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Meeting the Challenge of Global Warming

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November 11, 2000

Meeting the Challenge of Global Warming

Today, in an address broadcast over the Internet, President Clinton will announce the completion of the first comprehensive assessment of the potential impacts of climate change across the United States, and will call for a comprehensive new clean air strategy that can significantly reduce emissions from U.S. power plants that contribute to global warming. On the eve of international climate change negotiations, the President also will reaffirm the U.S. commitment to work with other nations to ensure a strong, cost-effective agreement to fight global warming. The Internet address can be viewed beginning at 8: 00 a.m. today at www.whitehouse.gov.

Assessing the Potential Impacts of Climate Change on the United States. A report today to the President and Congress provides the most detailed assessment ever of ways in which climate change may affect our nation. The report, Climate Change Impacts on the United States: The Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change, was requested by Congress and undertaken by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, a federal interagency science program. The assessment is the product of three years of analysis, with contributions from hundreds of the nation's leading climate scientists. The report has been through multiple rounds of scientific peer review, and was released in draft in June for public review and comment. Key findings of the report, which can be found at www.gcrio.org/NationalAssessment/, include:

  • Increased warming. Assuming continued growth in world greenhouse gas emissions, temperatures in the United States will rise 5-9F (3-5C) on average in the next 100 years. Impacts will differ across regions of the U.S.
  • Damage to vulnerable ecosystems. Some ecosystems could be lost entirely, such as alpine meadows in the Rocky Mountains and low-lying barrier islands. Southeast forests could be displaced by grasslands, coral reefs may further decline, and losses in local biodiversity may accelerate.
  • Widespread water impacts. Climate change will impact water in every region, but the vulnerabilities vary. Many regions are very likely to experience increased droughts and floods, and changing patterns of rainfall. The West, Pacific Northwest, and Alaska could see changes in the thickness of snowpack and the timing of snowmelt. We can expect increased infrastructure damage from flooding in coastal areas and melting in permafrost areas.
  • Prudent action can ensure secure food supply and protect public health. U.S. crop productivity is very likely to increase over the next few decades, but the gains will not be uniform across the nation. Maintaining our nation's public health infrastructure, from water treatment systems to emergency shelters, will be important for minimizing the impacts of water-borne diseases, heat stress, air pollution, extreme weather events, and diseases transmitted by insects and rodents.
  • Mixed impact on forests. Forest productivity is likely to increase in the short-term as trees respond to higher carbon dioxide levels. However, over the longer term, changes in factors such as fire, insects, droughts, and disease may decrease forest productivity. Climate change will cause long-term shifts in forest species, such as sugar maples moving north out of the United States.
  • Uncertainties remain. Significant uncertainties remain in the science underlying regional climate changes and their impacts. Further research will improve understanding. Some aspects and impacts of climate change will be totally unanticipated as complex systems respond to ongoing climate change in unforeseeable ways.

A Comprehensive Approach to Limiting Pollution from Power Plants. The President today will call for a comprehensive approach to limiting harmful emissions from US electric power plants--including regulation of carbon dioxide, the largest contributor to man-made global warming. This "four pollutant" approach would establish national emissions standards, or "caps" on sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides, and mercury as well as carbon dioxide (CO2). Electricity generation is the largest source of air pollution in the U.S., releasing more than two thirds of the nation's sulfur dioxide, and approximately one third of carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and mercury emissions. These pollutants contribute to disease and premature death from smog, soot, and toxic air pollution, worsened visibility in national parks, acid rain and water pollution, and global warming. Many of these pollutants are emitted by older power plants that are specifically exempted from clean air rules.

The President will call for a flexible and market-based emissions trading program, modeled on the Clean Air Act's acid rain program, that would allow the power sector to meet these strong goals in a cost-effective way. Such an integrated strategy covering all four pollutants would provide planning certainty to the utility industry, and greatly reduce the cost of cutting the emissions on a pollutant-by-pollutant basis. This approach has strong bipartisan support in Congress and among industry leaders.

A Global Solution to a Global Problem -- Upcoming International Negotiations on Climate Change. Next week, representatives of more than 160 nations will gather in The Hague in The Netherlands to shape an international response to the world's greatest environmental challenge: global warming. In his Internet address, the President will reaffirm the strong commitment of the United States to negotiating a climate change treaty that has environmental integrity, is cost-effective, and promotes the meaningful participation of key developing countries in the fight against global warming.

In these negotiations, the United States will:

  • Seek strong, market-friendly rules to fight climate change, and oppose restrictions on the use the Kyoto Protocol's innovative flexible mechanisms, such as emissions trading;
  • Urge an airtight accounting system and binding legal consequences for failure to meet targets;
  • Seek appropriate credit for agricultural and forest sinks which help sequester carbon dioxide and therefore reduce global warming; and
  • Urge a prompt start to the Clean Development Mechanism, to help developing nations establish clean energy infrastructures, with a plan to put the rules in place necessary to ensure its workable operation and environmental integrity.

The United States is Fighting Global Warming at Home. The United States has made significant progress in reducing the growth of greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming. For example, in 1998 and 1999, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions grew by just one percent while the overall Gross Domestic Product grew by 8 percent. These figures suggest that efforts to increase energy efficiency and implement new technologies have begun to "de-link" economic growth and greenhouse gas emissions.

As part if its overall effort to fight climate change, the Administration has secured a more than 50% increase (FY 1998 to FY 2001) in annual funding for improvements in efficiency and research and development to help develop these new technologies. Research by the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles, a joint business-government program begun by Vice President Gore in 1993, has led to the development by the major automakers of cars that achieve 70 to 80 miles a gallon. The technologies developed under PNGV have also contributed to announcements by both Ford and General Motors that they will increase fuel economy in many large vehicles by 15-25% by 2005. The President has issued a series of Executive Orders to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including efforts to triple the production of bioenergy and biofuels to 10% of US energy use by 2010; to decrease oil use in government vehicles by 20 percent by 2005; and increase energy efficiency of government buildings by 35 percent by 2010.


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