Meeting the Challenge of Global Climate Change

April 2000

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.


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 record.


Scientists predict a range of likely effects from global warming:


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.


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:

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.


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 same time.

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