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Global Climate Change and Energy Use

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Council on Environmental Quality

Global Climate Change and Energy Use

"...Climate change can bring us together around what America does best -- we innovate, we compete, we find solutions to problems, and we do it in a way that promotes entrepreneurship and strengthens the American economy. If we do it right, protecting the climate will yield not costs, but profits; not burdens, but benefits; not sacrifice, but a higher standard of living."

President Clinton, October 22, 1997

Global climate change is one of our greatest environmental challenges. Scientists warn that the steady buildup of greenhouses gases in the atmosphere will warm the planet and may cause serious disruptions. Global warming is caused by rising greenhouse gas emissions. The principal source of greenhouse gas emissions is the burning of fossil fuels to power buildings and homes, transportation, and industry. When we use energy at home -- to turn on the lights, heat or cool the house, or use an appliance -- we are causing fossil fuel to be burned just as we do when we drive a car. Energy use at home accounts for nearly 20 percent of all U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases.

Increased energy efficiency makes environmental and economic sense for the nation. Over the next decade, Americans will waste $400 billion as a result of inefficient technology, buildings and appliances. Simple, cost-effective steps to improve energy efficiency can save money, strengthen our economy, make our businesses more competitive, and significantly reduce the greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.

The Partnership for Advancing Technology in Housing (PATH) is a voluntary program that is part of President Clinton's comprehensive strategy to combat global warming through cost-effective steps that curb emissions while creating new opportunities for economic growth. PATH's goals over the next decade include dramatically improving energy efficiency -- cutting energy use by 50 percent in new homes, and by 30 percent in 15 million existing homes.

Evidence of Climate Change

The world's leading climate scientists have concluded that human activity is having a discernible impact on our climate. The average global temperature has risen 1 degree Fahrenheit over the last century. Unless action is taken to reduce emissions, concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will increase in the next century to the highest level in 50 million years. Scientists project that the planet could warm 2 to 6 degrees F over the next 100 years -- which would be faster than the last 10,000 years.

  • Nine of the last 11 years have been the hottest this century; and the 1990's were the warmest decade in 600 years.
  • Although this winter's severe El Nino cannot be directly linked to be linked to global warming, it provides a preview some of the extreme, erratic weather that can be expected more frequently as the climate changes.
  • U.S. rainfall has increased 5 to 10 percent over the last century, an increase consistent with projections of a warmer, wetter world resulting from climate change.
  • Most mountain glaciers around the world have receded significantly in the last 100 years. For example, Glacier National Park has lost 70 percent of its glaciers, and they are predicted to be completely gone by 2030.

Potential Impacts of Climate Change


  • Warmer temperatures are projected to increase fatalities from heart failure and pulmonary disease of the kind that killed 400 people in Chicago in 1995. In the next 50 years, deaths attributable to heat waves in the U.S. could double.
  • The prevalence of asthma and other respiratory illnesses, particularly among children and the elderly, is expected to increase from the additional smog caused by warmer temperatures.
  • In a warmer, wetter world, the geographic ranges for infectious diseases could significantly expand, resulting in 50 million or more additional cases of malaria a year by 2100.
Increased Costs from Flooding and Drought
  • Warmer, wetter weather means increased flooding. Recent years have shown us how vulnerable we are to such events. The 1993 Mississippi River flood caused damages of $10-20 billion, the Pacific Northwest floods in 1996-1997 resulted in $3 billion in losses, the 1997 Ohio River flood cost $1 billion, and the 1997 Red River flood in the Northern Plains caused $2 billion in losses.
  • Global warming may also mean increased drought. Large areas of the eastern and central United States would face more frequent moderate to severe droughts, particularly in the Great Plains. Damage from the Southern Plains drought of 1996 was estimated at $4 billion.
Natural Resources
  • If seas rise 20 inches over the next 100 years, as predicted, 7,000 square miles of the U.S. will be under water, with Florida and the Gulf Coast at greatest risk.
  • Changes in rain and snowfall, and increased evaporation from higher temperatures, could affect water supplies and water quality, posing threats to irrigation, fisheries, and drinking supplies.
  • Warmer temperatures will disrupt farming, reducing crop yields up to 30 percent in poorer nations already subject to famine.
  • The ideal range for some North American tree species will shift by as much as 300 miles to the north, far faster than forests can migrate naturally. This could cause profound changes in our parks and wildlife refuges and lead to further loss of species.

Energy Use and Climate Change

Carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels --accounts for 85 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming. Fossil fuels are used to power our cars, factories and utilities, and to heat and run our homes and buildings. In the United States, greenhouse emissions come from three principal sources:

  • Buildings accounts for one-third, with residential homes responsible for roughly half of those emissions.
  • Transportation, such as cars, trucks and other forms of transportation, produces roughly another third.
  • Industrial operations account for the last third. Electricity generation and use contributes a substantial portion of the emissions in both the building and industrial sectors.

Meeting the Challenge - President Clinton's Climate Change Plan

In October 1997, President Clinton put forward a responsible, balanced approach to begin meeting the challenge of global warming while protecting our economy and maintaining our international competitiveness.

U.S. leadership ensured that the international climate change agreement negotiated in Kyoto, Japan, includes strong, realistic emissions reduction targets and flexible, market-based mechanisms for achieving them. Recognizing that climate change is global problem requiring a global solution, the United States continues to work toward meaningful participation by key developing countries.

Domestically, the President is working in partnership with the private sector to encourage cost-effective, common-sense steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The President's Fiscal Year 1999 budget proposes a five-year $6.3 billion package of tax incentives and research investments to stimulate development and use of energy-efficient technologies and clean energy sources.

Partnerships with the private sector will improve energy efficiency and reduce emissions. For example:

    Partnership for Advancing Technology in Housing. One PATH goal is reducing energy use in new homes by 50 percent over the next 10 years, and by 30 percent in 15 million existing homes. By 2010, consumers could save $11 billion in energy bills per year, and carbon emissions could be reduced by almost 24 million tons per year, the amount produced by about 20 million cars.

    Energy Star Buildings. In partnership with the Clinton Administration, owners and managers of commercial buildings, including some of the nation's greatest landmarks including the Empire State Building, the World Trade Center and the Sears Tower are voluntarily committing to cut their energy use up to 30 percent.

    Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles. The Administration is working with U.S. automakers to develop a car that is affordable, attractive and three times more fuel efficient. In January, the Big Three rolled out prototypes that get more than twice the mileage of today's models --with no sacrifice in comfort, safety or performance.

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Presidential Remarks to Community Members on Climate Change

Global Climate Change and Energy Use

PATH: Advanced Housing for the 21st Century

The President's New Partnership for Housing: