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Climate change

Climate change

Report on The State Department Climate Action: Introduction and Overview

International Activities

No single country can resolve the problem of global climate change.

Recognizing this, the United States is engaged in many activities to

facilitate closer international cooperation. To this end, the U.S.

government has actively participated in international research and

assessment efforts (e.g., through the IPCC), in efforts to develop and

implement a global climate change strategy (through the FCCC Conference of

the Parties and its varied subsidiary bodies and through the Climate

Technology Initiative), and by providing financial and technical assistance

to developing countries to facilitate development of mitigation and

sequestration strategies (e.g., through the Global Environment Facility

(GEF)). Bilateral and multilateral opportunities are currently being

implemented, with some designed to capitalize on the technological

capabilities of the private sector, and others to work on a government-to-

government basis.

In the existing Convention framework, the United States has seconded

technical experts to the FCCC secretariat to help implement methodological,

technical, and technological activities. U.S. experts review national

communications of other Parties and are helping to advance the development

of methodologies for inventorying national emissions.

The United States has been active in promoting next steps under the

Convention. It has encouraged all countries to take appropriate analyses of

their own circumstances before taking action--and then act on these

analyses. It has suggested--and, where possible, has demonstrated--flexible

and robust institutional systems through which actions can be taken, such

as programs to implement emission-reduction activities jointly between

Parties, and emission-trading programs. The United States has also sought

to use its best diplomatic efforts to prod those in the international

community reluctant to act, seeking to provide assurances that the issue is

critical and warrants global attention. Through these efforts, the ongoing

negotiations are expected to successfully conclude in late 1997. The

successful implementation of the Convention and a new legal instrument will

ensure that the potential hazards of climate change will never be realized.

As a major donor to the GEF, the United States has contributed

approximately $190 million to help developing countries meet the

incremental costs of protecting the global environment. Although the United

States is behind in the voluntary payment schedule agreed upon during the

GEF replenishment adopted in 1994, plans have been made to pay off these


The principles of the U.S. development assistance strategy lie at the

heart of U.S. bilateral mitigation projects. These principles include the

concepts of conservation and cultural respect, as well as empowerment of

local citizenry. The U.S. government works primarily through the U.S.

Agency for International Development (USAID). In fact, mitigation of global

climate change is one of USAID's two global environmental priorities. Other

agencies working in the climate change field, including the Environmental

Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and

the Departments of Agriculture and Energy, are also active internationally.

Projects fit into various general categories, such as increasing the

efficiency of power operation and use, adopting renewable-energy

technologies, reducing air pollution, improving agricultural and livestock

practices, and decreasing deforestation and improving land use.

Perhaps none of the U.S. programs is as well known as the U.S. Country

Studies Program. The program is currently assisting fifty-five developing

countries and countries with economies in transition to market economies

with climate change studies intended to build human and institutional

capacity to address climate change. Through its Support for National Action

Plans, the program is supporting the preparation of national climate action

plans for eighteen developing countries, which will lay the foundation for

their national communication, as required by the FCCC. More than twenty-

five additional countries have requested similar assistance from the

Country Studies Program.

The United States is also committed to facilitating the commercial transfer

of energy-efficient and renewable-energy technologies that can help

developing countries achieve sustainable development. Under the auspices of

the Climate Technology Initiative, the U.S. has taken a lead role in a task

force on Energy Technology Networking and Capacity Building, the efforts of

which focus on increasing the availability of reliable climate change

technologies, developing options for improving access to data in developing

countries, and supporting experts in the field around the world. The United

States is also engaged in various other projects intended to help countries

with mitigation and adaptation issues. The International Activities chapter

focuses on the most important of these U.S. efforts.

Introduction and Overview

Since the historic gathering of representatives from 172 countries at

the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992, issues of environmental

protection have remained high on national and international priorities.

Climate change is one of the most visible of these issues--and one in which

some of the most significant progress has been made since the 1992 session.

Perhaps the crowning achievement in Rio was the adoption of the United

Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC). This Convention

represented a shared commitment by nations around the world to reduce the

potential risks of a major global environmental problem. Its ultimate

objective is to:

Achieve ј stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the

atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic human

interference with the climate system. Such a level should be achieved

within a time frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to

climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened, and to

enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner.

However, since the 1992 Earth Summit, the global community has found

that actions to mitigate climate change will need to be more aggressive

than anticipated. At the same time, the rationale for action has proven

more compelling. Few "Annex I" countries (the Climate Convention's term for

developed countries, including Organization for Economic Cooperation and

Development (OECD) member countries and countries with economies in

transition to market economies) have demonstrated an ability to meet the

laudable, albeit nonbinding, goal of the Convention--"to return emissions

of greenhouse gases to their 1990 levels by the end of the decade." While

voluntary programs have demonstrated that substantial reductions are

achievable at economic savings or low costs, the success of these programs

has been overshadowed by lower-than-expected energy prices as well as

higher-than-expected economic growth and electricity demand, among other


Recognizing that even the most draconian measures would likely be

insufficient to reverse the growth in greenhouse gases and return U.S.

emissions to their 1990 levels by the year 2000, new U.S. efforts are

focusing most intensively on the post-2000 period. Thus, while some new

voluntary actions have already been proposed (and are included in this

report), an effort to develop a comprehensive program to address rising

U.S. greenhouse gas emissions is being developed in the context of the

ongoing treaty negotiations and will be reported in the next U.S.


In spite of difficulties in meeting a domestic goal to return emissions

to their 1990 levels, the U.S. commitment to addressing the climate change

problem remains a high priority. President Clinton, in remarks made in

November 1996, both underlined U.S. concerns and exhorted the nations of

the world to act:

“We must work to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions. These

gases released by cars and power plants and burning forests affect our

health and our climate. They are literally warming our planet. If they

continue unabated, the consequences will be nothing short of devastating

ј. We must stand together against the threat of global warming. A

greenhouse may be a good place to raise plants; it is no place to nurture

our children. And we can avoid dangerous global warming if we begin today

and if we begin together.”

Difficulties in meeting the "aim" of the Climate Convention prompted

the international community, gathered at the first meeting of the

Conference of the Parties to the FCCC (held in Berlin, Germany, in March

1995), to agree on a new approach to addressing the climate change problem.

At their first session, the Parties decided to negotiate a new legal

instrument containing appropriate next steps under the Convention. At the

Second Conference of the Parties (COP-2), the United States expressed its

view that the new agreement should include three main elements:

a realistic and achievable binding target (instead of the hortatory goals

and nonbinding aims of the existing Convention),

flexibility in implementation, and

the participation of developing countries.

Each of these elements was included in a Ministerial Declaration agreed

to at COP-2, and the United States expects that a legal instrument

containing these elements will be one of the outcomes from the Third

Conference of the Parties, to be held in Kyoto, Japan, in December 1997.

As international negotiations continue on a new legal commitment, the

United States is assessing options for a domestic program. The results of

this analytical effort are being used to inform the U.S. negotiating

positions, and will subsequently be used to develop compliance strategies

to meet any commitments established under the new regime.

While the Parties involved in the negotiations are determining next

steps for collective action, all countries are still actively pursuing the

programs adopted earlier in the decade to control emissions. This document

describes the current U.S. program. It represents the second formal U.S.

communication under the FCCC, as required under Articles 4.2 and 12. As

with the Climate Action Report published by the United States in 1994, it

is a "freeze frame"--a look at the current moment in time in the U.S.

program. This report does not predict additional future activities. Nor is

it intended to be a substitute for existing or future decision-making

processes--whether administrative or legislative--or for additional

measures developed by or with the private sector.

This document has been developed using the methodologies and format

agreed to at the first meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the

FCCC, and modified by the second meeting of the Conference of the Parties

and by sessions of the Convention's Subsidiary Body on Scientific and

Technological Advice and the Subsidiary Body on Implementation. The United

States assumes that this communication, like those of other countries--and

like the preceding U.S. communication--will be subject to a thorough

review, and discussed in the evaluation process for the Parties of the

Convention. Even though the measures listed in this report are not expected

to reduce U.S. emissions below 1990 levels by the year 2000, the United

States believes that many of the climate change actions being implemented

have been successful at reducing emissions, send valuable signals to the

private sector, and may be appropriate models for other countries. The U.S.

experience should also ensure that future efforts are more effective in

reversing the rising trend of emissions and returning U.S. emissions to

more environmentally sustainable levels.

The Science

The 1992 Convention effort was largely predicated on the scientific and

technical information produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate

Change (IPCC) in its 1990 report. The IPCC consists of more than two

thousand of the world's best scientists with expertise in the physical,

social, and economic sciences relevant to the climate issue. The United

States stands firmly behind the IPCC's conclusions. As the actions being

taken by the United States ultimately depend on the nation's understanding

of the science, it is important to at least briefly review this information


The Earth absorbs energy from the sun in the form of solar radiation.

About one-third is reflected, and the rest is absorbed by different

components of the climate system, including the atmosphere, the oceans, the

land surface, and the biota. The incoming energy is balanced over the long

term by outgoing radiation from the Earth-atmosphere system, with outgoing

radiation taking the form of long-wave, invisible infrared energy. The

magnitude of this outgoing radiation is affected in part by the temperature

of the Earth-atmosphere system.

Several human and natural activities can change the balance between the

energy absorbed by the Earth and that emitted in the form of long-wave

infrared radiation. On the natural side, these include changes in solar

radiation (the sun's energy varies by small amounts--approximately 0.1

percent over an eleven-year cycle--and variations over longer periods also

occur). They also include volcanic eruptions, injecting huge clouds of

sulfur-containing gases, which tend to cool the Earth's surface and

atmosphere over a few years. On the human-induced side, the balance can be

changed by emissions from land-use changes and industrial practices that

add or remove "heat-trapping" or "greenhouse" gases, thus changing

atmospheric absorption of radiation.

Greenhouse gases of policy significance include carbon dioxide (CO2);

methane (CH4); nitrous oxide (N2O); the chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and

their substitutes, including hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs); the long-lived

fully fluorinated hydrocarbons, such as perfluorocarbons (PFCs); and ozone

(O3). Although most of these gases occur naturally (the exceptions are the

CFCs, their substitutes, and the long-lived PFCs), the concentrations of

all of these gases are changing as a result of human activities.

For example, the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide has risen

about 30 percent since the 1700s--an increase responsible for more than

half of the enhancement of the trapping of the infrared radiation due to

human activities. In addition to their steady rise, many of these

greenhouse gases have long atmospheric residence times (several decades to

centuries), which means that atmospheric levels of these gases will return

to preindustrial levels only if emissions are sharply reduced, and even

then only after a long time. Internationally accepted science indicates

that increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases will raise atmospheric

and oceanic temperatures and could alter associated weather and circulation


In a report synthesizing its second assessment and focusing on the

relevance of its scientific analyses to the ultimate objective of the

Convention, the IPCC concluded:

Human activities--including the burning of fossil fuels, land use, and

agriculture--are changing the atmospheric composition. Taken together, they

are projected to lead to changes in global and regional climate and climate-

related parameters, such as temperature, precipitation, and soil moisture.

Some human communities--particularly those with limited access to

mitigating technologies--are becoming more vulnerable to natural hazards

and can be expected to suffer significantly from the impacts of climate-

related changes, such as high-temperature events, floods, and droughts,

potentially resulting in fires, pest outbreaks, ecosystem loss, and an

overall reduction in the level of primary productivity.

The IPCC also concluded that, given the current trends in

emissions, global concentrations of greenhouse gases are likely to

grow significantly through the next century and beyond, and the

adverse impacts from these changes will become greater. The remainder

of this report seeks to elucidate the programs, policies, and measures

being taken in the United States to begin moving away from this trend

of increasing emissions, and to help move the world away from the

trend of globally increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases.

|Principal Conclusions of the IPCC's Second Assessment Report |

|While the basic facts about the science of climate have been |

|understood and broadly accepted for years, new information is |

|steadily emerging--and influencing the policy process. In 1995, the |

|IPCC released its Second Assessment Report, which not only validated |

|most of the IPCC's earlier findings, but because of the considerable |

|new work that had been undertaken during the five years since its |

|previous full-scale assessment, broke new ground. The report is |

|divided into three sections: physical sciences related to climate |

|impacts; adaptation and mitigation responses; and cross-cutting |

|issues, including economics and social sciences. |

|The Climate Science |

|Human activities are changing the atmospheric concentrations and |

|distributions of greenhouse gases and aerosols. |

|Global average temperatures have increased about 0.3-0.6°C (about |

|0.5-1.0°F) over the last century. |

|The ability of climate models to simulate observed trends has |

|improved--although there is still considerable regional uncertainty |

|with regard to changes. |

|The balance of evidence suggests there is a discernible human |

|influence on global climate. |

|Aerosol sulfates (a component of acid rain) offset some of the |

|warming by greenhouse gases. |

|The IPCC mid-range scenario projects an increase of 2.0°C (3.7°F) by |

|2100 (with a range of 1.0-3.5°C (about 1.8-6.3°F). |

|The average global warming projected in the IPCC mid-range scenario |

|is greater than any seen in the last ten thousand years. |

|Sea level is projected to rise (due to thermal expansion of the |

|oceans, and melting of glaciers and ice sheets) by about 50 |

|centimeters (20 inches) by 2100, with a range of 15-95 centimeters |

|(about 6-38 inches). |

|Even after a stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations, |

|temperatures would continue to increase for several decades, and sea |

|level would continue to rise for centuries. |

|Vulnerability, Likely Impacts, and Possible Responses |

|Climate change is likely to have wide-ranging and mostly adverse |

|effects on human health. Direct and indirect effects can be expected |

|to lead to increased mortality. |

|Coastal infrastructure is likely to be extremely vulnerable. A |

|50-centimeter (20-inch) rise in sea level would place approximately |

|120 million people at risk. |

|Natural and managed ecosystems are also at risk: forests, |

|agricultural areas, and aquatic and marine life are all susceptible. |

| |

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