Page images

Holdren Statement for the Record on S.1008 • 25 July 2001 • page 8

“The Secretary of State...shall provide to the Director of the White House Office an opinion that-(1) specifies to the extent possible the economic and environmental costs and benefits of any proposed international treaties or components of treaties that have an influence on greenhouse gas management;"

The reason for this modification is that it is not now possible and probably will never be possible to specify confidently and precisely, in advance, all of the economic and environmental consequences of any policy measure.


(1) John P. Holdren. “U.S. Vulnerability to Oil-price Shocks And Supply Constrictions...And How to Reduce It.” Committee on Goveromental Affairs, United States Senate, Oversight Hearings on Recent Oil-Price Increases. March 24, 2000.

(2) John P. Holdren. "Improving U.S. Energy Security and Reducing Greenhouse-Gas Emissions: What Role for Nuclear Energy?" Hearing by the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment, Committee on Science, U.S. House of Representatives. July 25, 2000. Library.nsf/pubs/energysecurity

(3) John P. Holdren. “Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy in the U.S. Energy Future", Committee on Science, U.S. House of Representatives, Hearing on The Nation's Energy Future — Roles of Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency. February 28, 2001.

(4) John P. Holdren and Samuel F. Baldwin. "The PCAST Energy Studies: Toward a National Consensus on Energy RD' Policy.” Annual Review of Energy and the Environment, 2001, in press.

(5) John P. Holdren. “Searching for a National Energy Strategy.” Issues in Science and Technology, Vol. XVII, Number 3, 2001, pp 43-50. http:/íksgnotes

(6) John P. Holdren. “Federal Energy Research and Development for the Challenges of the 21st Century: The 1997 PCAST Study and Its Relevance to Provisions of S.597.” Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, United States Senate, Hearing on Legislative Proposals Related to Energy and Scientific Research, Development, Technology Deployment, Education, and Training. July 18, 2001.

(7) President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology, Fusion Review Panel. The U. S. Program of Fusion Energy Research and Development. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office. July 1995.

(8) President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology, Energy Research and Development Panel. Federal Energy Research and Development for the Challenges of the 21st Century. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office. November 1997.

(9) President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology, Panel on International Cooperation in Energy Research, Development, Demonstration, and Deployment. Powerful Partnerships: The Federal Role in International Cooperation on Energy Innovation. Washington, DC: Government Printing

Holdren Statement for the Record on S.1008 • 25 July 2001 - page 9

(10) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Third Assessment Report - Climate Change 2001. Geneva: IPCC. 2001.

(11) National Assessment Synthesis Team, US Global Change Research Program. Climate Change Impacts on the United States: The Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change. New York: Cambridge University Press. 2000. NationalAssessment

(12) Committee on the Science of Climate Change, National Research Council. Climate Change Science: An Analysis of Some Key Questions. Washington, DC: National Academy Press. 2001.

(13) Secretary of Energy Advisory Board, Task Force on Strategic Energy R&D. Energy R&D: Shaping Our Nation's Future in a Competitive World. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office. 1995.

Statement of David G. Hawkins
Director, NRDC Climate Center
Natural Resources Defense Council

For the Record

July 18, 2001


The Natural Resources Defense Council appreciates the opportunity to submit this statement on the need to develop a long term strategy for stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, as called for by S.1008. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers, and environmental specialists, dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC serves more than 500,000 members from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

Nearly a decade ago, the U.S. and more than 100 other countries ratified a global climate change treaty that establishes the objective of stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that prevents dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. This treaty should have spurred adoption of serious policies to combat global warming, including both near-term measure to begin reducing emissions of the pollution that causes global warming and a long-term strategy to achieve the treaty's objective of halting the buildup of these heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere. The United States has done neither. Instead, we have had a decade of delay, during which U.S. greenhouse gas emissions have increased by about 14%. Rather than adopt meaningful policies that would have sent an effective short- and long-term signal to the private sector that constraining carbon emissions was a sound course for business planning, we have relied on voluntary pledge programs that have been effective only in communicating to business leaders that the government is not yet serious about limiting global warming pollution

NRDC commends Senator Byrd and Senator Stevens for introducing S.1008, which would take a significant positive step by creating a framework for the United States to develop a comprehensive program to combat global warming over the medium and longer term. It would require the government to develop a robust strategy to stabilize concentrations of global warming gases at levels required to protect the planet from unprecedented threats to human and natural systems. As such, we believe that this legislation should be viewed as complementary to immediate steps that can and must be taken to begin curbing emissions of global warming pollution. In our view, it is essential to take immediate steps to begin reducing emissions from power plants, automobiles and buildings, as called for in legislation such as S.556, S.804, S.207, and S.760, while we are simultaneously developing a comprehensive strategy for fulfilling the objective of the Rio climate treaty, as called for by S.1008.

Stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations

Mr. Chairman, the first rule for getting out of a hole is to stop digging. Every year that we delay adoption of real global warming policies, we dig ourselves deeper and make our positioned than any other country in the world to lead the way in showing that economic progress can go hand in hand with controlling global warming pollution. The time for us to exercise that leadership is now.

Global warming is a problem that becomes more difficult to manage the longer we wait to start. Let's review some basic information. Starting about 300 million years ago, for a period spanning about 75 million years, our planet transferred, through geologic processes, vast amounts of carbon from the atmosphere and living organisms to immense underground reserves, producing what we call fossil fuels. Estimates are that some 5 trillion tonnes of carbon were stored in this way. Imagine a 75 million year video documenting the removal of 5 trillion tonnes of material from our global living room and its storage in a remote subterranean repository. Now, imagine running this video in reverse and at hyper speed. That is what we have been doing for the past 150 years.

Since the Industrial Revolution, we have been putting these immense underground carbon stores back into the atmosphere by burning these fuels and we are doing so at ever increasing speed. At current consumption rates, we put back in the air each year about 100,000 years of stored carbon. In the last 150 years we have put about 290 billion tonnes (gigatonnes or Gt) into the air. Amidst the claimed uncertainties about the climate change phenomenon, there is no dispute that these emissions have caused significant increases in atmospheric concentrations of CO2. Today's CO2 levels are about 370 parts per million (ppm), about 30% higher than the pre-industrial level of 280 ppm.

Nor is there any dispute that continued emissions of CO2 from fossil burning will cause concentrations to go still higher. The latest forecasts for global carbon emissions in the 21st century are sobering. The IPCC's most recent report estimates emissions of between 1000 and 2100 Gt of carbon in the next 100 years or about 3 to 7 times more than we released in the last 150 years. With cumulative emissions in these ranges, atmospheric CO2 would build up to between 540 and 970 ppm by the year 2100 and continue to increase unless emissions were cut. Several of the plausible emission scenarios would lead to doubled CO2 concentrations before a child born today would be eligible for social security.

A final undisputed fact is that once a certain atmospheric concentration is reached, it cannot be significantly reduced for hundreds of years, no matter how drastic a “response program” policymakers decide to put in place. Unfortunately, carbon dioxide's lifetime in the atmosphere is a long one: of each 1000 tons we emit today, 400 of those tons will still be in the air 100 years from now and 150 tons will remain 1000 years from now. So the bed we are making is a procrustean one that we and generations to come must lie on.

As a result of fossil fuel combustion, we already have increased atmospheric CO2 to levels greater than “at any time during the past 400,000 years," notes the recent National Academy of Sciences report to President Bush. And we are on a path to dramatically higher concentrations in the coming decades. The policy questions this Committee and

concentrations in the atmosphere. In NRDC's view the answers are, yes we must act and we should start now.

Yet for more than a decade, fossil-fuel dependent industries have vehemently opposed policies to limit global warming pollution and governments, including the U.S. government, have declined to adopt such policies. One can explain the position of the industrial opponents as driven by the narrow interests of their current business plans but what explains the compliant position of governments, which should show at least some signs of support for the broader public interest. One explanation is the influence of money on politics and enactment of the McCain-Feingold legislation would be a salutary development. A second explanation is that legislators and executive branch officials believe that we can wait until the emergence of greater consensus on the detailed nature of the threats we face from global warming and that acting later will reduce the costs of a response program compared to acting now. NRDC believes this basic assumption—that later is cheaper-—is simply wrong.

The basic fact is that further delay in adopting effective policies forecloses options for us and for our children. Further delay will increase the costs of achieving stable atmospheric concentrations at levels less than double or even triple the concentrations under which human societies have evolved. How important is it for us to preserve the option to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations at these lower levels? The policy dilemma is that we may not know the answers in a manner convincing to all for decades to come. Yet if we delay policy action until we have amassed a more comprehensive and detailed body of evidence of the full range of damages that a changed climate will bring, the planet's growing emissions will have made stabilizing concentrations at levels anywhere near today's levels very much more expensive, if not impossible.

Each year of delay in developing an effective global response program brings us closer to the point of no-return when we lose the ability to limit the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations to lower levels. By failing to act, we are passing these points of no-return without even understanding what we are giving up for ourselves and our descendants. As I mentioned, pre-industrialization levels of CO2 did not exceed 300 ppm and we are now at 370 ppm, the highest level in 400,000 years. Because the way CO2 builds up in the atmosphere is well understood, we can determine the cumulative emissions during the next century that allow us to stabilize the atmosphere at various levels, such as 350, 450, 550, 650, or even 750 ppm and experts have done these calculations. The most recent IPCC report summarizes these 21st century emission budgets as follows:

[blocks in formation]

The same report forecasts cumulative global emissions during this period, in the absence of effective global warming policies, to range from 1000 to 2100 Gt of carbon. While many members of Congress don't fancy themselves expert in global warming, most have

« PreviousContinue »