U.S. Report Links Human Actions to Global Warming

WASHINGTON, DC, June 3, 2002 (ENS) - For the first time, the Bush administration has linked an increase in global warming to human activities in the United States, but maintains it will not participate in the international treaty to limit global warming, the Kyoto Protocol.

In a report to the United Nations made public on Friday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says, "Total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions are projected to increase by 43 percent between 2000 and 2020."

In "Climate Action Report 2002," the third formal U.S. communication to the UN under the Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Bush administration says, "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."

Previously the Bush administration had said the scientific evidence was not clear on whether the increasing temperature was due to human activities.

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About 75 percent of the electricity that powers U.S. homes and industries is produced by combustion of fossil fuels. (Photo courtesy Edison International)
The United States emits the largest proportion of the world's greenhouse gases, about 20 percent, mainly from the burning of coal, oil and gas in factories and power plants.

The Climate Action Report 2002 leaves no doubt that protecting the U.S. economy is a higher priority for the Bush administration than protecting the global environment.

"We seek an environmentally sound approach that will not harm the U.S. economy, which remains a critically important engine of global prosperity," the report says. "We believe that economic development is key to protecting the global environment. In the real world, no one will forego meeting basic family needs to protect the global commons."

The report emphasizes a U.S. response to global warming that relies on a voluntary approach by polluters to reducing emissions as well as research and technology, including ways to sequester the emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas linked to global warming.

"The President has committed the United States to continue this improvement and reduce intensity beyond forecast levels through enhanced voluntary measures," the report says.

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President George W. Bush (Photo courtesy The White House)
"The President has pledged to reprioritize research budgets under the National Climate Change Technology Initiative so that funds will be available to develop advanced energy and sequestration technologies," it says. "Energy policies improve efficiency and substitute cleaner fuels, while sequestration technologies will promote economic and environmentally sound methods for the capture and storage of greenhouse gases."

But still, the report forcasts a 43 percent increase in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 even after carbon sequestration is accounted for. "This increased growth in absolute emissions will be accompanied by a decline in emissions per unit of GDP," the report points out.

The U.S. Climate Action Network, a broad coalition of U.S. environmental groups, submitted comments to the EPA in December on the draft version of this report challenging its inaccuracies and misleading conclusions. "Chapters 4 and 5 include boldly inaccurate and unsubstantiated statements about the President’s National Energy Policy (NEP), claiming that 'the net impact of the NEP will likely result in appreciable future reductions in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions....' Exactly the opposite is true," the groups said.

Philip Clapp, president of the Washington, DC based group National Environmental Trust, said today this study "undercuts everything President Bush has said about global warming since he took office. He has denied global warming exists, claiming scientific uncertainty justified doing nothing to stop the problem. Now a report from his own administration says global warming is real and will have real impacts on America."

Uncertainty is still evident in the report, which mentions, "the wide range of uncertainty inherent in current model predictions" and says that, "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," a position with which the American Petroleum Institute (API) agrees.

The API is a national trade association representing 400 companies engaged in all aspects of the oil and natural gas industry. In its comments on the draft version on December 17, 2001 to Reid Harvey in the EPA's Office of Atmospheric Programs, the API stresses "the difficulty in separating natural climate changes from those changes related to human activities.”

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This false-color image of the Earth was produced on September 30, 2001 by an instrument flying aboard a NASA spacecraft. It shows where more or less heat, in the form of longwave radiation, is emanating from the top of Earth’s atmosphere. Greenhouse gases form a blanket that keeps an increasing amount of radiation trapped close to the Earth. (Image courtesy NASA)
"The good news is that the administration has accepted increasingly strong scientific evidence that human-caused global warming is occurring and costly impacts are real possibilities," said Jim DiPeso, of REP America, the national grassroots organization of Republicans for environmental protection.

"Doing nothing about global warming entails real risks," DiPeso said. "The risks include more erratic, violent weather, water supply constraints, increased frequency of deadly heat waves, and loss of important natural resources, including wetlands, estuaries, and forests."

"The bad news," said DiPeso, "is that the administration proposed nothing beyond the skimpy plan President Bush put forward earlier this year."

The EPA report and the Bush climate plan announced in February rely on a measure of greenhouse gas "intensity" by contrast with the measurements of greenhouse gas emissions that other industrialized countries have agreed to regulate under the Kyoto Protocol, an amendment to the UN Framework climate change treaty.

The report defines intensity as "energy use per unit of output - i.e., the energy intensity of our economy."

The Bush administration said in the report that its 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 was handed to the United Nations on May 28, three days before the European Commission at the 15 nations of the European Union ratified the Kyoto Protocol at UN Headquarters in New York. Now 69 countries have ratified the climate treaty and the first criterion for the treaty to become international law, ratification by a minimum of 55 countries, is achieved.

The rest of the world is moving ahead with the Kyoto Protocol regardless of the U.S. position, but the Bush administration will not participate. Earlier this month, Harlan Watson, chief U.S. climate negotiator, announced that the United States will not consider the multilateral climate treaty for the next 10 years. Watson ruled out any U.S. participation in the talks to negotiate targets for the second commitment period in 2005.

The 1997 Kyoto Protocol will not take effect until it is ratified by 55 percent of the nations responsible for at least 55 percent of the total carbon dioxide emissions in 1990. The countries that ratify must reduce emissions of carbon dioxide to an average of 5.2 percent below 1990 levels during the five year period 2008 to 2012.

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General James M. Gavin power plant in Cheshire, Ohio burns coal to generate power. (Photo courtesy Windsor Star)
Instead, the United States is relying on its own internal computations. "The U.S. plan will reduce the greenhouse gas intensity of the U.S. economy by 18 percent in 10 years. This reduction exceeds the 14 percent projected reduction in greenhouse gas intensity in the absence of the additional proposed policies and measures," the states.

The Climate Action Report 2002 claims the Bush administration is participating in a global solution to global warming.

"A global problem demands a truly participatory global response, while at the same time taking near term action that would reduce projected growth in emissions cost-effectively and enhance our ability to cope with climate change impacts," it says.

The new measures to deal with global warming announced by the Bush administration include:

And in its report to the United Nations, the U.S. promises "review of progress in 2012 to determine if additional steps may be needed — as the science justifies — to achieve further reductions in national greenhouse gas emission intensity."