Hearings - Testimony
 
FULL COMMITTEE: "Senators' Perspectives on Global Warming."
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
 
Senator Olympia J. Snowe (submitted written testimony)

Good afternoon, Madam Chairman and Members of the Committee. Holding this hearing on "Senator's Perspectives on Global Warming" today is admirable on your part, Madam Chairman, as you and others of us in the U.S. Senate care deeply about the issue of global warming and want to take action. I am testifying today because the issue of global warming is no longer seriously open to skepticism. The evidence is irrefutable and the cost of inaction incalculable. It is no longer a question of science - it is now a question of political will.

 

Surely, in the numerous provisions of the various introduced climate bills we can find the keys to consensus and hopefully this hearing will help guide us in that direction. We should be able to find the most realistic and attainable path that averts negative impacts on our economy and strengthens our national security by decreasing our thirst for imported fossil fuels from the most volatile areas of the globe. I believe we can find the right course at the right cost.

 

The U.S. comprises only four percent of the world's population yet emits 20 percent of the world's carbon dioxide, it's time our response to this crisis become proportional to our nation's contribution to the problem. Because of the lack of any movement on the part of the United States, two years ago, I accepted the co-chairmanship of the International Climate Change Taskforce, or ICCT, which consists of a group of respected scientists, business leaders, and elected officials from eight industrialized and developing nations.

 

Our Taskforce report, "Meeting the Climate Challenge", published in January of 2005, was the culmination of close to a year's work across oceans and partisan lines - each of you has been given a copy. As you can see, the Report recommends ways to involve the world's largest economies in the effort, including the U.S. and major developing nations, to ensure that dangerous climate change can be avoided. In truth, the U.S. has given the major developing nations like China and India a "get out of jail free" card. The U.S. position has been to say that these emerging nations need to decrease their greenhouse gas emissions or we won't either.

 

It is ludicrous to think we can expect large emerging nations to move toward reducing their emissions without any national action on our part. Only after the U.S. puts in place a mandatory carbon cap and trade system can we expect to sit at the international table and ask the poorer developing countries to take actions also. China is putting up one coal-fired power plant a week. China will surpass the U.S. as the largest emitter of CO2 in the world around 2010. Yet, to its credit, China has more stringent CAFE standards in place than the U.S.

 

The message today is that we in the Senate can take the ICCT recommendations and incorporate those applicable into our domestic global warming legislation, in particular, the Taskforce's first recommendation that defines a goal. If you don't know where you want to end up, there is no reason to start the journey. So, to begin our journey, to set our goal, the first ICCT recommendation reads, "A long-term objective be established to prevent global average temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Centigrade (or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above the pre-industrial level to limit the extent and magnitude of climate-change impacts." This is the foundation of the bill Senator Kerry and I introduced last year and will re­introduce this week. A goal such as this one is also an integral part of the Lieberman-McCain Climate Stewardship and Innovation Act of 2007, for which I am also a cosponsor.

 

The reasoning behind this goal is solid; the Taskforce came up with the 3.6 degree Fahrenheit goal as, beyond this increase, scientific evidence suggests that there is a threshold of temperature increase above which the extent and magnitude of the impacts of climate change increases significantly - a tipping point that threatens human societies and ecosystems. For example, there will be substantial agricultural loses, billions more people will be at risk of water shortages, and there will be widespread adverse health impacts, floods, and droughts. Also, beyond that threshold, scientists predict the likely loss of 95 percent of coral reefs and irreversible damage to forest areas, including the Amazon Rain Forest. Above the threshold, irreversible, abrupt climate change may increase, such as the loss of the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets, the potential shutdown of the the North Atlantic conveyor belt, and transforming the natural world from a net carbon sink - one that takes up CO2 - to a net carbon source - one that releases CO2.

 

We need to take medium-term action and set goals up to 2050 for reductions of CO2 emissions in order to bring concentrations back down to levels that are consistent with a high probability of limiting warming to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century. Such an approach would enable long-term options to be reassessed as new knowledge becomes available.

 

In order to meet the 3.6 degree goal, the Taskforce recommended a global framework that brings all countries into action on climate change at the international level over the coming decades for steps leading to limiting their greenhouse gases through post-2012 emissions reductions commitments. This international framework would build on the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) - which the U.S. Senate ratified in 1992 - and the Kyoto Protocol, as honored by most of the developed world.

 

Madam Chair, we need to seize on a bold new program like President Kennedy did in sending a man to the moon, when, on September 12, 1962, he stated, "We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win." On July 21, 1969 - less than seven years later - Astronaut Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. This is how we should be addressing global warming.

This Friday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, composed of 2,500 scientists from more than 130 countries, will release a stunning six year report on the current science of climate change. The IPCC will tell us that a rise in temperatures of 3.6 to 8.1 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of this century is likely. The IPCC will say it is at least 90 percent sure than human activities, led by the burning of fossil fuels, are to blame for global warming over the past 50 years. IPCC Chair, R. K. Pachauri - who was also a science advisor to our Taskforce - stated, "I hope this report will shock people, governments into taking more serious action as you really can't get a more authentic and a more credible piece of scientific work. " He went on to say, "There are a lot of signs and evidence in this report which clearly establish not only the fact that climate change is taking place, but also that it really is human activity that is influencing that change."

 

Arctic glaciers and polar ice caps millions of years old are melting. Sea levels are

 

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rising globally. Our own federal agency, NOAA, reporting that 2006 was the warmest year since regular temperature records began in 1895 and the past nine years have been among the 25 warmest years on record for the contiguous U.S. CO2 releases today will remain in the atmosphere for at least 100 years - and concentrations will rise in the coming decades. Just think - CO2 emissions from Henry Ford's very first car are still in the atmosphere. Clearly, we can't afford to wait any longer.

 

This past Sunday, the Boston Globe ran a very disturbing article on how the climate is altering the regional character and economy of New England. While admittedly only a snapshot, many scientists say that for a growing number of reasons, they are confident that New England's century-long heat rise is significantly related to global warming. They have noted that temperatures began accelerating around 1970, the same time overall global temperatures rose as well, and that the temperature rise is lasting longer than during previous warm stretches in the last century that we attributed to natural variability.

 

Madam Chair, weather is an integral part of the economy in my State of Maine and others as well. It is time to curb the warming. We cannot wait any longer - we need to act now. There are other important provisions I believe should be included in a climate bill, such as research on abrupt climate change and ocean acidification, but those are under the jurisdiction of other committees. Today I hope I have left you with a compelling reason to establish a goal based in science in the hopes you will include such a goal in any climate legislation you consider in your committee. Thank you.

 

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