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Earth Day 2002

What You Should Know About Global Climate Change

There is a growing concern that certain manmade greenhouse gas emissions could be affecting global climate. There is no consensus on the extent of these effects, nor is there agreement on what steps are appropriate for addressing potential concerns. However, many concur that the costs of complying with the Kyoto Protocol — a binding international treaty that would mandate reduction limits and timetables on the emission of greenhouse gases — would be enormous.

What is meant by the greenhouse effect and global climate change?The Greenhouse Effect

The greenhouse effect is a natural phenomenon. Certain gases work like the glass of a greenhouse, trapping energy from the sun, preventing it from being lost back into space, and heating the lower atmosphere and the Earth’s surface. Concerns have been expressed that certain activities produce so-called greenhouse gas emissions as byproducts of burning fuels, and that these gases have accumulated in the atmosphere to the point where they are beginning to cause a slight increase in the average temperature of the Earth. Some believe that even slight increases might have a discernible impact on global climate systems.

What are the greenhouse gases?

There are six greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6). The most prominent of these is CO2, which is produced when wood or fossil fuels such as oil, coal, and gas are burned.

What is the Kyoto Protocol?

In Kyoto, Japan, in December 1997  countries from around the world produced the Kyoto Protocol, which would set legally binding caps on greenhouse gases under specified time tables. However, numerous implementation details of the Protocol were left to be settled at future conferences. Significantly, participants decided that the Protocol would establish limitations only for the developed countries,  which include the U.S., Japan, Canada, Australia, the European Union, Russia, and some Eastern European countries.

What are the main provisions of the Kyoto Protocol?

The Protocol states that developed nations are committed to ensuring that their aggregate emissions of greenhouse gases are 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2012.  However the U.S. would be obligated under the Protocol to a cumulative reduction in its greenhouse gas emissions of 7 percent below 1990 levels by 2012.

What is the Senate’s role in approving the Kyoto Protocol, and what is Senate Resolution 98?

Under the U.S. Constitution, any treaty like the Kyoto Protocol must have the advice and consent, by a two-thirds vote, of the Senate prior to ratification by the U.S. In 1997, the Senate adopted Senate Resolution 98 by a 95-0 vote, stipulating that the nation should not become a party to any international agreement which imposes new commitments on developed countries, such as the U.S., unless it also contains new binding commitments on developing countries. The Resolution also states that the U.S. should not be a signatory to any agreement that would do serious harm to its economy.

What is the ratification status of the Protocol?

The Kyoto Protocol was opened for signature March 16, 1998, and would enter into force when 55 nations ratify it, provided that these ratifications include the developed nations that accounted for about 55 percent of total CO2 emissions in 1990. On November 12, 1998, the U.S. signed the Protocol. However, because of Senate Resolution 98 and the absence of U.S. ratification, the 55 percent provision is likely to be hard to meet. As of September 2000, 84 countries had signed the treaty, including the European Union and most of its members, Canada, Japan, China, and a range of developing countries. Some 29 countries were reported by the Convention Secretariat to have ratified the Protocol, but none of them is a developed state. Nations are not subject to the Protocol’s commitments unless they have ratified it and it enters into force. 

What are the projected economic effects of the Kyoto Protocol on the U. S. economy?

The Protocol does not conform to the requirements of Senate Resolution 98, and it would do serious harm to the U.S. economy. The Protocol would commit the U.S. to a target of reducing climate change gas emissions by 7 percent below 1990 levels between 2008-2012. To reach its goal, the U.S. would have to reduce its emissions by about 30 percent from projected 2010 levels. Research conducted over the past decade by top climate change scholars concludes that the cost of reducing CO2 would impose a heavy burden on U.S. households and industry by reducing economic growth. Complying with the Kyoto Protocol would reduce U.S. GDP by 2 percent to 4 percent annually, or between $100 billion and $400 billion in 2010. 1 Attaining the stringent emissions reductions that the Administration agreed to in Kyoto would drastically alter Americans’ lifestyles and standards of living. The U.S. economy would be severely affected, the competitiveness of American businesses would be reduced, and unemployment levels would rise as American jobs and industries shift to developing nations. Moreover, more than 130 developing nations — including China, Brazil, India, South Korea, Indonesia, and Mexico — would be required to make no changes in emission reductions, giving them significant competitive advantages. World population is projected to reach almost 7 billion in 2010; 80 percent of this growth is expected to be in developing countries, which take on no obligations for emission reductions under the Protocol.

How are America’s electric utilities contributing to the reduction of greenhouse gases?

The U.S. electric utility industry leads all industries in taking voluntary actions to mitigate greenhouse gases. Moreover, the industry is a world leader in implementing flexible, comprehensive, and cost-effective initiatives in response to concerns about global climate change. In fact, electric utilities account for more than half of all voluntary actions taken to mitigate greenhouse gases, according to the Department of Energy (DOE).

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