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Climate Change Policy (12-16-04)

Climate Change has remained a hot topic on Capitol Hill since the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) sponsored a 1997 conference in Japan, where the Kyoto Protocol was drafted. Response from Capitol Hill has continuously been against the idea of the U.S. ratifying the treaty. The Clinton Administration was in strong support of implementing at least the spirit of the protocol, but Congress sent a clear note that it would not vote in favor of any actions that would harm the nation's economy. President George W. Bush announced his rejection of the Kyoto Protocol in 2001 and introduced an alternative approach to climate change. Since his announcement, Congress began to hold more hearings related to climate change science but this phase was short lived with congressional hearings focusing mostly on the economic aspects of the climate debate. A general history of the climate change debate is available at the Congressional Research Service's Global Climate Change Briefing Book.

Most Recent Action

The World Meteorological Organization announced on December 15th that 2004 was the fourth-hottest year since scientists began keeping records in the mid-19th century. According to meteorologists, the global surface temperature in 2004 was 0.44 degrees Celsius above the average temperature over the past thirty years.

"Significant positive annual regional temperature anomalies, notably across much of the land masses of central Asia, China, Alaska and western parts of the United States, as well as across major portions of the North Atlantic Ocean, contributed to the high global mean surface temperature ranking," said WMO in a statement.

According to WMO, 15 tropical storms developed during the Atlantic hurricane season, well above the average of 10 storms per season. "Since 1995, there has been a marked increase in the annual number of tropical storms in the Atlantic Basin," WMO found. In the Arctic, sea ice has declined 8 percent in the last 25 years, WMO said.

Greenwire reported that environmental groups said WMO's findings leave no room for skepticism regarding whether climate change is occurring. "Today's WMO announcement is further evidence reinforcing the scientific conclusion that global warming will lead to increased habitat loss, sea level rise and shifting weather patterns," said Dan Becker director of global warming at the Sierra Club.

Speaking at the 10th Session of the Conference of the Parties yesterday, WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud said the record of extreme weather events in 2004 has spurred further study. "The year 2004 has been exceptional in terms of tropical storm activity and this fact has enhanced research interest into the possible relation between climate change and extreme events," Jarraud said. (12/16/04)

Previous Action

The Federation Council, Russia's upper house of parliament, passed the Kyoto Protocol by a vote of 139 -1 on October 26th. Russian president Vladamir Putin is expected to sign the treaty. Once signed, it will go into effect in 90 days. European Union leaders have promised Putin help in Russia's bid to enter the WTO in exchange for signing the agreement. (10/27/04)

On October 21st, Russia's lower house of parliament, the Duma, voted overwhelmingly to ratify the Kyoto Protocol by a vote of 334-73. Now the treaty goes to the upper house, the Federation Council, where it is expected to pass easily. After Russia enters into the treaty, there will be enough countries, accounting for at least 55% of all greenhouse gas emissions in 1990, to put the emissions targets into effect. Ninety days after Russia signs the treaty, it will join 122 countries pledged to reduce their emissions by 5.2 percent of 1990 levels during the five-year period 2008-2012. Until now, Russia and the United States were the two remaining countries yet to sign that could put the treaty into effect. (10/22/04)

On October 10th, in a rare Sunday session, the Senate passed H.R.4516, Department of Energy High-End Computing Revitalization Act. This bill will invest $165 million over two years in an advanced computer research and development program within the Department of Energy. The bill's sponsor Rep. Judy Biggert (R-IL) said it would help the United States develop computers that rival the Earth System Simulator supercomputer in Japan that is used for climate modeling and other environmental applications. According to an auxiliary House Committee report, the United States fell behind in supercomputing because of a complete reliance on private investment rather than direct government development. This bill, which is expected to pass in the House during the lame-duck session in November, attempts to reinstate the US as the supercomputing leader. (10/17/04)

According to a September 30th New York Times article, global warming is likely to increase the intensity and rainfall of hurricanes in coming decades. The most comprehensive computer analysis to date at the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton, N.J. predicted that by 2080, "seas warmed by rising atmospheric concentrations of heat-trapping greenhouse gases could cause a typical hurricane to intensify about an extra half step on the five-step scale of destructive power." This conclusion has espoused widespread agreement among climatologists because half a dozen computer simulations of global climate, devised by separate groups at institutions around the world, were used in the study. Click here to see the study. (10/1/04)

On September 30th, Russian Cabinent ministers approved the Kyoto Protocol and asked the State Duma, Russia's lower house of Parliament, to design a plan to meet the Kyoto mandates. If Russia ratifys the treaty, the 1997 agreement would finally come into force. Greenwire reports that the Duma is expected to follow Russian President Vladimir Putin's call for ratification. According to Greenwire, "experts warned that ratification is not a done deal. Sergei Vasilyev, head of the National Carbon Union, said the Duma could slow down the process in order to win concessions from other participant countries. 'It would mean that until the Europeans give valid and reliable guarantees to Russia, they will not have their Kyoto Protocol,' he said." A difficult debate is expected as some members of the Duma express concern over the negative economic effects and a general distrust of multilateral agreements with Europe.(10/1/04)

On September 14th, British Prime Minister Tony Blair announced that global warming will head next year's agenda for the Group of Eight (G8) summit. He is seeking to re-engage the United States on the issue as well as promote sustainable development strategies for modernizing countries such as China and India.

As China and India modernize, their collective population of 2.3 billion people will require the most new energy in the next century. Blair believes there is a need for a G8 blueprint to guide sustainable development in these rapidly changing countries. Greenwire quoted Blair as saying, "While the eight G8 countries account for around 50 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, it is vital that we also engage with other countries with growing energy needs - like China and India; both on how they can meet those needs sustainably and adapt to the adverse impacts we are already locked into."

Blair's speech also specifically criticized the Bush administration's reluctance to acknowledge the threat of global warming and refusal to join multilateral agreements aimed at reducing greenhouse gasses. "I want to secure an agreement as to the basic science on climate change and the threat it poses," Blair said. "Such an agreement would be new and provide the foundation for further action."

Such an agreement may be contingent upon the results of a meeting in the U.K. prior to the G8. England is hosting an international summit of climate scientists and policy makers who will try and determine capacity of the atmosphere to absorb greenhouse gas and possible methods of global warming mitigation.(9/14/04)

On July 24, 2003, New York Governor George Pataki (R) announced that ten Northeastern states (NY, CT, VT, NH, DE, ME, NJ, PA, MA, and RI) have agreed to develop a regional market-based emissions trading system to reduce the amounts of carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. Pataki said, "By taking bold steps to control pollution and investing in the development of alternative and more efficient energy initiatives, New York State has led the nation in improving air quality." Ashok Gupta, Director of the Air and Energy Program for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said: "With such a positive bipartisan response to address climate change pollution, the Northeast can now move expeditiously to establish a framework for a multi-state cap and trade program for reducing carbon dioxide emissions from power plants." According to Greenwire, the states still need to agree on a "CO2 cap, the infrastructure to the trade credits, whether to allow non-electric generating systems and non-CO2 emissions into the market and the role of carbon sequestration." According to a press release from Pataki, the goal of the states is to agree on a strategy by April of 2005. (7/28/03)

On July 24, the Bush administration announced two initiatives that address global climate change by encouraging more research. Commerce Secretary Don Evans and Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham released a strategic plan for the Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) along with a proposal to speed up the deployment of global observation technologies. Both projects demonstrate the administration's approach of seeking a larger knowledge base about climate and the role of anthropogenic greenhouse gases. The CCSP plan focuses on assessing natural climate variability and change and reducing uncertainty about the causes and effects of climate change. The administration's pledge of $103 million over two years for global observation technologies, focusing on "oceans and atmospheric aerosols and carbon", is another attempt to improve understanding of the problem through additional data.

This emphasis on further research to reduce uncertainty about the human role in climate change has drawn criticism from those who believe enough of a scientific consensus exists to justify carbon emissions controls. Representative Mark Udall (D-CO) responded to the initiative by saying, "Basic research alone isn't enough. Going back to the drawing board is only a stalling tactic. While the Administration plays for time, we are becoming increasingly vulnerable to accelerated impacts of climate changes." According to a paper published in the July EOS, the geoscience community holds a "robust consensus view" that "anthropogenic factors likely play an important role in explaining the anomalous recent warmth" (Mann, et al., 2003). A recent report by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change concluded that mandatory carbon caps are essential to checking rising carbon emission rates. More details are available at AGI's CCSP Strategic Plan page. (7/28/03)

The Pew Center on Global Climate Change recently released a report assessing future rates of carbon dioxide emissions under several hypothetical scenarios of energy supply and use. A major finding of the report is that U.S. carbon emissions are likely to rise between 15% and 50% above 2000 levels by 2035 if no regulatory caps are placed on CO2 emissions. In all scenarios, constraints on CO2 resulted in substantially lower emissions by 2035. This finding led to the "key conclusion" of the report: that policy is needed to slow carbon emission increases and address climate change. According to Eileen Claussen, president of the center, "This report suggests that technology research and development efforts coupled with voluntary measures cannot reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and it highlights the need for a mandatory climate change policy to address carbon emissions - regardless of how the future unfolds." The report also concluded that policies and investments that support existing technologies could significantly affect climate change, slowing emissions enough to make the implementation of future climate policies more feasible. (7/28/03)

Legislation for a cap-and-trade program for greenhouse gas (GHG) emission, cosponsored by Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), was dealt a bum deal when the Senate parliamentarian decided to refer the bill (S. 139) to the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee instead of McCain's Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. On January 8th, McCain held a hearing on the legislation -- the day before it was officially introduced. Although the cap-and-trade provision that would regulated carbon dioxide in addition to other GHG, the bill also includes provisions for abrupt climate change research and the establishment of the National Greenhouse Gas Database that would be administered by the Secretary of Commerce. The decision to refer the bill to EPW, which is now chaired by Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), means that the bill likely is dead in the water. Inhofe is not in favor of environmental regulations for carbon dioxide or legislation that could harm domestic coal, oil, and gas production. Chances are that when he does take up emissions legislation it will be the president's Clear Skies Initiative that was announced last year, which does not include regulations for carbon dioxide. (1/17/03)

Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien ratified the Kyoto Protocol on December 16th in a signing ceremony in Ottawa. The previous week, the House of Commons voted to accept the treaty. According to the Canadian Press, agreeing to the protocol would require that the nation cut greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 20-30 percent from current levels. In order for the international treaty to take effect, it must be ratified by 55 countries that make up 55% of global emissions. The rejection by the U.S. of the Kyoto Protocol means that Russia must ratify the treat for it to go into effect. If Russia rejects the treaty, then it will likely never meet the 55% of global emissions requirement for full ratification. (1/7/03)

Scientists, policymakers, and other interested individuals met in Washington at the beginning of December to discuss the strategic plan for the administration's Climate Change Science Program (CSSP). According to the press release for the meeting, CSSP is a multi-agency program charged with ". . . overseeing the science projects for the Congressionally mandated U.S. Global Climate Change Research Program and the White House-sponsored Climate Change Research Initiative . . . ". The strategic plan is available online and public comments on the activities outlined are being accepted until January 18, 2003. More information on the conference and submitting comments is available at http://www.climatescience.gov. (1/7/03)

This was followed up by a National Academy of Science committee open meeting in Washington on August 25th to discuss revisions to the administration's Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) strategic plan released in July. Richard Moss, Director of the U.S. Global Change Research Program, and Ghassem Asrar, head of the Office of Earth Science at NASA, explained the administration's approach to revising the document in response to the committee's February evaluation of the initial draft plan. They asserted that the revised strategic plan incorporates major changes to its vision, information needs, decision-making support, and program management sections, and adds a new chapter on modeling science. Committee members questioned the speakers on matters including agency cooperation, research time-frame, human capital, and disconnects between Administration policy and supporting science. Moss called the strategic plan a "living document" that will continue to be revised. The committee is expected to release an additional set of recommendations following the meeting. More details on the Academy meeting and the plan can be found at AGI's CCSP Strategic Plan page.(9/2/03)

On July 8, 2003, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Clean Air, Climate Change, and Nuclear Safety held a hearing to review the potential of agricultural sequestration to address climate change through reducing atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide. Testimony generally described agricultural sequestration of carbon as a win-win situation with many benefits beyond the issue of climate change. Panelists debated the effectiveness of sequestration in reducing greenhouse gases and the mechanism by which sequestration should be implemented. Additional details can be found in AGI's hearing summary. (7/16/03)

On October 1, 2003 the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation held a hearing on a modified version of the Climate Stewardship Act of 2003 (S. 139). Cosponsored by Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Joe Lieberman (D-CT), the bill requires industry to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to year 2000 levels by 2010 and institutes an emissions trading system. The original bill would also have required industry to reduce GHG emissions to 1990 levels by 2016, but McCain, who chairs the committee, hoped that eliminating the second target would "build additional momentum for the measure in the Senate."

A broad range of panelists supported the legislation. Jos Delbeke, Director for Air Quality, Climate Change, Chemicals, and Biotechnology for the Delegation of the European Commission of the European Union (EU), touted the EU's own Cap and Trade program and encouraged the US to adopt a similar approach. Christopher Walker from the Swiss Re Financial Services Corporation applauded the bill's ability to combat severe weather, maintaining that "no other single factor" affects an insurance company's bottom line more than natural disasters. Orbis Energy president Ethan J. Podell emphasized the superiority of mandatory emission caps, quipping, "there is nothing to prevent a voluntary system from working here -- other than the absence of volunteers." Paul Gorman, Executive Director of the National Religious Partnership for the Environment, expressed interfaith support for the climate change bill. Several scientists reaffirmed that a scientific consensus exists that the greenhouse gases are responsible for global warming--a statement that the administration and some Republican Members of Congress question. Senators Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Bill Nelson (D-FL) attended the hearing in support of the bill.

The bill includes emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Tellus studies on the original bill indicated that S. 139 would significantly reduce US emission of GHGs while saving consumers billions of dollars. (10/3/03)

Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Joe Lieberman (D-CT) could not muster the necessary support for their bill to cap greenhouse gas emissions from a range of U.S. industrial sectors, which was voted down by 43-55 on October 30th. The vote came on the heels of five hours of debate on the Senate floor -- the first time the Senate had addressed climate change in six years. Following the vote, McCain and Lieberman said they were encouraged by the strong Senate support for their legislation to curb global warming, S. 139: The Climate Stewardship Act of 2003. "We’ve lost a battle today, but we'll win over time because climate change is real. And we will overcome the influence of the special interests over time. You can only win by marshaling public opinion,” McCain said. “Today we scored an important moral victory for protecting our environment and combating global warming.”, Lieberman added. “President Bush has denied, delayed and derailed any action on global warming. But today’s vote shows that the political climate is changing on climate change, and the Congress and the American people are warming up to action on global warming. Global warming is now - and must remain - on the front burner of the national environmental agenda.”

Opinions abound following the vote on McCain-Lieberman. Environmentalists at the League of Conservation Voters, National Environmental Trust and other groups took the vote to signal a rebuke of the Bush administration and its Clear Skies Initiative to control power plant pollution, which does not include any specific requirement to cut carbon dioxide emissions. On the other side of the debate, the Edison Electric Institute and National Association of Manufacturers, among others, welcomed McCain-Lieberman's defeat as proof there is not enough support for mandatory requirements on industry due to the costs such a plan would have for the U.S. economy. Others in Washington believe that this bill's defeat will help the Bush administration to whip up support for its Clear Skies legislative plan. One thing is for certain, this issue is not going away. McCain and Lieberman have vowed to continue pushing this issue through congressional hearings, public outreach and pursuing additional floor time next spring. (10/31/03)

The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a free-market advocacy group, announced details of an agreement with the White House on November 6, 2003, wherein CEI will drop their lawsuit against the Bush Administration. E&E Daily reported that in exchange for dropping the suit, the White House added two brief sentences to the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) web site explaining that a Clinton-era federal report on climate change included information not produced by federal agencies but written by a third party not bound by the federal Data Quality Act. The 2000 report is significant because it states that global warming is likely to lead to longer, hotter summers and shorter, warmer winters, increased instances of flood and drought, plant and animal migrations, and coastal erosion. Further, a subsequent report issued by the EPA, the Climate Action Report 2002, repeats many of the assertions contained in the National Assessment. CEI's chief complaint was that the computer models used in the study were unreliable and revised past climate history to incorrectly portray the 20th century as unusual. Chris Horner, a senior fellow at CEI, said the suit and the settlement "sets precedent to ensure the next round of USGCRP climate materials, due for release in October 2004, meets Data Quality Act standards." Otherwise, they, too, can be challenged in federal district court. (11/11/03)

A study about CO2 emissions requested by Senator and Democratic Presidential hopeful John Kerry (D-MA) and Senator Fritz Hollings (D-SC) was released by the General Accounting Office (GAO) on October 28th. This report provides an international perspective on President Bush's plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions. It found found that carbon dioxide emissions from U.S. energy sources are expected to increase through 2025, but when CO2 emissions data from the U.S. Energy Infomration Administration was correlated with information about the nation's economic output during that same period, CO2 emissions actually decreased. According to Greenwire, the GAO analysis shows that the United States is projected to increase its CO2 emissions between 2001 and 2025 by 43.5 percent, placing the U.S. in the middle of the world's largest CO2 emitting countries. In comparison, India is expected to increase at a rate of 102.4 percent and China at 121.6 percent. The smallest increases are expected to come from Germany and the United Kingdom, both of whom signed onto the Kyoto Protocol for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Further investigation showed that CO2 emission intensity, the measure of CO2 emissions relative to economic output, is expected to decrease at an average annual rate of 1.5 percent. This is significant because if the U.S. achieves President Bush's goal of reducing the intensity of greenhouse gas emissions, overall emissions would also be cut by about 2 percent. (11/12/03)

On November 25th officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced that they are launching a network of weather monitoring stations to obtain a better overall picture of U.S. weather patterns and to improve future climate change assessments. The U.S. Climate Reference Network would connect 100 automated weather observing stations via satellite over the next two years, with plans to eventually increase the number of monitoring stations to 250. Gregory Withee, Assistant Administrator for NOAA's Satellite and Information Service told Greenwire, "The [network] will give America a first-class observing network for the next 50 to 100 years, and serve as a benchmark for climate monitoring." In time, NOAA officials say the system could benefit other federal agencies like the Department of Agriculture. Sensors could be attached to monitor soil moisture and temperature. Likewise, the State Department could use the stations to track emissions from industry and other sources in other countries. Data from the Climate Reference Network will be provided online beginning in January. (12/22/03)

A lot of attention is being paid to a collective report from 14 laboratories around the globe that projected increases in global warming may cause 18-35% of all species to go extinct by 2050. Published in the January 8th edition of the journal Nature, the report maintains that the changing climate will affect habitats and the ability of organisms to migrate to suitable living conditions because of gaps between those habitats. Five regions were studied worldwide and together comprise 20% of the Earth's surface. The study used computer models to estimate the extinctions, but, according to Greenwire, the authors readily admit the numbers are not precise. However, they say that the conclusions should prompt conservationists to incorporate rapid climate change as they assess the future of species. Skeptics argued in a Washington Post article that the study "ignored the ability of the species to adapt to the higher temperatures" and assumed that technologies will not arise to reduce emissions. (1/9/04)

According to Greenwire, a study by European climatologists published a in new book titled "Global Change in the Earth System: a planet under pressure" hypothesizes that global climate change could alter Atlantic Ocean currents and cause parts of North America and Europe to cool dramatically. Fresh water from melting polar ice sheets could disrupt the Gulf Stream and possibly shut down the current altogether. The Gulf Stream is a current of warm water that helps to warm the climate of the eastern United States and Europe. According to the study, the Gulf Stream has stopped nearly two dozen times in the past 100,000 years. If the current were to stop, average temperatures in some areas of Europe would drop as much as 5 to 10 degrees Celsius, despite general global warming from greenhouse gas emissions. One of the major findings of the study is that the change would be abrupt, not progressive. (1/22/04)

The United Kingdom recently announced its National Allocation Plan as part of the European Union's Emissions Trading Scheme, which would employ a cap-and-trade program to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. The United Kingdom will set a target of reducing emissions 16.3 percent below 1990 levels by 2008, although it only agreed to a12.5% cut under the Kyoto Protocol. Power plant operators and operators of facilities that produce or use more than 20 megawatts of power will have to apply for a greenhouse gas trading permit. Each facility will be told of its allowable carbon dioxide emissions, and if it cannot find ways to reduce those emissions, it must pay a penalty or purchase carbon credits from other users when the Emissions Trading Scheme launches next year.

Opponents of the plan say that it could lead to skyrocketing energy costs as well as drive the industry offshore and raise global carbon dioxide emissions. In addition, British companies could face competitive disadvantages and more of a regulatory burden than other European nations. Proponents argue that emissions levels are already 8% below the1990 levels so only another 8.3% decrease by 2008 is needed. According to Greenwire, Stephen Timms, British energy minister, predicted industrial power prices would rise only 6%; while consumers would see a 3% increase in electricity costs. Of all the companies that need an emissions permit; only 11% have applied. Industry representatives have until March to comment on the plan. (1/26/04)

The National Research Council (NRC) issued a new report stating that the Bush Administration's research goals for studying climate change are good; however, more funds need to be directed to this research for it to be accomplished. The White House funding on climate change is split between two programs, the Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) and the Climate Change Technology Program (CCTP). The NRC reports that the latest review of the CCSP plan is a major improvement from the last review, but finds "the draft plan lacks most of the basic elements for a strategic plan". The NRC recommends the creation of an independent advisory committee to oversee the program. Currently the program is under the jurisdiction of Cabinet-level officials. To obtain a copy of the NRC report, click here. (2/19/04)

On March 9th the Senate Commerce Committee approved S.1164, a measure that would authorize $60 million for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to study abrupt climate change. The bill defines abrupt climate change as "a change in the climate that occurs so rapidly or unexpectedly that human or natural systems have difficulty adapting to the climate as changed." The bill would create a research program within NOAA's Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research to direct money toward determining what causes sudden climate changes and using computer models to predict climate change events. The bill is sponsored by Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) and was introduced last year following a 2002 report from the National Academy of Sciences that called for creating an abrupt climate change research program.

Last year Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz) introduced the "Climate Stewardship Act", which would also authorize a NOAA abrupt climate change research program, but would not specify a funding level. Senator McCain's bill would also require major energy, transportation and manufacturing companies to cut their greenhouse gas emissions to 2000 levels by 2010. The Climate Stewardship Act was rejected last October, but McCain and cosponsor Senator Joe Lieberman (D-Conn) want to attach that bill as an amendment when the abrupt climate change bill is voted on this spring. (3/10/04)

In early March, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released an annual draft report required by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The report concluded that total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the United States rose 0.7 percent between 2001 and 2002. In addition, GHG emissions have risen 13 percent from 1990 to 2002. The increase between 2001 and 2002 is due to moderate economic growth and hot summer conditions in 2002, which led to higher electricity use. Trees, soil and other natural sources absorbed about 10 percent of total CO2 emissions in 2002. (3/15/04)

On April 25th, environmental officials from 47 countries and the European Commission will meet to discuss moving forward on the construction of a global Earth observation system. The officials will discuss a framework document that will provide a 10-year implementation plan for the system. The U.S. delegation will be lead by EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt and will also include White House Science Advisor John Marburger and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Administrator (NOAA) Conrad Lautenbacher. The system would link thousands of satellites, ocean buoys, surface weather observing stations and other instruments to improve data collection about the planet. NOAA currently has a system in place to forecast for El Nino events, which took two decades to build but has saved California more than $1 billion in damages. (4/16/04)

Agreement on a new global climate observation system was reached in Tokyo on April 25th by representatives of over 40 nations. The system will link thousands of monitoring instruments worldwide, which will improve data collection and aid the prediction of weather events such as droughts and floods as well as longer term climatic trends. A summit is scheduled for February 2005 for further discussion, and the system should be implemented by 2015. For additional information about the Group on Earth Observations and their meetings, see http://www.earthobservations.org (5/13/04).

An April 22nd deal between the Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX) and the London-based International Petroleum Exchange will allow the 53-member CCX to market its CO2 emissions to European Union countries. Members of the CCX have been trading emissions amongst themselves since last year under the first regulated emissions trading system in the United States, and expansion into the European market has been called "landmark" by the group's Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Richard Sandor. The European Parliament recently voted to cap CO2 and establish a regulated emissions trading market in effort to comply with the Kyoto Protocol. However, because the United States has no federal CO2 cap, European companies may only sell, and not buy, emissions to American companies. (5/13/04)

Disagreement between internal agencies in Russia has delayed the country's decision on whether to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. The Energy and Industry Agency supports the treaty, while the Academy of Sciences contends that the treaty lacks scientific evidence and will be harmful to the Russian Economy. European Union leaders and Russian president Vladimir Putin struck a deal on May 21st to allow Russia into the World Trade Organization, which European leaders will most likely use as leverage to pressure Russia to sign the Kyoto Protocol. Russia is the only country besides the United States that has the potential to fulfill the threshold for signatories to account for 55 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. (5/24/04)

The National Religious Partnership for the Environment, a formal alliance of major faith groups and denominations across the spectrum of Jewish and Christian communities and organizations in the United States, delivered letters signed by scientists and religious leaders that called for political action on global climate change. The letter discussed the "ethical and moral concerns" surrounding human impacts on climate change, and urged members of the Senate to reconsider Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Joe Lieberman's (D-CT) Climate Stewardship Act. The bill would implement greenhouse gas emission caps for industry, putting an end to President Bush's voluntary emissions reduction approach. (5/24/04)

The Eurpoean Union expressed frustration in late June that the U.S. government has also done little to work with them on their Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), designed to encourage the reduction of greenhouse gases using an open market of carbon credits. Instead, the E.U. has started working with some of the U.S. states directly on climate issues. They have been working with California and Massachusetts on climate change policies, and several other Northeastern states and some Canadian provinces have also shown interest in working with the E.U. Individual European countries have already created their own National Allocation Plans for trading carbon credits, ten of which will be judged by European Commission officials on July 7 and the rest in September, in an attempt to unify the different programs. A similar program, the Chicago Climate Exchange, is comprised of 14 companies who voluntarily entered into a binding contract. In the first few years of implementation, the program has been successful. Emissions are down 8% and roughly one million tons of carbon has been traded at a cost of slightly less than $1 per ton. These two programs currently focus only on carbon dioxide reductions, but the E.U. said they would likely be adding six other greenhouse gases by 2006. Concern has been expressed about the effect this program will have on industry, considering it only accounts for 25% of greenhouse gas emissions but is the only sector affected by the trading scheme. Some companies have said they might be forced to relocate their businesses. (6/24/04)

In August, Bush administration officials Mike Leavitt of the Environmental Protection Agency and Vice Adm. Conrad Lautenbacher of Department of Commerce met with members of the media to discuss the Global Earth Observation System, a network of satellites and land- and ocean-based sensors that will be developed in coordination with 40 other countries. Leavitt and Lautenbacher pointed out the numerous benefits of the system including monitoring climatic changes in polar regions, reducing damage from hazards such as hurricanes and forest fires, and monitoring private-sector environmental problems such as agricultural runoff. The officials said that the greatest challenges to the development of the system and coordination of the data of different agencies will be bureaucratic, not technological. The National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration currently spends about $800 million a year to manage its satellite data, and the officials could not give an estimate of how much cost the additional equipment and data processing required for the project will incur. A plan for network construction will be released in February 2005. (8/20/04)

The Bush administration has given the green light to the U.S. Integrated Earth Observation System (IEOS), a collaborative effort among 48 countries and the European Commission to revolutionize the way in which earth systems are monitored. On September 8, 2004, the National Science and Technology Council's Interagency Working Group on Earth Observations (IWGEO) released its Draft Strategic Plan, a preliminary blueprint for the integration of global observational technology over the next 10 years. Satellites, ocean buoys, and terrestrial measurement stations will be coordinated alongside a new generation of monitoring systems such as unmanned drones.

According to the report, the impetus behind the project lies in the need to coordinate earth data on a global scale given the interconnection of earth processes. It states, "The Earth is an integrated system. All the processes that influence conditions on the Earth, whether ecological, biological, climatological, or geological, are linked, and impact one another. Therefore, Earth observing systems are strengthened when data collection and analysis are achieved in an integrated manner."

Scott Rayder, the Chief of Staff for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration told Greenwire on September 9, "While not strictly a climate change program, expanding climate observations is a key driver of EOS…we need more data, and we need better data on how the systems on the planet work". In addition to climate observation, the report outlines nine principle benefits to society including improved monitoring and managing of natural disasters, ecosystem health and diversity, ocean and fresh water resources, and disease control.

The U.S. co-chairs the project along with the European Commission, Japan, and South Africa. Vice Admiral Conrad Lautenbacher Jr., the head administrator of NOAA, leads the U.S. delegation primarily consisting of representatives from NOAA, NASA, and the USGS. They and the delegations from the participating countries will meet early next year in Brussels to further coordinate the international effort. Rayder told Greenwire that U.S. investment in the IEOS will probably range in the billions of dollars as it envisions a significant leap forward in observational technology in the next decade. The IWEGO invites public comment on the Draft Strategic Plan from now until November 8, 2004. Public comments can be emailed to iwgeocomments@noaa.gov. (9/9/04)

According to a October 30 New York Times article, the four year climate change study known as the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment is due to be released on November 9th. The 1,800 page study conducted by nearly 300 scientists as well as elders from arctic native communities shows that, "heat-trapping gases from tailpipes and smokestacks around the world are contributing to profound environmental changes, including sharp retreats of glaciers and sea ice, thawing of permafrost and shifts in the weather, the oceans and the atmosphere." The report is the first comprehensive international collaboration on climate change research, with input from all the arctic countries: Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the United States.

The report confirms suspicions that climate change has had a much more dramatic effect on the arctic, with temperature increases up to 10 times higher than the global average of 1 degree Fahrenheit over the past century. The article states, "Scientists have long expected the Arctic to warm more rapidly than other regions, partly because as snow and ice melt, the loss of bright reflective surfaces causes the exposed land and water to absorb more of the sun's energy. Also, warming tends to build more rapidly at the surface in the Arctic because colder air from the upper atmosphere does not mix with the surface air as readily as at lower latitudes." Although the report does point to some potential benefits such as growth in marine fish stocks, longer growing seasons, and easier shipping, the list of potential harms is far longer. It predicts massive habitat destruction and arctic species depredation. Oil and gas deposits would be more difficult to extract because the tundra thaws make driving conditions for drilling convoys very dangerous. Alaska has already seen the "tundra travel" season on the North Slope shrink to 100 days from about 200 days a year in 1970. Continued melting of Greenland's massive glaciers would result in significant rises in sea level and potential disaster for coastal and island nation communities. Robert W. Correll, a senior fellow with the American Meteorological Society and chairman of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment Group which authored the report, said in a Washington Post article, "If nations want to temper or reverse [the global warming] trend, they will need to act quickly because carbon dioxide, the gas that is the prime culprit in global warming, typically lingers in the atmosphere 100 years before being recycled." (11/1/04)

Global warming has already significantly impacted plant and animal species in the United States and will likely cause widespread ecological changes in the next century according to a recent report by the Pew Center for Climate Change. The first study to focus specifically on the United States shows that species have shifted their habitats and altered their behavior in response to the 1.4 degree temperature increase since 1900. It warns that, "further warming due to continued greenhouse gas emissions portend more significant ecological changes, including a wave of extinctions as numerous species fail to adapt."

As an example, the report maintains that the Checkerspot butterfly can now only survive 55 miles north of and 409 feet higher than its traditional habitat in Southern California and Northern Mexico. The fact that the majority of the Checkerspot population died before they could migrate north reveals how fast global warming threatens native species. Urban sprawl and habitat fragmentation exacerbates the situation by decreasing the likelihood that species can adapt to warmer climes. Report co-author Camille Parmesan of the University of Texas at Austin told Greenwire, "In the end, the study demonstrates that a relatively small amount of warming can have large consequences. The best, most important thing we can do is to minimize the amount of warming over the next 50 years." (11/9/04)

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the Kyoto Protocol, putting the greenhouse gas reduction pact into force early next year. Putin dismissed the arguments of his economic adviser Andrei Illarionov, who said that Kyoto would damage the Russian economy. Backers of the agreement countered by saying that even after a five-year recovery, the post-Soviet economic meltdown has left emissions some 30% below 1990 levels. (11/5/04)

Background

Global climate change has remained a pertinent topic in government and the scientific community due in part of the uncertainty of the impacts on human and environmental health, society, and economy. Debate on Capitol Hill over the last several years has focused primarily on the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty that aims to decrease global carbon dioxide emissions. One of the provisions that has gained the most opposition is the decision to exempt developing nations, such as India and China, from the requirement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 7% from their 1990 levels that industrialized nations must meet. Many opponents of Kyoto note this provision and the related economic uncertainties as the major reason for the nation to not ratify the treaty. No name is more closely associated with opposition to the Kyoto Protocol than that of Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-WV), who co-sponsored the 1997 Byrd-Hagel resolution (S. RES 98)  opposing any international climate treaty that did not include developing nations and was harmful to the US economy. The resolution passed 95-0 and was a major factor in the Clinton administration's decision not to seek ratification of Kyoto.

Since the 1997 meeting, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) has held several gatherings of the participant nations (referred to as Conference of the Parties). In November 2000, the sixth Conference of the Parties (COP6) was held at the Hague to discuss ways in which nations and other organizations represented could implement the Kyoto Protocol and the goals set forth at the Convention on Climate Change. Negotiations at the Hague ultimately broke down over disagreements between the United States and the European Union on the role of carbon sequestration.  Language in the Kyoto Protocol focuses on reducing greenhouse gas emissions but does not prohibit developed countries from receiving credit for sequestering carbon in long-term "sinks" such as forests and agricultural soil or by injection into deep wells. The U.S. government has supported research in carbon sequestration and understanding the carbon cycle in hopes of using the results to maximize sequestration credits.  The European Union argued that doing so would short-circuit the treaty's central goal of emissions reduction.  Discussion on the topic was suspended the second session of COP6 in Bonn, Germany, in July 2001.

President George W. Bush became increasingly more critical of the Kyoto Protocol after the COP6 meeting. In March 2001, Bush released his alternative to Kyoto that would be a voluntary "strategy to cut greenhouse gas intensity by 18% over the next 10 years." This announcement was coupled with his new Clear Skies Initiative, which addresses emissions primarily from power plants. In a June 11th press statement, Bush stated that "The Kyoto Protocol was fatally flawed in fundamental ways." Since the introduction of Bush's climate change initiative, the debate on Kyoto has transferred to the parliaments of the other parties to the treaty.

There is some concern that Bush's decision to withdraw the U.S.'s support for the treaty will leave it in limbo. According to the actual language of the treaty, it will not go into effect until it is ratified by nations that are collectively responsible for 55% of the total global carbon dioxide emission. Without the U.S., which accounts for nearly 35% of global emissions, the treaty's future will be determined by the decision of the Russian Federation, which accounts for 17% of global emissions.

A complete history of the UNFCC negotiations is available on the National Council for Science and the Environment website, in the Congressional Research Service Report RL30962. The U.S. Global Change Research Program website is updated every two weeks with new developments in global change issues. Additional background information is available at AGI's 107th Congress Update on Climate Change.

Sources: American Institute of Physics, Canada.com, Commerce Department, Environment & Energy Daily, EOS, European Union Website, Greenwire, House Science Committee Democratic Caucus, IPCC website, Massachusettes Institute of Technology Website, National Academy of Sciences, Pew Center on Global Climate Change, Tellus Institute Website, UNFCC website, the Washington Post,United States Senate website, Competitive Enterprise Institute website, General Accounting Office, Greenwire, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website,THOMAS legislative database, National Religious Partnership for the Environment website and hearing testimony.

Contributed by Margaret A. Baker, AGI Government Affairs Program; Brett Beaulieu and Deric Learman, AGI/AIPG 2003 Summer Interns; Ashley M. Smith, AGI/AAPG 2003 Fall Semester Intern; Gayle Levy, AGI 2004 Spring Semester Intern; Bridget Martin, AGI/AIPG 2004 Summer Intern; Emily Lehr Wallace, AGI Government Affairs Program; Ashlee Dere, AGI/AIPG 2004 Summer Intern and David Millar, AGI/AAPG 2004 Fall Intern.

Background section includes material from AGI's Update on Climate Change Policy for the 107th Congress.

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

Last updated on December 16, 2004


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