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FYI Number 73: June 19, 2002

New Administration Report Cites Human Role in Global Warming

Echoing a National Academy of Sciences report from last year, the Administration's new "U.S. Climate Action Report - 2002" states that "Greenhouse gases are accumulating in Earth's atmosphere as a result of human activities, causing global mean surface air temperature and subsurface ocean temperature to rise." It continues, "While the changes observed over the last several decades are likely due mostly to human activities, we cannot rule out that some significant part is also a reflection of natural variability." If the effects of President Bush's February 2002 climate change initiative are not taken into account, the Climate Action Report also finds that "total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions are projected to increase by 43 percent between 2000 and 2020," although emissions per unit GDP are expected to decline.

Prepared by the Environmental Protection Agency and submitted to the United Nations, the Climate Action Report reviews the policies already in place and the Bush Administration's proposals for dealing with climate change, including those in the National Energy Policy. Chapters of the report also look at the nation's climate, geography and population, trends in greenhouse gas emissions and projections of future emissions, potential consequences and possible adaptations, ongoing research, and technologies and financial resources to address climate change.

Last year, after release of the National Academy report, President Bush acknowledged that "the surface temperature of the earth is warming," and that the Academy's findings "indicate that the increase is due in large part to human activity." Yet he cautioned that the effects of natural climate fluctuations are unknown, and "no one can say with any certainty what constitutes a dangerous level of warming, and therefore what level must be avoided."

Assuming that continued growth in greenhouse gas emissions would lead to an average temperature rise in the contiguous United States of 3 - 5 degrees C during this century, the new Climate Action Report takes a comprehensive look at how continued warming might impact - both positively and negatively - various regions of the country. It finds that "A few ecosystems, such as alpine meadows in the Rocky Mountains and some barrier islands, are likely to disappear entirely in some areas. Other ecosystems, such as southeastern forests, are likely to experience major species shifts or break up into a mosaic of grasslands, woodlands, and forests. Some of the goods and services lost through the disappearance or fragmentation of natural ecosystems are likely to be costly or impossible to replace." Among other findings, "Climate change and the resulting rise in sea level are likely to exacerbate threats to buildings, roads, power lines, and other infrastructure in climate-sensitive areas. For example, infrastructure damage is expected to result from permafrost melting in Alaska and from sea level rise and storm surges in low-lying coastal areas."

Bush's plans to address climate change, the report says, include "a commitment to reduce greenhouse gas intensity in the United States by 18 percent over the next decade through a combination of voluntary, incentive-based, and existing mandatory measures. This represents a 4.5 percent reduction from forecast emissions in 2012, a serious, sensible, and science-based response to this global problem." Proposed new measures include enhancing the emission reduction registry, creating transferable emission reduction credits, providing tax incentives for investing in low- emission equipment, establishing emission reduction agreements with particular industry sectors, supporting R&D on energy efficiency and sequestration technologies, and working with other countries. The Administration would review its progress in 2012 "to determine if additional steps may be needed."

In his speech last year, Bush referred to the Kyoto Protocol as "fatally flawed." The new Climate Action Report continues this opposition to the Kyoto agreement. According to the report, the Administration's climate change strategies "are expected to achieve emission reductions comparable to the average reductions prescribed by the Kyoto agreement, but without the threats to economic growth that rigid national emission limits would bring." The report states, "we seek an environmentally sound approach that will not harm the U.S. economy.... In the real world, no one will forego meeting basic family needs to protect the global commons."

The"U.S. Climate Action Report - 2002: Third National Communication of the United States of America Under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change," which runs approximately 250 pages including appendices, is available for reading online at http://www.epa.gov/globalwarming/publications/car/index.html.

Audrey T. Leath
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
fyi@aip.org
(301) 209-3094

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