Budget Items for Climate Change
To prepare the United States for the possibility of decreasing greenhouse gas emissions, President Clinton proposed a $6.3 billion climate change initiative. These funds are aimed at providing tax incentives for consumers and businesses to adopt clean energy technologies and supporting energy efficiency and renewable energy research. In the end, approximately half of the funds for research and development were included in the FY99 appropriations bill, but none of the tax provisions were enacted.

One of the proposed incentives was a tax credit up to $2000 for the installation of rooftop solar energy systems. This incentive would help achieve the President's goal of one million solar roofs by 2010. The investment tax credit will be for 15 percent of the cost of a new rooftop solar unit, up to $1,000 for hot water systems and $2,000 for photovoltaic systems. The proposed solar tax credit would be available for rooftop systems put in service beginning January 1, 1999. It would extend through 2003 for water heating systems and 2005 for photovoltaic panels. The administration claims that its goal of installing one million solar roofs will cut CO2 emissions by 1.8 million metric tons by 2010, equivalent to the amount produced by 850,000 cars. In addition, Clinton proposed providing credits for 20 percent off the cost of energy-saving water heaters and air conditioners.

Another credit was proposed for high-mileage cars. When they become available, Clinton proposed giving "everyone who buys one a $3,000 tax credit to apply to every size car. When these cars become even more efficient, we'll increase the tax credit to $4,000. We're committed to making it not only wiser, but actually cheaper, to buy highly efficient cars."

Several Senators have interpreted Clinton's funding initiative as a blatant attempt to side-step the ratification process and begin to unjustly implement elements of the protocol. "There should be no action taken by the administration on this issue before the Senate deals directly with the treaty and its surrounding issues," said Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee's Clean Air Subcommittee. "Let us address these important issues openly before we begin the irreversible march down the too-much-traveled road of regulation, taxation and coercion." Congressional critics argue that with energy costs low, money spent on energy efficiency is not a priority in the minds of voters. The critics also maintain that the tax section of the proposal only adds to the confusion surrounding the federal tax code.

Administration Proposal for Kyoto Conference
President Clinton released his long-awaited proposal on climate change on October 22, 1997, less than two months before the start of the Kyoto conference where the US would advocate for this position. He prefaced his remarks by stating: "We have a clear responsibility and a golden opportunity to conquer one of the most important challenges of the 21st century -- the challenge of climate change -- with an environmentally sound and economically strong strategy, to achieve meaningful reductions in greenhouse gases in the United States and throughout the industrialized and developing world." He presented a three-pronged approach to meet this goal:

Clinton outlined several strategies to ease the burden on the American economy. He earmarked $5 billion for tax cuts and research and development to encourage energy efficiency and use of cleaner energy sources. He emphasized the use of a market approach and restructuring the electricity industry. He stated that we "must reinvent how the federal government, the nation's largest energy consumer, buys and uses energy" and committed the federal government to the use of 20,000 solar roofs systems by 2010.

Reaction to the proposal has been mixed, with criticism coming from both the environmental and industrial community for the proposal being too lax and too strict respectively. Greenpeace labeled the day of the announcement as "black Wednesday" and Thomas Donohue, president of the US Chamber of Commerce, opposed the proposal and stated that capping emissions "amounts to energy rationing, which drives up consumer costs." Other groups, however, praised the plan. Terry Thorn, senior vice-president of Enron Corporation called the proposal "a measured, appropriate action plan" and Michael Oppenheimer of the Environmental Defense Fund believes the proposal will "for the first time [allow] a good chance of a constructive outcome at Kyoto."

For a concise summary of the events leading to the upcoming international climate change conference, see the Geotimes News Note on The Road to Kyoto.

Congressional Actions
In the months leading up to the Kyoto conference, the Senate and House held a series of hearings that focused on the scientific evidence for global warming and the economic implications of signing the Kyoto protocol. Several pieces of legislation regarding climate change were introduced, but none passed. Many in Congress attempted to use the appropriations process to make their concerns heard. In the end, however, Congress provided the Administration about $1 billion for its climate change initiative, approximately half of the request, and removed many riders aimed at preventing education and research on climate change.

On July 25, 1997, the Senate voted 95-0 to approve Senate Resolution 98, which has 60 cosponsors. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted in favor of the Resolution on July 17, 1997, during a markup that was closed to the general public. Introduced by Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) on June 12, the nonbinding resolution states that the US should not be a signatory to any treaty or protocol that would harm the US economy and that does not hold developing countries to the same mandates as developed, or Annex I, countries. Sen. Byrd has said that developing countries should be given flexibility in meeting these mandates. In his testimony at the June 19 Foreign Relations Economic Subcommittee hearing, Undersecretary of State Timothy Wirth said that he agrees with the thrust of the opinion in the resolution, but that he believes the US must take a leadership role in addressing global climate change.

On the House side, Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD) introduced House Concurrent Resolution 106 on June 25, a similar resolution with over 50 cosponsors. As described in the summary, the resolution "urges the United States to take all necessary steps to protect the Earth's climate and to take a leadership role in negotiating an international climate change agreement that: (1) contains legally binding targets and timetables beginning in 2005 for reducing greenhouse gas emissions substantially below 1990 level; (2) provides for participation by developing nations; and (3) is fair, enforceable, and provides options for nations to achieve necessary greenhouse gas reductions in a cost-effectiveness manner."

Senator John Ashcroft (R-MO) introduced legislation, S. 2019, on April 30 to prohibit using federal funds to implement the protocol until the Senate has ratified the treaty. A companion bill, H.R. 3807, was introduced in the House by Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R-MI) on May 7th.

On September 10, Rep. Robert Matsui (R-Calif.) introduced legislation, HR 4538, that mirrors the Administration's $3.6 billion tax cut plan to increase energy efficiency and decrease greenhouse gas use. The plan includes a credit of $3,000 to $4,000 for consumers who purchase highly fuel-efficient vehicles, a 15 percent credit for purchasing rooftop solar equipment and energy-efficient building equipment, and a $2,000 credit for purchasing energy-efficient new homes. The bill was not passed, but is expected to be reintroduced in the 106th Congress.

In the final days of the session, Senator John Chafee (R-RI), joined by Senators Connie Mack (R-FL) and Joe Lieberman (D-CT), introduced S. 2617, the Credit for Voluntary Early Action Act, to provide early action credits for businesses that reduce domestic greenhouse gas emissions or sequester carbon before 2008. By providing for early action now, said a Chafee release, companies can spread the costs of reductions over a broader time span, thus reducing future costs of any emissions requirements. The senators plan to re-introduce their proposal at the start of the 106th Congress.

At the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, President Bush signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which was later ratified by the Senate. The Framework was a voluntary agreement wherein countries agreed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2000. In 1993, President Clinton stated that these non-binding aims would be met using voluntary programs in the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency. In 1995, the US signed the Berlin Mandate, which:

The overarching goal of the Berlin Mandate is to establish a negotiation process that will be used to formulate new commitments for reducing greenhouse gases after 2000. The next stage in this process is an international meeting that will take place at Kyoto, Japan in December 1997, to finalize a treaty or protocol that aims to limit global greenhouse gas emissions after 2000. European nations are currently supporting a proposal that would reduce C02 emissions to 15 percent below 1990 levels by 2010 and the UK has proposed a 20 percent target. Although the Clinton administration has said they share the fundamental goal of reducing emissions, they disagree with these targets and have not yet released their own numbers.

In his address before the UN Special Session on Environment and Development, the President described three initiatives by the White House to address global climate change:

For more background information on climate change, visit the Committee for the National Institute for the Environment (CNIE) website, which includes reports from the Congressional Research Service on climate change and other environmental issues. Included are "Global Climate Change" and "Global Climate Change Briefing Book." CRS reports are also available by calling your local representative or senator.

The US Geological Survey is hosting an interactive web workshop on "The Impacts of Climate and Land Use Change in the Southwestern U.S." The website features sections on climatic variability, climatic impacts and societal issues along with scientific papers on various climate change issues and discussion forums on the topics.

In conjunction with their Museum of Natural History exhibit, the Smithsonian and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) have launched a website: "Global Warming: Focus on the Future." The site includes various sections on the causes and effects of global warming as well as possible solutions. Designed for the general public, both the exhibition and the website address issues such as greenhouse gas sources, energy efficiency, and climate models.

The Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration has an extensive website that includes reports on climate change and greenhouse gas emissions. The most recent study, entitled Emissions of Greenhouse Gases in the United States, found that US emissions of greenhouse gases increased 3.4 percent in 1996, the highest rate of increase in recent years. The report details the changes in emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxides, halocarbons, and criteria pollutants as well as the effect of land use changes.

Sources: Energy and Environment Weekly, Greenwire, United Nations website, White House Office of the Press Secretary, Washington Post, American Institute of Physics; House Science Committee

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program at

Contributed by Kasey Shewey White, AGI Government Affairs, and Stephanie Barrett, Jenna Minicucci, and Shannon Clark, AGI Government Affairs Interns

Last updated December 29, 1998

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