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CLIMATE CHANGE

Rising global temperatures are unquestionably caused by the increase of greenhouse gas emissions
from human activities, especially burning fossil fuels. Most governments around the world
recognize the serious consequences of global climate change: rising sea levels, droughts, and serious
economic distress. They are attacking the problem with insight and innovation. The U.S.
government is not among them, but telling action by many states around the country points the way
forward. The federal government should embrace those moves and take the lead in further
international efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

I. KEY FACTS
The Global Warming Debate Is Over
¾ Scientists agree. The United States’ most distinguished scientific bodies and professional
organizations, including the National Academies of Science, the American Association for the
Advancement of Science, the American Geophysical Union, and the American Meteorological
Society, have all issued statements acknowledging the compelling scientific evidence of
human interference with climate. Not a single peer-reviewed study conducted between 1993
and 2003 challenged the consensus that the earth’s temperature is rising due to human activity.
[National Academies, 2005; AAAS, “Climate Change,” 2000; AGU, “Human Impacts on Climate,” 2003; AMS,
“Climate Change Research,” 2003; Science, December 2004]

Rising Temperatures Are Dangerous and Costly


¾ Carbon dioxide concentration continues to rise. Human activities, especially the burning of
fossil fuels, continue to increase the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other
greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at an unprecedented rate, reaching levels the Earth hasn’t
experienced for 650,000 years. During 2005, global CO2 concentration averaged 378.9 parts
per million (ppm), compared to a 278 ppm average before the Industrial Revolution. In 2004,
90% of the U.S’s CO2 emissions came from the burning of fossil fuels. [NOAA, “Greenhouse Gas
Index,” May 2006; EPA: The U.S. Inventory of Greenhouse Gases and Sinks, April 2006 (PDF)]
¾ Change is evident across the planet. Scientists estimate that the Earth has warmed nearly
1.5°F over the last century. In that time, we have seen sea levels rise, snow cover decrease,
mountain glaciers and sea ice retreat, and droughts increase. 2005 tied 1998 as the hottest year
since 1880. All the rest of the top five hottest years have occurred since 2000. Temperatures
could increase even further, rising 2.5 to 10.4°F by the end of the century if we allow the CO2
concentration to double what it was before the Industrial Revolution. [NASA, “GISS Surface
Temperature Analysis,” 2006; IPCC: Synthesis Report, 2001 (PDF)]
¾ Rising temperatures will compound these dangers. Climate scientists predict that a 1.8°F
rise, which could occur within 25 years, could lead to food production declines, water
shortages, and declining economic growth in developing countries. With a 3.6°F rise, which
could occur before 2050, scientists predict substantial losses of Arctic sea ice, widespread
bleaching of coral reefs, more frequent forest fires, and rivers that may become too warm to
support certain fish. In the developing world, another 1.5 billion people could face water
shortages and profound economic distress. A 5.4°F rise, which could occur before 2070, could
lead to irreversible damage to the Amazon rainforest, total destruction of many of the world’s
coral reefs, 5.5 billion people living in regions with crop losses, and three billion at risk of
water shortages. Temperature rises of this degree would also jeopardize the Greenland and
West Antarctica ice sheets, leading to potential sea level rise of 20 feet, which would inundate
coasts around the world including the lower third of Florida. [ISSGGC: Avoiding Dangerous
Climate Change, February 2005 (PDF)]
Conservatives Continue to Prevent Progress
¾ The Bush administration ignores the problem. The United States is responsible for 25% of
global CO2 emissions, yet the Bush administration has actively denied the problem, even
resorting to censoring portions of a critical EPA report on the subject and trying to muzzle
NASA scientists. [The Sunday Observer, April 4, 2006; CBS News/Associated Press, June 19, 2003]
¾ Conservative industry-sponsored groups mislead the public. Conservative groups funded
by the big oil companies, such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute, continue to
misrepresent the science of climate change and confuse the public to prevent actions that
would harm their funders’ profits. [Think Progress, “Big Oil Launches Attack on Al Gore,” May 2006]
¾ Some conservative religious leaders offer hope. In February 2006, 86 evangelical leaders
signed a statement presenting the moral arguments for taking action to combat global warming
and have been working to educate politicians and the public since then. [NPR, February 2006;
Climate Change: An Evangelical Call to Action, February 2006]

II. CURRENT ISSUES


State of Play
¾ Senate majority supports action, but House and Bush administration stonewall. Fifty-
three Senators supported resolution language in their version of the 2005 energy bill that
affirmed the science of climate change and called for a mandatory cap-and-trade program for
greenhouse gases. At the insistence of the House leadership and the Bush administration, this
resolution was stripped from the conference report that became law. [Senate Energy and Natural
Resources Committee, “Democratic Committee Staff Analysis,” 2005]
¾ New fuel economy rules barely make a dent. At the end of March, the White House
announced new Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards of 24.1 mpg for light
trucks. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, this miniscule bump in fuel economy
standards would save less than two weeks’ worth of gasoline each year over the next two
decades. [Union of Concerned Scientists, 3/29/06; Transportation Research Institute, July 2005]
¾ Absent national leadership, states take initiative. A bipartisan coalition of eight
Northeastern states is taking matters into their own hands, forming the Regional Greenhouse
Gas Initiative to implement a regional cap-and-trade system to control greenhouse gas
emissions. Furthermore, 22 states have enacted Renewable Portfolio Standards that require a
certain percentage or amount of electricity be produced from renewable sources. By 2017,
these standards alone will lead to reductions of 75 million metric tons of carbon dioxide — the
equivalent of taking 11.1 million cars off the road or planting trees over an area a little larger
than West Virginia. [Pew Center on Global Climate Change, “States With Renewable Portfolio Standards,”
2006; Union of Concerned Scientists, “Renewable Energy-Mitigating Global Warming,” 2006]
¾ International moves to combat global warming continue apace. The United Nations’
Climate Change Conference in December 2005 adopted more than 40 decisions, among them
the Marrakech Accords to allow the formal implementation of the Kyoto Protocol to halt
global warming. Countries participating in the Kyoto Protocol, which does not include the
U.S. because of Bush Administration opposition to the accord, also began considering future
commitments beyond the first period, which ends in 2012. [Earth Negotiations Bulletin: Summary,
December 2005 (PDF)]
¾ Businesses are not waiting. Many in the business community understand that the
consequences of inaction could be far more costly than reducing emissions now. Insurance
industry experts recently calculated that climate change could increase their losses for
hurricanes alone by 45%. Some companies are already reducing greenhouse gas emissions on
their own for the betterment of the world and their bottom lines. Multinational chemical
manufacturer DuPont, for example, reduced its emissions by 72% in 2003 from 1990 levels,
and energy giant BP reached its emission reduction goal, 10% below 1990 levels, by 1998.
Numerous studies predict the development of new industries and jobs through actions to
reduce emissions. [ES&T Online, “The Insurance Industry Prepares for Climate Change,” April 2006; Pew
Center on Global Climate Change, “BELC Company GHC Reduction Targets,” 2006; Apollo Alliance, “New
Energy for America,” 2004]

Public Opinion
¾ Majority of Americans agree with the scientists. 85% of Americans agree that the world’s
temperature has been going up over the past 100 years. [ABC News/Time/Stanford University Poll,
March 9-14, 2006]
¾ Majority of Americans concerned about global warming. 66% of Americans believe global
warming is having serious impacts now. 83% believe that global warming will be a serious
problem for the United States in the future. 85% also believe global warming will be a serious
problem for the world in the future. [CBS News/New York Times Poll, May 4-8 2006; ABC
News/Time/Stanford University Poll, March 9-14, 2006]
¾ Majority of Americans support government action. 75% of Americans favor imposing
mandatory controls on carbon dioxide emissions and other greenhouse gases. 90% support the
federal government requiring or encouraging companies and individuals to do things to reduce
global warming. [Gallup Poll, March 13-16, 2006; ABC News/Time/Stanford University Poll, March 9-14,
2006]

III. A PROGRESSIVE PLAN TO TACKLE CLIMATE


CHANGE
Set a Temperature Ceiling to Limit the Damage
¾ The U.S. should adopt the long-term objective of preventing global average temperature
from rising more than 3.6°F above pre-industrial levels to limit the damage from global
climate change.
¾ Establishing a climate objective should ensure the implementation of domestic and
international policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help businesses and institutional
investors make appropriate decisions.

Establish National Cap-and-Trade Program, Boost CAFE Standards


¾ A national cap on emissions should be established and a market for trading credits created
as soon as possible.
¾ A national program should be economy wide, protect early adopters, and include
opportunities for energy efficiency, renewable energy, and agriculture and forestry industries
to take part.
¾ The design of the program should allow for integration into international carbon credit
trading markets in the future.
¾ Reinvigorated Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards could revive what was
achieved between 1975 and 1988 – a 70% increase in fuel efficiency for new car and truck
fleets. Since then CAFE standards have been essentially stagnant, and the average efficiency
of vehicles in America has declined.

U.S. Should Lead International Climate Agreements


¾ The U.S. should play a leading role in developing a global climate framework that engages
all countries in action on climate change.
¾ The U.S. should pursue technology and trading partnerships that decrease greenhouse gas
emissions with other countries that have significant emissions.
Prepare for the Damage Already Caused by Global Warming
¾ The U.S. must develop a robust set of polices to prepare for the consequences of global
warming, including impact assessments, preparedness plans, and critical infrastructure
investment.
¾ The U.S. should also provide greater financial and technical assistance to help vulnerable
countries adapt to climate change.

(Read the International Climate Change Taskforce recommendations here.)