Published on Saturday, March 3, 2007 by the New York Times
U.S. Predicting Steady Increase for Emissions
by Andrew C. Revkin
The Bush administration estimates that emissions by the United States of gases that contribute to global warming will grow nearly as fast through the next decade as they did the previous decade, according to a long-delayed report being completed for the United Nations.
The document, the United States Climate Action Report, emphasizes that the projections show progress toward a goal Mr. Bush laid out in a 2002 speech: that emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases grow at a slower rate than the economy. Since that speech, he has repeated his commitment to lessening “greenhouse gas intensity” without imposing formal limits on the gases.
Kristen A. Hellmer, a spokeswoman for the White House on environmental matters, said on Friday, “The Climate Action Report will show that the president’s portfolio of actions addressing climate change and his unparalleled financial commitments are working.”
But when shown the report, an assortment of experts on climate trends and policy described the projected emissions as unacceptable given the rising evidence of risks from unabated global warming.
“As governor of Texas and as a candidate, the president supported mandatory limits on carbon dioxide emissions,” said David W. Conover, who directed the administration’s Climate Change Technology Program until February 2006 and is now counsel to the National Commission on Energy Policy, a nonpartisan research group that supports limits on gases. “When he announced his voluntary greenhouse-gas intensity reduction goal in 2002, he said it would be re-evaluated in light of scientific developments. The science now clearly calls for a mandatory program that establishes a price for greenhouse-gas emissions.”
According to the new report, the administration’s climate policy will result in emissions growing 11 percent in 2012 from 2002. In the previous decade, emissions grew at a rate of 11.6 percent, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
The report also contains sections describing growing risks to water supplies, coasts and ecosystems around the United States from the anticipated temperature and precipitation changes driven by the atmospheric buildup of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases.
Drafts of the report were provided to The New York Times by a government employee at the request of a reporter. The employee did not say why this was done, but other officials involved with producing it said they have been frustrated with the slow pace of its preparation. It was due more than one year ago.
The report arrives at a moment when advocates of controls are winning new support in statehouses and Congress, not to mention Hollywood, where former Vice President Al Gore’s cautionary documentary on the subject, “An Inconvenient Truth,” just won an Academy Award. Five western governors have just announced plans to create a program to cap and then trade carbon-dioxide emissions. And on Capitol Hill, half a dozen bills have been introduced to curb emissions, with more expected.
Ms. Hellmer defended Mr. Bush’s climate policy, saying the president was committed to actions, like moderating gasoline use and researching alternative energy, that limited climate risks while also increasing the country’s energy and national security. She said Mr. Bush remained satisfied with voluntary measures to slow emissions.
Myron Ebell, who directs climate and energy policy for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a group aligned with industries fighting curbs on greenhouse gases, said Mr. Bush was right to acknowledge the inevitability of growing emissions in a country with a growing population and economy. Mr. Ebell added that the United States was doing better at slowing emissions than many countries that had joined the Kyoto Protocol, the first binding international treaty limiting such gases.
“Since 1990, for every 1 percent increase in emissions the economy has grown about 3 percent,” Mr. Ebell said. “That’s good, and it’s better than the European Union’s performance.”
Several environmental campaigners said there was no real distinction between Mr. Bush’s target and “business as usual,” adding that such mild steps were unacceptable given recent findings by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and other research groups tying recent warming more firmly than ever to smokestack and tailpipe gases.
“If you set the hurdle one inch above the ground you can’t fail to clear it,” said David D. Doniger, the director of climate policy for the Natural Resources Defense Council, which has long criticized the administration and sought binding cuts in greenhouse gases.
The report is the fourth in a series produced periodically by countries that are parties to the 1992 Framework Convention on Climate Change, a treaty signed by the first President Bush. It is a self-generated summary of climate-related trends and actions, including inventories of emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, research on impacts of climate change, and policies to limit climate risks and emissions.
The last such report, completed in 2002, put the administration in something of a bind because it listed many harmful or costly projected impacts from human-caused warming. Environmental groups used those findings to press President Bush to seek mandatory caps on greenhouse gases, while foes of such restrictions criticized the findings and criticized the administration for letting them stay in the document.
While that report was approved by senior White House and State Department officials, Mr. Bush quickly distanced himself from it, saying it was “put out by the bureaucracy.”
The new report has been bogged down for nearly two years. In April 2005, the State Department published a notice in the Federal Register saying it would be released for public comment that summer.
Several government officials and scientists involved with preparing or reviewing parts of the report said that the recent departures of several senior staff members running the administration’s climate research program delayed its completion and no replacements have been named. The delays in finishing the report come even as Mr. Bush has elevated global warming higher on his list of concerns. This year, for the first time since he took office in 2001, he touched on “global climate change” in the State of the Union Message, calling it a “serious challenge.”
The draft report contains fresh projections of significant effects of human-caused warming on the environment and resources of the United States and emphasized the need to increase the country’s capacity to adapt to impending changes.
Drought, particularly, will become a persistent threat, it said: “Warmer temperatures expected with increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases are expected to exacerbate present drought risks in the United States by increasing the rate of evaporation.”
Water supplies in the Northwest and Southwest are also at risk. “Much of the water used by people in the western United States comes from snow melt,” the report said. “And a large fraction of the traditionally snow-covered areas of this region has experienced a decline in spring snow pack, especially since mid-century, despite increases in winter precipitation in many places.” Animal and plant species face risks as climate zones shift but urbanized regions prevent ecosystems from shifting as well, according to the draft report.
“Because changes in the climate system are likely to persist into the future regardless of emissions mitigation, adaptation is an essential response for future protection of climate-sensitive ecosystems,” it said.
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