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IB89005: Global Climate Change
John R. Justus and Susan R. Fletcher
August 13, 2001
There is concern that human activities are affecting the heat/energy-exchange balance between Earth, the atmosphere, and space, and inducing global climate change, often termed "global warming." Human activities, particularly the burning of fossil fuels, have increased atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) and other trace greenhouse gases. If these gases continue to accumulate in the atmosphere at current rates, most scientists believe global warming would occur through intensification of Earth's natural heat-trapping "greenhouse effect." Possible impacts might be seen as both positive and negative.
A warmer climate would probably have far reaching effects on agriculture and forestry, managed and un-managed ecosystems, including natural habitats, human health, water resources, and sea level depending on climate responses.
Although causal relationships between projected long-range global climate trends and record-setting warmth and severe weather events of the past two decades have not been firmly established, attention has been focused on possible extremes of climate change and the need for better understanding of climate processes to improve climate model forecasts.
The basic policy question is: Given scientific uncertainties about the magnitude, timing, rate, and regional consequences of potential climatic change, what are the appropriate responses for U.S. and world decisionmakers?
Fossil-fuel combustion is the primary source of CO2 emissions, and also emits other "greenhouse" gases. Because the U.S. economy is so dependent upon energy, and so much of U.S. energy is derived from fossil fuels, reducing these emissions poses major challenges and controversy.
Congress has extensively reviewed scientific information about climate change, and because of the global implications of this problem, it has also been addressed internationally through negotiations and exchanges of views and information with international organizations within and outside the United Nations system.
The 1992 U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) called for a "non-binding" voluntary aim for industrialized countries to control atmospheric concentrations 0f green-house gases by stabilizing their emissions at 1990 levels by the year 2000. The 1997 U.N. Kyoto Protocol to the UNFCCC goes further and, if it were to enter into force, would commit the 38 major industrialized nations to legally binding emissions reductions.
International negotiations continued in July 2001 to reconcile differing positions of nations and to continue to spell out key details on how the Kyoto Protocol would operate. Following the Bush Administration's rejection of the Kyoto Protocol in March, the United States declined to participate in these negotiations, which ended with agreement among the parties to proceed without the United States. The United States has indicated it would seek new approaches based on voluntary measures and market mechanisms, but has declined to proclaim a timeframe for a new proposal.
At the November 2000 conference of parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP-6), held in the Hague, Netherlands, international climate change negotiations on implementing the Kyoto Protocol collapsed due to major differences among the developed country parties, especially the European Union and the United States. A major focus of disagreement concerned carbon sink issues. In late March, the Bush Administration declared the Kyoto Protocol a failed effort and indicated that the United States would not continue to participate in negotiations related to the Kyoto Protocol. This caused widespread concern among environmental organizations and in certain diplomatic circles expressed primarily by European Union (EU) nations and others, but high-level efforts by EU officials to re-engage the United States were reportedly rebuffed. The COP-6 negotiations were resumed Bonn, Germany, in July 2001. The United States attended but for the most part did not participate in discussions related to key issues of the Protocol. At the ministerial segment of the Bonn meeting, the UNFCCC parties reached agreement on the political elements of the Protocol without the United States, including the key issues such as carbon sequestration and determinations to proceed with emissions trading and compliance. As details continued to be negotiated at Bonn, it became apparent that future disagreements would be possible, but that discussions to resolve the remaining details would be continued with the expectation they could be resolved at the next meeting, COP-7, to be held in Marrakech, Morocco, October 29 - November 9, 2001.
On June 6, 2001, the U.S. National Research Council (NRC) released a report requested by the White House stating that global warming could well have serious societal and ecological impacts by the end of this century. President Bush made a policy statement on June 11, 2001, following release of the NRC report and completion of a cabinet-level review of climate change options. In that statement, the President acknowledged that the world has warmed and that greenhouse gases have increased, largely due to human activity, but emphasized that the magnitude and rate of future warming are unknown. The President then outlined the U.S. approach as rejecting the Kyoto Protocol and favoring voluntary actions, increased scientific research, better technology, and market mechanisms. This preceded his trip to Europe for meetings with European heads of state, which ended with statements that Europe and the United States "agree to disagree" on climate change approaches.
A large number of scientists believe that human activities, which have increased atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) by one-third over the past 100 years, may be leading to an increase in global average temperatures. However, this "global warming" theory is not without challengers, who argue that scientific proof is incomplete or contradictory, and that there remain many uncertainties about the nature and direction of Earth's climate. Nevertheless, concern is growing that human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels, industrial production, deforestation, and certain land-use practices are increasing atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) that, along with increasing concentrations of other trace gases such as chlorofluorocarbons-CFCs, methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs) and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), may be leading to changes in the chemical composition and physical dynamics of Earth's atmosphere, including how heat/energy is distributed between the land, ocean, atmosphere and space.
Scientists have found that the four most important variable greenhouse gases, whose atmospheric concentrations can be influenced by human activities, are carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). Historically, CO2 has been the most important, but over the past several decades other gases have assumed increasing significance and, collectively, are projected to contribute about as much to potential global warming over the next 60 years as CO2. The 1997 U.N. Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change, if it were to become a treaty in force, would also regulate three other trace gases: hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), whose limited concentrations in the atmosphere are anticipated to grow over the long-term. Sulfate aerosols, a byproduct of air pollution, and other natural phenomena, are also viewed as important for their transient and regional "climate cooling" effects in Earth's atmosphere.
The amount of carbon cycling from naturally occurring processes each year through the biosphere as CO2 is enormous -- some 800 billion tons. Ice cores and other proxy climate data, which also indicate CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere, have shown, in general, a relatively stable global climate, at least over the past 10,000 years. As such, many scientists suggest that the amount of CO2 generated by natural processes is about equal to the amounts absorbed and sequestered by natural processes. However, human activity since the Industrial Revolution (c.a. 1850), and primarily in the form of burning fossil fuels, is now generating some additional 24 billion tons of CO2 per year. Available evidence shows that about half this amount is absorbed by natural processes on land and in the ocean, and that atmospheric concentrations of CO2 are now about 32% higher than they were some 150 years ago. Some scientists suggest that a large amount of CO2 may be stored in northern latitude soils and in temperate and tropical forests, suggesting a greater importance of the role of natural resources management and land-use practices in these regions, including burning of biomass and deforestation. Scientists estimate that anthropogenic emissions of CO2 alone may account for as much as a 60% increase in global mean temperatures of 0.9oF, since 1850. For more information on the science of global climate change, visit the CRS Electronic Briefing Book: Global Climate Change web site.
The most recent projections of state-of-the-art computer models of the Earth's climate (GCMs) have projected a globally averaged warming ranging from almost 3 to 10.7degrees F over the next 100 years, if greenhouse gases continue to accumulate in the atmosphere at the current rate. Climate scientists believe that such a warming could shift temperature zones, rainfall patterns, and agricultural belts and, under certain scenarios, and cause sea level to rise. They further predict that global warming could have far-reaching effects -- some positive, some negative depending how it may be experienced in a given region -- on natural resources; ecosystems; food and fiber production; energy supply, use, and distribution; transportation; land use; water supply and control; and human health.
Some skeptics of the global warming theory have called into question the reliability of the computer climate models and their output used to make projections of future warming that supported Kyoto Protocol negotiations. They also challenge some scientists' assertions that, although recent episodic weather events may seem more extreme in nature, this is indicative of long-term climate change. The Clinton Administration received criticism about attributing seemingly more frequent weather anomalies to a warming of the climate. And so the scientific questions remains: Can scientists now confirm that humans are indeed, at least in part, the cause of recent climate changes? Also, as a result of this, is the Earth committed to some degree of future global warming? If so, then what might be the consequences, and what if any of those might be prevented?
Evidence of natural variability of climate is large enough that even the record-setting warmth at the end of the 20th century does not allow a vast majority of knowledgeable scientists to state beyond a reasonable doubt that weather extremes experienced over the past two decades are attributable to "global warming," at least at the present time. However, the warming trend at the surface appears to continue. In some cases, causal relationships between seasonal and inter annual climate changes and present-day severe weather events are beginning to be recognized and even predicted, because of an improved ability to observe the El Nino and La Nina phenomena. This notwithstanding, singular extreme weather events have focused public attention on possible outcomes of potential long-term climate change and a need for a better understanding of regional climates on decadal to century time scales.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) researchers reported that the 12 warmest years (globally averaged) since historical records have been kept occurred in the past two decades, with 1990 and 1998 among the warmest. At least some of this warming, they concluded, is human-induced. On the other hand, satellite instruments -- which, through indirect methods, measure the average temperature of the atmosphere in a deep column above the surface -- for the past 20 years are hard pressed to demonstrate any positive trends. A report issued in January 2000 by the U.S. National Research Council's Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate, Reconciling Observations of Global Temperature Change, attempted to resolve apparent disparities between temperature data measured at the surface and those from satellites. Skeptics claim that disparate trends invalidate the output of general circulation models (GCMs), many of which demonstrate homogenous warming throughout all the levels of the Earth's atmosphere. Panel scientists concluded that there may be a systematic disconnect between the upper and near surface atmosphere and cited physical processes which may have an unique impact on the upper atmosphere that are not currently accounted for in GCMs. In addition, they acknowledged that only long-term, systematic monitoring of the upper atmosphere could resolve the differences in temperature trends.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), jointly established in 1988 by the United Nations World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), reported in its Second Assessment (1996) that ". . . [such] a change is unlikely to be entirely natural in origin . . . [and that] the balance of evidence, from changes in global mean surface air temperature and from changes in geographical, seasonal, and vertical patterns of atmospheric temperature, suggests a discernible human influence on global climate." And now, the latest report (January 2001), the Intergovernmental Panel's Third Assessment, concluded that a firmer association between human activities and climate seems to have emerged. That is news, because reservations about the source of the past century's warming and whether it bore a human fingerprint are often cited in policy debates, usually in support of deferring actions aimed at mitigating possible global warming. In addition, the IPCC reported a higher range of potential warming - roughly between 2.7 and just under 11 degrees Fahrenheit over the next 100 years. Also, on June 6, 2001, a Committee on the Science of Climate Change of the U.S. National Research Council (NRC) released a report, Climate Change Science: An Analysis of Some Key Questions, stating that global warming could well have serious societal and ecological impacts by the end of this century. Commissioned by the Bush White House and prepared by 11 of the nation's leading climate scientists, the report summarized the current state of knowledge on climate change and confirmed that the climatic changes observed during the past several decades were most likely due to human activities. The committee members warned, however, that they could not rule out the possibility that the climate's natural variability could be responsible for a significant portion of that trend. The authors agreed that human-induced warming and sea level rise were expected to continue through the 21st century and beyond, but they emphasized that current predictions of the magnitude and rate of future warming "should be regarded as tentative and subject to future adjustments (either upward or downward)." The NRC report generally concurred with the latest conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which found that the Earth warmed by about 1 degree Fahrenheit during the 20th century, and that most of the warming of the past 50 years was probably due to increases in greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. The full report, Climate Change Science: An Analysis of Some Key Questions, is available online at http://books.nap.edu/html/climatechange/ or may be downloaded as a PDF file at http://books.nap.edu/html/climatechange/climatechange.pdf
President Bush made a speech on global climate change from the Rose Garden on June 11, 2001, following release of the NRC report and completion of a cabinet-level review of climate change options. In that speech, timed just before his trip to Europe to meet with leaders there, the President acknowledged that the world has warmed and that greenhouse gases have increased, largely due to human activity, but emphasized that the magnitude and rate of future warming are unknown. In a policy statement, he then outlined the U.S. approach to potential climate change as rejecting the Kyoto Protocol and favoring voluntary actions, increased scientific research, better technology, and market mechanisms as solutions. (For more information, see later section, COP-6, The Hague, Netherlands)
A November 2000 national assessment report, Climate Change Impacts on the United States: The Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change, released under the auspices of the U.S. Global Research Program received criticism from many of those who were involved in its early review. Critics claimed that many of the model-projected impacts of possible future climate changes were overstated and unsubstantiated. The National Assessment Synthesis Team (NAST), with overall authority for the report, countered that much of the criticism it had received did not take into account the time scales upon which the report was based; the report targeted the effects of climate toward the middle of this century to the end of the next. Also, seemingly contradictory outcomes were produced by the two climate models selected for making the climate projections, casting some lingering doubt on the overall value and utility of the results for decision makers at the local, regional, and national levels. Various regional and resource-focused assessments are now available at the USGCRP website http://www.nacc.usgcrp.gov. A final synthesis report by the NAST, of the same title and consisting of an overview of all of the regional and sectoral studies, was released in December 2000.
In August 2000, NASA scientist James Hansen suggested that climate change benefits could be achieved through near-term regulation of non-CO2 greenhouse gases. He proposed that reducing emissions of halocarbons (refrigerants), methane, nitrogen oxides, and carbon-black aerosols (soot) could have the effect of reducing ozone (smog), in the troposphere, which itself is a greenhouse gas. Non-CO2 greenhouse gases have relatively short atmospheric lifetimes compared with CO2; however, most have a much larger global warming potential (gwp). This would suggest that controlling emissions of these greenhouse gases could reduce the rate and overall amount of climate warming from greenhouse gases, leaving only that expected from long-term CO2 emissions whose full effects would not be realized for another 75-100 years hence. Nevertheless, Hansen emphasized that any actions to reduce emissions of these gases would need to be taken concomitantly with long-term strategies to reduce CO2. Hansen also noted that modest gains from reducing CO2 and non-CO2 emissions in the near-term could be achieved primarily through cleaner energy production.
The prospect of global warming from an increase in greenhouse gases has become a major science policy issue during the past 15 years. Seeking answers to a number of questions -- How much warming?...How soon?...Should we worry? -- a growing number of policymakers continue to debate the advantages and disadvantages of an active governmental role in forging policies to address prospective climate change. How real is the human-induced global warming threat? Another 10-15 years of continued warming might validate the scientific projections, but many scientists caution that waiting for this added assurance might put society at risk for a larger dose of climate change than if actions to curb or slow the buildup of greenhouse gases were implemented now. But actions on what scale?
Policymakers, here and abroad, are counseling cautious courses of action to address the prospect of climate change that many believe is still theoretical and cannot be foreseen with confidence. Given uncertainties about the timing, pace, and magnitude of global warming projections and the imprecise nature of the regional distribution of possible climate changes, and recognizing the complex feedback mechanisms within the climate system that could mask, mimic, moderate, amplify, or even reverse a greenhouse-gas-induced warming, the question is posed: What policy responses, if any, are indicated, now, or in the future?
Many proponents for early actions to address potential climate change have suggested adopting a "precautionary principle" comprised of a number of anticipatory, yet flexible policy responses that might be likened to the purchase of an insurance policy to hedge against some risks of potential climate change in the future. Broader national responses might range from engineering countermeasures, to passive adaptation, to prevention, and pursuit of an international law of the atmosphere. One policy widely advocated by President Bush in the early 1990s, and to some degree implemented to date, is the so-called "no regrets" approach, which in theory would not only reduce emissions of greenhouse gases but provide other benefits to society as well. Such policy options stress energy efficiency and conservation, increased renewable energy use, planting trees to enhance CO2 sequestration from the atmosphere, and substitution of lesser or non-CO2 producing fuels. Many scientists suggest that early actions might buy time to gain a better understanding of global climate change and perhaps reduce possible negative impacts attributable to human-induced climate change, should they occur.
On October 19, 1993, President Clinton released his Climate Change Action Plan (CCAP), which proposed voluntary domestic measures to attain greenhouse gas emissions stabilization as outlined under the terms of the U.N. FCCC (see International Action). The CCAP reflected the President's own goals to stabilize U.S. emissions at 1990 levels by the year 2000, and called for a comprehensive suite of voluntary measures by industry, utilities and other large-scale energy users. CCAP stressed energy-efficiency upgrades through new building codes in residential and commercial sectors, and other improvements in energy generating or using technologies. Large-scale tree planting and forest reserves were encouraged to enhance sequestration of carbon dioxide and to conserve energy. Other aspects of the plan addressed mitigation of greenhouse gases other than CO2. By avoiding mandatory command and control measures, CCAP, in one sense, appeared to be moving aggressively to implement "no-regrets" policies endorsed by former President Bush.
However, periodically, the Clinton Administration hinted at stronger regulatory actions; and some economists have suggested implementation of some form of carbon (or other energy use) tax to deter fossil fuel consumption. However, national energy taxes have historically proven to be controversial with U.S. energy producers and consumers alike. In deliberations over U.S. policy in international negotiations on global climate change, some trade groups and labor unions representing America's heavy industry, utility, and agricultural sectors have been some of the strongest vocal opponents of regulation of CO2 emissions, claiming their members would bear the greatest economic burden of regulating fossil fuel emissions. These organizations project the loss of many American jobs to countries which would not be required to impose as strong environmental regulations, and have expressed opposition to any effort by the President to commit to greenhouse gas reductions that are not supported by sound scientific and economic analysis. Such interest groups, and some Members of Congress, have continued to challenge greenhouse gas control proposals under the 1997 U.N. Kyoto Protocol that would not apply to developing countries in kind, and, consequently, many of the same are opposed to U.S. ratification of the Protocol.
Not all business/industry-related organizations, are of the same opinion, however. Some industries see an opportunity to develop and market environmental "friendly" technologies to be marketed internationally, or to switch to less CO2-intensive fossil fuels, expand renewable and alternative energy resources for power generation, and expand use of nuclear power. Also, In efforts to garner support for or against Kyoto Protocol ratification, petitions have been circulated to thousands of scientists by major interest groups with differing views on the treaty.
Clinton Administration climate change policy encouraged voluntary efforts by government, industry and citizens alike which emphasize flexibility in achieving U.S. greenhouse gas emissions goals, taking into account where global emissions occur and when such reductions would be the most economically feasible. This policy addressed the life cycle and potential market of new capital equipment, e.g., energy generating technologies, that might portend savings in energy costs while enabling concomitant emissions reductions. In concert with the when and where policy, is joint implementation that would allow industrialized countries to share credits for emissions reduction with developing host countries. The latest dimension of the "flexible" policy response was the what factor, which U.S. representatives characterize as, choosing what off-the-shelf mitigation technologies, or what adaptation strategies may make the most sense to develop and utilize it now where and when feasible. While some economists have suggested that stronger climate protection measures could actually benefit the U.S. economy, by providing economic growth and employment, others such as WEFA (formerly, Wharton Economic Forecast Associates) have projected dire economic consequences, including major loss of GDP, and often conflicting results supporting both sides of the issue have depended upon what assumptions underlay their respective economic models.
On November 12, 1998, President Clinton instructed a representative to sign the Kyoto Protocol to "lock-in" U.S. interests achieved during negotiations. This act drew protest by some in Congress. Some Members claimed Clinton action was in violation of the June 1997 Byrd/Hagel Resolution (S.Res. 98) that required an economic analysis of legally binding emission reductions on the United States, as well as participation of all FCCC parties, including developing countries. The President announced he would continue to pursue"meaningful" commitments from key developing countries before he would send the treaty to the Senate.
The Clinton Administration did release an economic analysis (July 1998), prepared by the Council of Economic Advisors, that concluded that with emissions trading among the Annex B-countries, and participation of key developing countries in the "Clean Development Mechanism" -- which grants the latter business-as-usual emissions rates through 2012 -- the costs of implementing the Kyoto Protocol could be reduced as much as 60% from many estimates. Other economic analyses, however, prepared by the Congressional Budget Office and the DOE Energy Information Administration (EIA), and others, demonstrated a potentially large loss of GDP from implementing the Protocol. Some have questioned the "hot air issue" surrounding proposed emission trading credits from joint implementation (JI) and whether these would actually be available for trade, especially in light of Eastern and Central Europe's and some countries of former Soviet Union's desire to resume rapid economic development. Furthermore, at the Ministerial session at COP-5, the EU demanded that industrialized nations' greenhouse gas emissions be reduced domestically first, in effect imposing a cap on emissions credits granted for developing county projects under JI. This continues to be a contentious topic of debate during Kyoto Protocol negotiations.
On June 3, 1999, President Clinton issued Executive Order (E.O.) No. 13123, that called for a "Greening the Government Through Efficient Energy Use." The Department of Energy has since announced that efforts under this E.O., along with other voluntary climate change initiatives undertaken to date, have helped the United States reduce its overall greenhouse emissions by as much as 19% below 1990 levels, well ahead of the timetable proposed by the Kyoto Protocol.
On November 11, 2000, President Clinton issued a statement on "Meeting the Challenge of Global Warming" in response to the results of the report: Climate Change Impacts on the United States: The Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change (see http://www.gcrio.org/National Assessment/). In his statement, President Clinton said he would promulgate new regulations for U.S. electric power plants, imposing emissions caps on sulphur, nitrogen oxides, mercury, and CO2. He also called for establishment of a domestic emissions trading program and promised a continued U.S. leadership role in climate change to set an example for other industrialized countries. Clinton announced he would take such steps as necessary to keep the United States on target for meeting Kyoto Protocol goals, if certain concessions were made regarding international adoption of flexible mechanisms such as emissions trading, the clean development mechanism (CDM), credit for carbon sinks, and accountable, legally-binding, compliance mechanisms.
The United States was involved in negotiations and international scientific research on climate change prior to ratifying the 1992 U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC). This included passage of a National Climate Program Act of 1978 (P.L. 95-367). These activities are discussed in CRS Report RL30522, Global Climate Change: A Survey of Scientific Research and Policy Reports, also in which early aspects of the scientific debate and a chronology of U.S. government involvement in climate change policy are featured.
The U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC) was opened for signature at the 1992 UNCED conference in Rio de Janeiro ("The Earth Summit"). On June 12, 1992, the United States, along with 153 other nations, signed the FCCC, that contained a legal framework that upon ratification committed signatories' governments to a voluntary "non-binding aim" to reduce atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases with the goal of "preventing dangerous anthropogenic interference with Earth's climate system." These actions were aimed primarily at industrialized countries, with the intention of stabilizing their emissions of greenhouse gases at 1990 levels by the year 2000; and other responsibilities would be incumbent upon all FCCC parties. On September 8, 1992, President Bush transmitted the FCCC for advice and consent of the U.S. Senate to ratification. The Foreign Relations Committee endorsed the treaty and reported it (Senate Exec. Rept. 102-55) October 1, 1992. The Senate consented to ratification on October 7, 1992, with a two-thirds majority vote. President Bush signed the instrument of ratification October 13, 1992, and deposited it with the U.N. Secretary General. According to terms of the FCCC, having received over 50 countries' instruments of ratification, it entered into force March 24, 1994.
Seeking grounds for a uniform approach toward climate protection, the Conference of Parties (COP) to FCCC met for the first time in Berlin, Germany in the spring of 1995, and voiced concerns about the adequacy of countries' abilities to meet commitments under the Convention. These were expressed in a U.N. ministerial declaration known as the "Berlin Mandate," which established a 2-year Analytical and Assessment Phase (AAP), to negotiate a "comprehensive menu of actions" for countries to pick from and choose future options to address climate change which for them, individually, made the best economic and environmental sense. Criticism was leveled by many industrialized countries, including the United States, at newly industrializing countries, such as Brazil, India, and China. These would continue to be classified as non-Annex I countries and enjoy exemption from any future, legally binding emissions reduction agreements even though, collectively, these would be the world's largest emitters of greenhouse gas emissions 15 years hence. (See, CRS Report 96-699, Global Climate Change: Adequacy of Commitments Under the U.N. Framework Convention and the Berlin Mandate.)
The Second Conference of Parties to the FCCC (COP-2) met in July 1996 in Geneva, Switzerland. Its Ministerial Declaration was adopted July 18, 1996, and reflected a U.S. position statement presented by Timothy Wirth, former Under Secretary for Global Affairs for the U.S. State Department at that meeting, which 1) accepted outright the scientific findings on climate change proffered by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its second assessment (1995); 2) rejected uniform "harmonized policies" in favor of flexibility; and 3) called for "legally binding mid-term targets." Legally, the Declaration represented a consensus that parties to the FCCC would not object to a "future decision which would be binding on all parties," opening the door for a possible international regulatory protocol. Individual party's objections were recorded.
The Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was adopted by the COP, in December 1997 in Kyoto, Japan, one day after the official session ended. Most industrialized nations and some central European economies in transition (all defined as Annex B countries) agreed to legally binding reductions in greenhouse gas emissions of an average of 6%-8% below 1990 levels between the years 2008-2012, defined as the first emissions budget period. The United States would be required to reduce its total emissions an average of 7% below 1990 levels. (For more details, see CRS Report RL30692: Global Climate Change: The Kyoto Protocol.)
The Clinton Administration initiated funding efforts to address climate change, and in the FY2001 budget requested funding for a Climate Change Technology Initiative (CCTI) first introduced in his FY1999 budget. Somewhat reduced funding for the climate technology initiatives was received in previous years. (See CRS Report RL30452. Climate Change Technology Initiative (CCTI): R&D and Related Programs.)
COP-4 took place in Buenos Aires in November 1998. Here, FCCC parties adopted a 2-year "Plan of Action" to advance efforts and to devise mechanisms for implementing the Kyoto Protocol. FCCC parties also addressed compliance and financial response mechanisms to encourage more developing countries to sign on to the protocol. Talks on compliance stressed a front end "qualifying" approach rather than "sanctions and punitive measures," as the European Union (EU), and the U.S. had originally, supported. (That is, parties must be in compliance with existing commitments to take part in emissions trading and joint implementation. This meant being accepted for Annex-B status and committed to terms of the Kyoto Protocol. On the other hand, few restrictions would apply for developing countries wishing to participate in the "clean development mechanism." Work continued at COP-4 to determine how to calculate emissions reductions from strengthening "carbon sinks," and devising technical definitions for sink capacity of current forest, vegetation, and land-use practices.
The 5th Conference of Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change met in Bonn, Germany, between October 25 and November 4, 1998. COP-5 included sessions of the Subsidiary Bodies on Implementation and Science and Technology and a two-day ministerial session. Major themes of negotiations included devising the technical and political mechanisms, such as the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), Joint Implementation (JI), and developing criterial for project eligibility, all processes that would allow both developed and developing countries to meet their respective responsibilities under the FCCC, and 1997 Kyoto Protocol, with optimum flexibility. Also under consideration were legally-binding consequences for non-compliance of parties under the voluntary FCCC. This action, in and of itself, would require an amendment to the Kyoto Protocol, as well as establishment of a COP-certified national inventorying systems to track international greenhouse gas emissions and their reduction. Parties adopted a decision for a second round of national communications and emissions reporting (for Annex I countries); so that updated data and information could be used to inform upcoming negotiations at COP-6.
The Sixth Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP-6) convened November 13-25, 2000. Despite a major impasse reached at this session for final implementation of the Kyoto Protocol, a number of FCCC parties expressed confidence that progress was made in resolving a number of technical issues associated with the Kyoto Protocol. Throughout the session, however, the United States and European Union (EU) parties remained at odds over a number of issues, particularly credit for carbon absorbed by forests and agricultural lands. Talks continued in Ottawa, Canada during the first week of December 2000, but no further agreements were reached.
Throughout COP-6 many parties discussed the development of mechanisms by which Annex B countries under the Kyoto Protocol might trade emissions credits and pursue flexible response strategies such as international joint implementation among industrialized (Annex 1) countries; and also develop a clean development mechanisms (CDM) funded by industrialized countries, to facilitate economic development that would be less greenhouse-gas intensive or to bring about greenhouse gas reductions.
However, negotiations faltered when the EU charged that the United States stood to enjoy a "number of loopholes" under the agreement negotiated thus far and would lessen the former's respective burden of domestic emissions reductions. Instead, the EU sought to impose certain limits on the use of these flexibility mechanisms. Otherwise, the EU claimed that little would be accomplished in terms of environmental improvement if the United States failed to rein-in its contributions of greenhouse gas emissions (24% of the total). U.S. negotiators countered that U.S. emissions growth had been stemmed significantly over the past 10 years, growth was occurring elsewhere, and that emissions reductions should be counted no matter where in the world they occur or how they are achieved. Also under debate was whether some U.S. proposals would achieve any real emissions reductions. For example, the EU consistently criticized the United States for its proposal to pay Russia and Central European countries for their rights for emissions, if surplus credits were eventually granted to the latter, under Annex B of the Kyoto Protocol.
Already, a number of industrialized countries, including the U.S. and the "Umbrella Group" consisting of Japan, U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, the Ukraine and Norway, and their major industries, are proposing domestic systems for emissions trading, which might at some point, negotiators claim, serve as a model for an international trading regime under an international agreement sanctioned by UNFCCC parties. The EU has its own proposal for such a scheme, known as the "EU Bubble."
Major environmental interests continue to oppose any agreement that would not take strong international legally binding regulatory action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. On the other hand, many reputable scientists feel that the scientific evidence about climate change has been compelling enough for world leaders to accept the likelihood of climate change. To reduce the apparent human contribution, they believe, can only be done by reducing atmospheric emissions of greenhouse gases under an international regulatory regime. However, there remain skeptics of global warming who continue to question whether any action is necessary based upon their interpretation of the scientific data.
The Kyoto Protocol has been signed but not ratified by the United States and is still a long way from meeting the criteria established by the COP necessary for its entry into force, and there are a number of details, especially related to the flexibility mechanisms that are under discussion. Some of these include: 1) deciding terms under which parties will be able to participate in flexibility mechanisms; 2) determining the adequacy of current commitments of parties under the FCCC; 3) establishing rules for the consequences, if any, for non-compliance under a prospective protocol; 4) determining how limits can be applied to the amount of emissions credits earned by any one country should be capped, if resulting in nothing more than a zero-sum gain for global emissions reductions; 5) where and when carbon sink credits might be taken; and 6) whether activities primarily taken in a host country should be credited in the absence of any domestic efforts (the so-called "additionality" argument) - and the crux of the EU's resistance to U.S. flexibility mechanisms.
Soon after taking office, the Bush Administration had asked for a delay in resumption of COP-6 negotiations to allow time for consideration of its approach and policies. Talks were accordingly scheduled for the second half of July. However, in late March, the Bush Administration indicated its opposition to the Kyoto Protocol, and created widespread concern among the EU nations by essentially rejecting it, citing lack of developing country participation and possible harm to the U.S. economy, especially in light of current energy problems. This followed extensive press attention to, first, statements by the EPA Administrator that-pursuant to campaign statements by then-candidate George W. Bush-carbon dioxide would be included in a multi-pollutant regulatory effort; and then a repudiation of that position and clarification by President Bush and Administration spokespersons that carbon dioxide would not be regulated.
President Bush made a policy statement in mid-June, following a cabinet-level review of climate change options, in which he outlined the U.S. approach as rejecting the Kyoto Protocol and favoring voluntary actions, increased scientific research, and market mechanisms. This preceded his trip to Europe for meetings with European heads of state, which ended with statements that Europe and the United States "agree to disagree" on climate change approaches.
The Europeans then announced their intentions to proceed with ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, while President Bush indicated the United States will continue to participate in negotiations of the UNFCCC parties in order to pursue its objectives. When talks resumed among UNFCCC parties at "COP-6 bis" in mid-July in Bonn, Germany, the United States delegation did not make new proposals and declined to participate in discussions about the Kyoto Protocol; it stayed on the sidelines as observers. The other COP-6 parties surprised many observers by engaging in high-level negotiations in overnight sessions that resulted in agreement on nearly all of the most contentious issues, including significant use of carbon sinks, establishing a compliance mechanism, and disallowing credit for nuclear facilities.
When the UNFCCC parties meet again at COP-7 in Marrakech, Morocco, October 29- November 9, 2001, the remaining details making the COP-6 decisions operational will need to be finalized; various U.S. officials have made somewhat contradictory statements as to whether or not the United States will bring to that meeting a proposal for an alternative or revisions to the Kyoto Protocol. It remains to be seen how successful the Kyoto signatories will be in ratifying the Kyoto Protocol and reaching the threshold for it to enter into force without the United States. At the very least, even if all the other Annex I countries were to ratify the Protocol, and it entered into force, the collective 5% reduction in emissions that is the Protocol's goal would not be possible without the United States, which emits some 25% of greenhouse gases.
For a review of legislative activities in the 100th - 102nd Congresses, see CRS Report 93-445 SPR: Global Climate Change Legislation: A Review of the 102nd Congress. Recent legislation and other related information on global climate change may also be found in the CRS Electronic Briefing Book, Global Climate Change at.
New scientific findings concerning the human contribution to climate change emerged during expert review of the third IPCC assessment on climate change; recently the overall projections of temperature and sea-level rise made in the 1995 IPCC Assessment were estimated to be higher than previously reported, and mostly on the high end of predictions. The IPCC has also suggested that it may be prudent to consider other potential greenhouse gases not slated to be regulated by the Kyoto Protocol, and also to account for potential indirect climatic change effects that may be attributable to other atmospheric emissions (e.g., replacements for ozone depleting substances).
On January 13, 2000, the National Research Council released a report which attempted to reconcile different surface and atmospheric temperature trends and the implication for global climate change models (GCMs), and confirmed a positive temperature trend at the surface since 1970. On November 10, 2000, the USGCRP released its assessment of the potential consequences of climate change impacts on the United States; the results, the National Assessment Synthesis team called for action to address potential significant regional climate changes in the United States resulting from global climate change. Also, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has this year released its Third Assessment Report on Climate Change. These three reports, and many other issues stated above, have succeeded in drawing the interest of House and Senate Members and the attention of committees of relevant jurisdiction in the 107th Congress.
Note: As in the previous two Congresses, language has been included in several appropriations bills, to prohibit activities that would have the effect of implementing the Kyoto Protocol. Also, a number of bills on energy, especially those with provisions encouraging or authorizing energy efficiency and alternative energy sources, are relevant to climate change and in some cases directly reference reductions in greenhouse gases as benefits or goals. See the Legislation section of CRS Issue Brief IB10041, Renewable Energy: Tax Credit, Budget and Electricity Production Issues; CRS Issue Brief IB10020, Energy Efficiency: Budget, Oil Conservation, and Electricity Conservation Issues; and CRS Report RL31044 (pdf), Renewable Energy Legislation in the 107th Congress.
H.R. 1335 (Allen)
H.R. 1646 (Hyde)
H.Res. 117 (Lee,
S. 388 and S. 389 (Murkowski)
S. 597 (Bingaman)
S. 769 (Brownback)
S. 785 (Brownback)
S. 820 (Wyden)
S. 1008 (Byrd)
S. 1293 (Craig)
S. 1294 (Murkowski)
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