Statement of Senator James M. Jeffords
On Montreal Climate Change Negotiations Mr. President, One of the most important issues facing mankind is the problem of human-induced climate change. The broad consensus within the scientific community is that global warming has begun, is largely the result of human activity and is accelerating. Global warming will result in more extreme weather, increased flooding and drought, disruption of agricultural and water systems, threats to human health and loss of sensitive species and ecosystems. We must take action now to minimize these effects, for the sake of our children, our grandchildren and future generations. Over the last two weeks, 189 countries met in Montreal to discuss the important issue of global climate change. These countries met in a spirit of cooperation and in hopes of agreeing on the next steps for reducing harmful emissions of greenhouse gases. These countries, including the United States, have all already agreed, under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, to take steps to “prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.” These past two weeks were a test of their resolve. Unfortunately the United States, led by the Bush Administration delegation, attempted to slow, stall and block the progress of these talks. This is unconscionable, given that the United States is the largest single emitter of greenhouse gases. Fortunately the U.S. negotiators’ efforts were not completely successful, and an agreement was reached to have additional talks commencing next year. Although that is a small step and not nearly enough, it is vastly preferable to the outcome this Administration wanted, which amounts to no action at all. In advance of the Montreal meetings, I joined with 23 other Senators in sending a letter to President Bush, reminding the Administration of its legal obligation to participate in the Montreal talks. Unfortunately, but perhaps not surprisingly, the Administration disregarded this obligation. A decision to block further discussions on emissions reduction commitments cannot be viewed as consistent with the obligations of the United States under the treaty. While the U.S. has refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol despite the fact that 157 nations have become parties, actions to block those countries from moving forward with additional commitments under that Protocol is also inconsistent with the US Framework Treaty obligations. In our letter to the President, we noted that just this year the Senate, by a vote of 53-44, approved a resolution calling for mandatory limits on greenhouse gases within the United States. We wrote this letter and distributed it to interested parties at the negotiations to ensure that other countries understand that not everyone in the United States agrees with the Bush plan for prolonged inaction. To this end, members of my staff traveled to Montreal and met with representatives and negotiators from other countries. They also met with public interest groups, business groups and others interested in taking positive action on climate change. They witnessed firsthand how the Bush Administration worked very hard to dissuade other countries from agreeing to even discuss further commitments. This is not the position that our nation should be taking. We should be leading the way on climate change, not burying our head in the sand. From the outset, even before they left Washington, the Administration’s delegation insisted that any discussion of future commitments was “a non-starter” and that any discussion about future commitments prior to 2012, which marks the end of the first set of Kyoto commitments, was premature. They continued at the conference to make this point to all parties. And when the rest of the world decided to engage in actual negotiations about discussions of further commitments under both the Framework Convention and the Kyoto Protocol, the U.S. stated bluntly that such discussions were unacceptable and pointedly walked away from the negotiating table. The good news is that the rest of the world stayed at that table and talked throughout the night and into the next morning, reaching agreement on a set of decisions for further discussions. And when those decisions were brought into the light of day, and it became apparent that the United States would have to state its opposition publicly, before all 189 countries, the U.S. was forced to agree to return to the negotiating table and to allow talks to continue next year. This means that 157 countries have agreed to discuss additional commitments under the Kyoto Protocol, even without the U.S. as a party, and that 189 countries, including the U.S., have agreed to look at the issue of further steps under the Framework Convention. Despite arguments to the contrary, cooperative international agreements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions remain a reality, and slow, but significant, progress is taking place to strengthen those commitments. The overwhelming majority of Americans support taking some form of action on climate change. A recent poll by the Program on International Policy Attitudes, sponsored by the Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland found that 86% of Americans think that President Bush should act to limit greenhouse gases in the U.S. if the G-8 countries are willing to act to reduce such gases. All the G-8 countries except the U.S. are signatories to the Kyoto treaty and therefore have already committed to such action. In addition, the study found that 73% of Americans believe that the U.S. should participate in the Kyoto treaty. Finally, the study found that 83% of Americans favor "legislation requiring large companies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 2000 levels by 2010 and to 1990 levels by 2020." Thus, in one way or another, more than 80% of Americans favor taking real action on climate change. The current Administration is completely out of step with the American public on this issue. States, regions and even localities are taking on climate change related commitments. Nine Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states are working together through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) to develop a cap-and-trade system for carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from power plants. On June 1, 2005, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed an executive order setting greenhouse gas emissions targets for the state. The order directs state officials to develop plans that would reduce California's greenhouse gas emissions to 2000 emissions levels by 2010 and 1990 levels by 2020. The U.S. Conference of Mayors adopted an agreement, sponsored by Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to levels that mirror the Kyoto Protocol limits. California has also adopted a greenhouse gas emission standard for automobiles, and a number of states, including Vermont, have followed suit and adopted the same standards. These actions confirm that there is widespread political desire and motivation to take action within the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions I have sponsored legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from powerplants, which are a large source of carbon dioxide, a principal greenhouse gas. My bill, S. 150, the Clean Power Act, would reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2010. This would be a very important first step by the United States towards combating global warming that would show the rest of the world that we are serious about doing our part. Congress needs to act to provide a mandate and undisputed authority to this and future Administration negotiators. I am both discouraged and heartened by the outcome of the talks in Montreal. Those of us who care about stopping climate change did everything we could to help aid these talks, and despite the Bush Administration resistance, the international dialogue on climate change will continue. But a dialogue is not nearly enough, and the consequences of additional delay are dire. The U.S. has been and remains the largest emitter of greenhouse gases. It has a responsibility to its own people and to the people of the world to be a leader on this issue. Thus far, it has been anything but a leader and these talks highlighted that fact. I look forward to the day when I can once again be proud of the United States role in these talks, when we can enter these negotiations having done our part. I believe that is what we agreed to in 1992, when the Senate ratified the climate treaty and it is high time we live up to our obligation.