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 preindustrial 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
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
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
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
cofiring 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
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 and renewables.
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
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 sector.
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 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
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