Global climate change is one of our greatest environmental
challenges. The overwhelming weight of scientific authority tells us that
the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere creates dangers --
such as severe storms and droughts, increases in respiratory and infectious
diseases, and rising sea levels -- that are too serious to ignore.
The Clinton Administration is working at home and abroad to meet the
challenge of climate change. Domestically, we are working on a wide range
of initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by developing and deploying
energy efficient technologies and spurring the broader use of renewable
energy. Internationally, we are working to secure the meaningful participation
of developing countries in addressing global warming and to complete the
other unfinished business of the Kyoto Protocol.
THE SCIENCE OF CLIMATE CHANGE
Greenhouse gases trap heat from the sun. These gases warm the Earth's
surface by an estimated 60°Fahrenheit (F), sustaining our existence
on the planet. However, the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation
have increased the concentration of carbon dioxide (the principal greenhouse
gas) by more than 30% since pre-industrial times.
Scientists predict that, if we continue on our current course, concentrations
of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will reach roughly twice current
levels by 2100 -- a level not seen on this planet for the past 50 million
years. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which represents
the work of more than 2,000 of the world's leading climate scientists,
estimates that this will lead to an increase in global temperature of
2 to 6.5°F. By way of comparison, the last ice age was only 5 to
10°F colder than today.
Over the past year, new data from satellites, tree rings, ice cores,
and deep boreholes drilled in the Earth's surface have reinforced the
broad scientific consensus that human activities have started to affect
the climate and that continuing on a "business as usual" course
will lead to substantial warming in the next century. Studies have shown
that the 20th century has been the warmest century in the past 1,000 years
and that the 1990s have been the warmest decade in that period, while
1998 has been the single warmest year on record.
POTENTIAL IMPACTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE
Scientists predict a range of likely effects from global warming:
- Extreme weather. As temperatures increase, so does the rate
of evaporation. This acceleration of the so-called hydrologic cycle
is projected to increase the frequency and intensity of extreme weather
events such as floods and droughts. Last year's El Nino -- which produced
warmer and wetter conditions akin to those anticipated from global warming
-- offered us a window on the type of extreme weather that climate change
may bring, from heat waves and drought in Texas, to wildfires in Florida,
Mexico and Indonesia, ice storms in the northeastern United States,
and devastating floods in China and Bangladesh.
- Human health. Warmer temperatures are projected to increase
fatalities from heat stress and expand the geographic ranges for diseases
like malaria and dengue fever. Additional smog caused by warmer temperatures
could increase the incidence of asthma and other respiratory illnesses,
particularly among children and the elderly.
- Sea level rise. Scientists project that the sea level will
rise by an additional 6 to 37 inches by 2100, endangering island states
and coastal areas. A 20-inch rise could inundate 7,000 square miles
of the U.S. coastline, with Florida and the Gulf Coast at greatest risk.
- Agricultural impacts. Changes in growing seasons, water availability,
soil moisture, and precipitation are expected to cause significant regional
shifts in food productivity, with decreased production in many of the
world's poorest regions. Water supplies and water quality may also be
affected, posing threats to irrigation, fisheries, and drinking supplies.
- Damage to ecosystems. Many species are highly adapted to particular
climate conditions and may not survive substantial climate shifts. For
example, the United States may lose beech trees and sugar maples, and
western conifer forests are likely to shrink, as the tolerable climate
zones for these species shift hundreds of miles to the north.
PRESIDENT CLINTON'S DOMESTIC PLAN
Since 1993, President Clinton has put into place dozens of win-win programs
to develop and deploy energy efficient technologies and spur the development
and broader use of renewable energy. These efforts have accelerated since
the Kyoto climate change conference in 1997.
- Climate Change Technology Initiative. This vigorous program
of tax incentives and investments focuses on energy efficiency and renewable
energy technologies. The FY 1999 appropriations for these programs totaled
over $1 billion and represented a 25% increase over the prior year.
The President's FY 2000 budget proposes a still more accelerated effort.
- The tax incentive package contains $3.6 billion over five
years for consumers who purchase energy efficient products and for
producers of energy from renewable sources. Highlights include: a
tax credit of up to $2000 for energy efficient new homes; a 10-20%
credit for selected energy efficient products for homes and buildings;
a credit of up to $2000 for rooftop solar systems; a credit of up
to $4000 for qualifying electric, fuel cell or hybrid vehicles; extension
of the current 1.5 cents/kilowatt hour credit for the production of
electricity from wind and biomass; an expansion of the biomass credit
to cover additional sources; and a 1.0 cent/kilowatt hour credit for
co-firing coal and biomass in power plants.
- The investment package contains nearly $1.4 billion in FY
2000 to research, develop, and deploy clean energy technologies. This
represents a 34% increase over the amount appropriated in FY 1999.
Highlights include: increased funding for the Partnership for a New
Generation of Vehicles, a government-industry effort to develop cars
that get up to three times the fuel efficiency of today's cars; the
Partnership for Advancing Technology in Housing, which aims to improve
the energy efficiency of new homes by more than 50% and to retrofit
15 million existing homes to make them 30% more energy efficient within
a decade; a stepped-up Bioenergy Initiative to develop advanced bioenergy
technologies; expanded research and development efforts in other key
renewable energy technologies, such as solar, wind, and geothermal
energy; and a Carbon Cycle Initiative, to deepen our understanding
of carbon "sinks," such as forests and farmlands.
- Electricity restructuring. Another core element of the President's
plan involves restructuring the electricity industry by introducing
competition that will save consumers millions on their energy bills
while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The Administration's restructuring
proposal would provide a profit incentive for generators to produce
more electricity with less fuel and to improve energy efficiency. It
also includes an aggressive, 7.5 percent renewable portfolio standard
to increase the use of electricity from renewable sources and a $3 billion
Public Benefits Fund to spur greater investment in energy efficiency
- Industry Partnerships. The Administration is also engaged in
a wide range of consultations with key industry sectors to improve energy
use and reduce emissions. For example, the Industries of the Future
program works cooperatively with the nation's most energy-intensive
industries -- such as aluminum, glass, chemicals, forest products, mining,
petroleum refining, and steel -- to develop technologies that increase
energy and resource efficiency.
- Credit for Early Action. The Administration is committed to
working with Congress and industry on legislation to reward companies
taking early, voluntary action to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions
or increase carbon sequestration.
- Clean Air Partnership Fund. The President's FY 2000 budget
proposes $200 million for the creation of a new Clean Air Partnership
Fund to support state and local projects to reduce both greenhouse gas
emissions and ground-level air pollutants.
- Federal energy use and procurement. The President's plan seeks
to substantially reduce the Federal government's own greenhouse gas
emissions by improving the energy efficiency of Federal facilities and
activities and reforming procurement practices. These actions are important
in their own right, since the Federal government is the nation's largest
single energy user, but they also set an important example for the private
- Domestic emissions trading. The President has proposed a domestic
emissions trading system to begin by 2008 so that we can achieve our
emissions target at the lowest possible cost. The U.S. has used emissions
trading successfully to reduce the pollution that causes acid rain --
exceeding environmental objectives at about 50% the expected cost.
- Scientific research. The Administration is continuing its strong
support for the U.S. Global Change Research Program, with nearly $1.8
billion in funding requested for FY 2000. This program provides a sound
science foundation for policy decisions by furthering our understanding
of human- and naturally-induced changes in the Earth's environment and
assessing the likely consequences of global warming.
Thanks largely to U.S. leadership, the international climate change
agreement reached at Kyoto, Japan in December 1997, combines strong environmental
targets with elements of flexibility that will allow nations to meet their
targets in a cost-effective manner, including:
- Flexible market mechanisms. The Protocol includes critically
important market mechanisms that can dramatically cut the cost of reducing
emissions. Chief among these are international emissions trading and
the so-called Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which will allow U.S.
companies to participate in joint clean energy ventures in the developing
world and earn credits from verified reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
- Emissions targets are to be reached over a five-year commitment
period. The first commitment period will be 2008-2012. Allowing
emissions to averaged over a commitment period helps smooth out short-term
fluctuations due to economic performance or weather. Having a decade
before the start of the binding period will allow more time for companies
to make the transition to greater energy efficiency and/or lower carbon
- Emissions targets include all six major greenhouse gases. This
will provide both more comprehensive environmental protection and additional
flexibility for nations and companies.
- Activities that absorb carbon, such as planting trees, can be used
to offset emissions. Including these so-called carbon sinks will
encourage afforestation, reforestation, and better forestry and agricultural
At the November 1998 UN climate change conference in Buenos Aires, the
parties agreed on a two-year timetable for filling in the key details
of the Kyoto Protocol in areas such as emissions trading, the CDM, compliance,
and the scope and use of carbon sinks. Buenos Aires also saw progress
on the issue of developing country participation as Argentina and Kazakhstan
announced their intention to take on binding emissions targets for the
2008-2012 time period. The President has made clear that he will not submit
the Kyoto Protocol to the Senate without meaningful participation from
key developing countries in efforts to address global warming.
ECONOMIC COST OF KYOTO
The Administration's economic analysis of the Kyoto Protocol concludes
that, if we do it right, the cost to the United States of meeting our
Kyoto target should be modest. Even without counting the impact of domestic
policies or the environmental, health, and economic benefits of limiting
climate change, estimates derived from economic modeling suggest an emissions
price in the range of $14 to $23 per ton of greenhouse gases. In 2010,
that would translate into an increase of $70 to $110 per year for an average
family's energy bill. This increase, however, would be substantially offset
by the decline in electricity prices resulting from increased competition
in a restructured electricity industry, as the Administration and others
have proposed. In addition, noted economists have estimated the ancillary
benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions -- such as reduced air pollution
-- could produce savings equal to one quarter of the costs of meeting
our Kyoto target.
For the past 25 years, efforts to protect the environment, whether by
cleaning our air, our water, or eliminating acid rain, have been repeatedly
assailed as a threat to our economy. Yet today, we have the cleanest environment
in a generation and the strongest economy in a generation. President Clinton's
balanced approach to the challenge of climate change will allow us to
continue to grow the economy and protect the environment at the same time.
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