July 17, 1997

One week ago today, the Committee received testimony from a distinguished panel of witnesses on the science and economics of global climate change.

This morning, we hope to learn more about how the Administration has interpreted the current scientific and economic understanding of the climate change issue to form its domestic and international policies. We will also receive views from two very knowledgeable representatives of the business community.

What did we learn last week from our academic witnesses about the science and economics of global climate change? I suspect that some left the hearing even more certain that there are too many uncertainties to commit the United States to additional or legally binding greenhouse gas emissions reductions. Others may now be further convinced that serious climate change risks have been sufficiently demonstrated and that the time for more meaningful, preventive action is now.

Individuals possessing sound reason and good intent, of which this Committee has eighteen, could plausibly arrive at either conclusion. This is a judgment call. Those of us in government, here on this committee, elsewhere, have to advance with the best available information.

What is fact? First, energy from the Sun warms the Earth. I think we can all agree on that. Next, greenhouse gases in the atmosphere trap heat from the Earth that would otherwise radiate out into space. Greenhouse gases make the Earth warmer than it otherwise would be. Fourth, water vapor is the most abundant natural greenhouse gas.

Fifth, greenhouse gases emitted by human activities are altering the pre-industrial composition of the atmosphere. Indeed, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased from about two hundred and eighty parts per million some two hundred years ago to about 360 parts per million today.

Importantly, the concentrations will not magically halt at 360 parts per million. We will observe a doubling of pre-industrial concentrations sometime in the early part of the next century -- and unless actions are taken - we will move on to a tripling and quadrupling.

Sixth, all nations are contributing to this buildup of greenhouse gases. No one nation or group of nations acting alone can effectively address this matter. Seventh, the United States is the largest greenhouse gas emitter in absolute and per capita terms. China is the second largest greenhouse gas emitter in absolute terms, but on a per capita basis emits a tenth of U.S. emissions.

Eighth, we have measured a one degree Fahrenheit temperature increase, globally, over the past one hundred years. Finally, on the economics side, it is a fact that limiting carbon dioxide emissions will mean significant changes in energy use and energy sources.

The question is, has science provided enough information on the relationship between these facts and actual changes in the climate to warrant further action? Obviously, the Administration has made its conclusion.

The United States and some one hundred and sixty-five other nations are negotiating changes to the existing 1992 U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. These changes, if agreed to, could require specific, legally binding greenhouse gas emission reduction commitments for the post-2000 period. These international negotiations are to culminate at the Third Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention, scheduled for December of this year in Kyoto, Japan.

Should we be signatories to a Kyoto agreement? What role should the developing countries play? What kinds of emission reduction requirements are appropriate? What are the likely economic, trade, competitiveness and job impacts? What are the likely environmental impacts of acting -- or not acting? How will such an international agreement be implemented domestically?

Finally, is it possible to embark upon a ~~~~~~~~~~~~"low-or-no-regrets" strategy which would minimize economic damages or even improve our economic performance -- while responsibly reducing the threat of climate change?

These and other topics will undoubtedly be our focus today."