Leading Source on Global Warming Issues Eileen Claussen Provides Data-Based Information to Inform Federal Decision Makers

Leading Source on Global Warming Issues--Eileen Claussen--Provides Data-Based Information to Inform Federal Decision Makers

Question and Answer with The Pew Charitable Trusts

July 2002

PEW WIRE: Is human-induced climate change occurring? What scientific evidence exists to substantiate this and what are some anticipated effects of climate change?

CLAUSSEN: Multiple lines of evidence provide independent validation of the reality of anthropogenic climate change. Scientists have observed warming over the past century in the atmosphere, at the earth's surface, and in the oceans as well. These trends cannot be explained without considering increasing atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations--including those generated from human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation. In conjunction with this warming, scientists are also seeing increases in precipitation, retreat of glaciers around the world, reductions in Arctic sea-ice, and the continuation of a long upward trend in global sea-level. There is also some evidence that the world's wildlife are starting to respond to the warming such as earlier reproduction times in plants and animals and changes in the geographic distribution of some species.

PEW WIRE: Can you recap of the political history of climate change?

CLAUSSEN: Governments launched the international effort against climate change with signing in 1992, at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janiero, of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The convention set an ultimate objective of stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. Developed countries, agreeing to take the lead, adopted a non-binding aim of returning their emissions to 1990 levels by 2000.

Three years later, recognizing that the voluntary target was insufficient and that most countries would not meet it, parties to the Convention agreed to negotiate new, binding targets for developed countries. Five months before the negotiations were to conclude, in July 1997, the U.S. Senate adopted the BrydHagel resolution, saying the United States should not sign a binding treaty if it would cause undue economic harm or did not include new commitments for developing countries. In December 1997, the Clinton administration agreed to the Kyoto Protocol, setting binding targets for developed countries only (for the United States, 7 percent below 1990 emissions by 2008-2012). (Countries included in Annex B to the Kyoto Protocol and their emission targets.) However, President Clinton did not submit Kyoto to the Senate for ratification.

Shortly after taking office, President Bush rejected the Kyoto Protocol. Despite the U.S. withdrawal, other countries are moving ahead with Kyoto. Japan and the European Union have ratified the Protocol, and Russia is expected to within the next year, meeting the necessary threshold for bringing the treaty into force. In February, President Bush presented a new climate change strategy with a non-binding target of reducing U.S. greenhouse gas intensity (define) 18 percent by 2010. However, this target essentially continues the trends in greenhouse gas intensity reduction seen over the past two decades and translates into a 12 percent increase in actual emissions. It would allow U.S. emissions to rise to 30 percent above 1990 levels by 2010. Click here to view the Pew Center's analysis of President Bush's climate change plan.

PEW WIRE: How does the Pew Center fit into the climate change puzzle?

CLAUSSEN: The Pew Center on Global Climate change is dedicated to providing credible information, straight answers, and innovative solutions in the effort to address global climate change. Established in 1998, the independent, non-profit, nonpartisan Pew Center has become the leading voice for concrete, cost-effective action against climate change. We work with top scientists and economists to unravel the complexities of climate change and with government leaders in Washington and abroad to put in place both policy and practical solutions. The Pew Center also works with leading corporations to develop solutions that are both practical and effective. The 38 members of the Business Environmental Leadership Council come together through the Pew Center to develop and share climate change strategies, with a principal focus on market-based approaches. Companies also set emissions reduction targets. BP, for example, met its target to reduce GHG emissions by 10% from 1990 levels in 2010 seven years early and Dupont will reduce emissions by 65% below 1990 levels by 2010. All these facets of the Pew Center mission contribute to our goal of providing a smooth transition to a clean energy economy that ensures both a stable climate and strong, sustainable growth. View a full list of policy, economic, and scientific analysis and reports.

PEW WIRE: Taking into account the political, scientific and economic aspects of climate change, why is now a particularly good time to begin seriously addressing climate change issues?

CLAUSSEN: An immediate signal that initiates action is required in order to provide a smooth and cost-effective transition to a stable concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere--a challenge that will take decades, if not generations, to address. A recent Pew Center brief, The Timing of Climate Change Policy, identifies many compelling reasons to begin taking action now, including: the substantial future climate change that is already inevitable and its potential to generate serious environmental impacts; the opportunity to learn about the economys responsiveness in order to construct an optimal policy path over time; the need to manage possible future GDP losses; and the need to provide time and incentives for a broadly-based technological response to the problem.

The argument that delay is the best strategy for addressing global climate change runs counter to what we understand about technology, the economy and climate science itself. It risks allowing significant escalation of the problem while providing little in the way of a momentum towards a long-term solution. In contrast, moving forward with a real and rational program to reduce greenhouse gases allows us to address this challenge in a way that is timely, consistent, meaningful, and cost-effective. Learning by doing is essential to addressing an issue as complex as climate change, and so we must begin to test approaches now.

PEW WIRE: Looking to the future, what are some effective first steps in reducing emissions?

CLAUSSEN: A mandatory GHG reporting and disclosure program would be an effective first step in any domestic GHG reduction program. Similar to the federal Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) program, a mandatory GHG reporting program would apply to all major sources of GHG emissions and require disclosure of their reports to the public. Such a reporting program would: (1) provide a solid foundation for a U.S. program to reduce GHG emissions, (2) provide the basis for government assurances that companies would not be penalized for their early reductions under a future climate policy, and (3) potentially create a powerful incentive for voluntary reductions. The program should be comprehensive, but should be implemented in phases to allow for the development of widely accepted and sound reporting protocols.

The 107th U.S. Congress has acted upon legislation regarding the tracking and reporting of GHG emissions. Other legislation being considered would require development of a U.S. National Climate Change Strategy with the goal of stabilizing atmospheric GHG concentrations.

In the long-term, an effective emissions reduction program should couple mandatory greenhouse gas reductions with technology development and market mechanisms. Such a program should promote new technologies and practices and provide a foundation upon which to secure long-term emissions reductions (e.g., through a program that caps GHG emissions but allows for trading among entities subject to the cap). Moving forward with a real and rational program to reduce GHGs will allow us to address this challenge in a way that is timely, consistent, meaningful, and cost-effective.