Statement of Senator Joseph Lieberman
U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works
Hearing on Economic and Environmental Risks Associated with Increasing Greenhouse Gas Emissions
I thank Chairman Jeffords for calling this important hearing on the economic and environmental risks associated with increasing greenhouse gas emissions, and thank him for his leadership on this issue. The issues are timely, they are important, and the witnesses are impressive. I am sorry that I could not personally attend; I had a conflicting duty to chair a hearing of the Governmental Affairs Committee. I want to leave no doubt about the importance of this hearing.
The causes and potential effects of global warming have been well documented through the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an international process that is engaged in by over two thousand scientists from around the world. The potential effects are serious and far-reaching.
Global warming is a global problem that requires a global solution. The international community has come together under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to address the problem. The original 1992 agreement, signed by then-President Bush and unanimously ratified by the U.S. Senate, contained no mandatory targets or timetables for greenhouse gas emissions. It was important, however, for recognizing the problem and committing the countries of the world to an ongoing multilateral process to seek ways to reduce the threat of global warming. In 1997, the international community negotiated the Kyoto Protocol, which included binding targets and timetables for industrialized countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a little over 5% by 2008-2012, as a first step in reducing global emissions of greenhouse gases. The United States committed to a 7% reduction. Other countries, including the European Union and Japan, are moving toward ratification of this agreement. The current administration has rejected the Kyoto Protocol and offered us what can best be described as a tepid response to what even the President describes is a very serous issue.
The United States has a large stake in the climate change debate; among other things, we have a very large land mass, with thousands of miles of coastline, and a very large population, magnifying the health threats associated with climate change. We also emit about 25% of the entire world’s emissions of carbon dioxide, the most prevalent greenhouse gas, even though we have less than 5% of the world’s population. We have a responsibility to ourselves as well as the world community to take action to reduce greenhouse gases. We led the international effort to protect the stratospheric ozone layer, and found a way to bridge differences between developed and developing countries. That system is working and we should be proud of the leadership the United States exhibited.
I fear we have now abdicated our leadership role. In 1989, then-President Bush, talking to Congress about the issue of acid rain declared that the “time for study alone is over... the time for action is now.” The President then went on to work with the Congress to establish a market-based cap and trade program that significantly reduced emissions of sulfur dioxide, the main ingredient of acid rain. I would suggest that the current administration follow this example for carbon dioxide. I have been working with Chairman Jeffords and other progressive-minded Senators to move toward passage of S. 556, the Clean Power Act of 2001, which would set limits on carbon dioxide emissions from electric power plants, which are responsible for about 40% of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions. We have been working with colleagues from the other side of the aisle on this important first step on greenhouse gas emissions, and hope that we can reach an agreement to move forward. I am also working with Senator McCain to develop an economy wide cap and trade proposal for greenhouse gas emissions as one more step in re-establishing U.S. leadership in this critical area. As our distinguished witness Dr. Rowland, a Nobel laureate wrote in his testimony: “The increasing global temperatures will have many consequences, often adverse in the long run. Because of the many causes of this temperature increase have their origins in the activities of mankind, actions can and should now be taken which will slow this rate of increase.”
Thank you Mr. Chairman, that concludes my opening statement.