More on the Administration’s long-withheld U.S. Climate Action Report


The New York Times and the Associated Press reported on a leaked internal government draft of the long-overdue U.S. Climate Action Report, required under the climate treaty, which the Administration continues to withhold. In the AP wire story (March 3) we said we think “it is very likely that the main reason the report has been held up for more than a year beyond the deadline is because the administration is reluctant to make an honest statement about likely climate change impacts on this country.”  [Editor’s Note: See also the 30 July 2007 posting, Bush Administration submits evasive Climate Action Report to the UN.]

On March 3 and March 4, John Heilprin’s Associated Press wire service article was carried widely in print and online news media:

Report projects almost 20-per-cent rise in U.S. greenhouse emissions by 2020

John Heilprin
Associated Press

Saturday, March 03, 2007

WASHINGTON ­ By 2020, the United States will emit almost one-fifth more gases that lead to global warming than it did in 2000, increasing the risks of drought and scarce water supplies.

That projection comes from an internal draft report from the U.S. administration that is more than a year overdue at the United Nations.

The United States already is responsible for roughly one-quarter of the world’s carbon dioxide and other “greenhouse” gases scientists blame for global warming.

The draft report, which is still being completed, projects the current administration’s climate policy would result in the emission of 8.4 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases in 2020, a 19-per-cent increase from seven billion tonnes in 2000.

The article referred to the recently released summary of the IPCC Working Group I climate change scientific assessment report and included a strong cautionary quote from Michael MacCracken of the Climate Institute:

Doing more than slowing the growth rate of greenhouse gas emissions, which remains the administration’s stated goal, will be decided “as the science justifies,” the draft report said. The biggest source of the gases is the burning of fossil fuels, chiefly oil, coal and natural gas.

But an authoritative UN report last month from hundreds of scientists and government officials said global warming is “very likely” caused by mankind and climate change will continue for centuries, even if heat-trapping gases are reduced. That report was approved by 113 countries, including the United States.

It was the strongest language ever used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, whose last report came in 2001.

Despite the dire outlook, most scientists say huge sea level rises and the most catastrophic storms and droughts may be avoided if strong action is taken soon.

“We’re on a path to exceeding levels of global warming that will cause catastrophic consequences and we really need to be seriously reducing emissions, not just reducing the growth rate as the president is doing,” Michael MacCracken, chief scientist at the non-partisan Climate Institute in Washington, said Saturday.

Until 2001, he co-ordinated the government’s studies of the consequences of global warming.

The White House environmental office offered a lame and misleading excuse for why the report still has not seen the light of day:

The White House Council on Environmental Quality has been co-ordinating the draft report. A spokeswoman, Kristen Hellmer…blamed the delay in completing the fourth U.S. Climate Action Report on the “extensive interagency review process” the draft must go through. The report, which was due no later than Jan. 1, 2006, is required under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

We can state with some confidence from our experience with how this Administration manages documents at the political level that the business about the federal agencies supposedly delaying this report by more than a year in reviewing it is basically a cover story. For starters, someone should ask Ms. Hellmer how much time the held-back report has spent parked at CEQ and other White House offices.

We think the Administration’s biggest problem with putting out the report—among other things, recalling what happened with the last (third) Climate Action Report issued in 2002 (for background, see our earlier post on this subject)—is that the report must address the impacts and consequences of climate change for the United States, and issues of adapting to the impacts.  And the Administration must either evade a serious, credible discussion of observed and projected societal and environmental impacts, or else present such a discussion and thereby in all likelihood generate increased public pressure for a stronger U.S. climate change response strategy:

Among the consequences of a warming world anticipated in the report is “a distinct reduction in spring snowpack in the northwestern United States,” which supplies much of the water in that region, the report said.

Warmer temperatures expected from more greenhouse gases would only “exacerbate present drought risks in the United States by increasing the rate of evaporation,” it says.

Rick Piltz, director of Climate Science Watch, a non-profit watchdog program, said Saturday he expects the final report will evade a full discussion of how global warming might affect the United States.

“I think it is very likely that the main reason the report has been held up for more than a year beyond the deadline is because the administration is reluctant to make an honest statement about likely climate change impacts on this country,” said Piltz, a former senior associate with the U.S. Climate Change Science Program….

© Associated Press 2007

The article says that the U.S. spends $2 billion a year on climate research.  That figure was true, basically, in 2004, but not any more.  The Administration has been hacking away at the Climate Change Science Budget, which is now down to about $1.5 billion in the President’s request for Fiscal Year 2008—a huge cut, almost 30 percent in real terms.  That’s a subject for further investigation and analysis.

Andy Revkin reported in the New York Times (“U.S. Predicting Steady Increase for Emissions. Report to U.N. Overdue—Experts Critical”) and the International Herald Tribune (“US sees its emissions growing without letup”) on March 3:

[W]hen shown the report, an assortment of experts on climate trends and policy described the projected emissions as unacceptable given the rising evidence of risks from unabated global warming.

“As governor of Texas and as a candidate, the president supported mandatory limits on carbon dioxide emissions,” said David W. Conover, who directed the administration’s Climate Change Technology Program until February 2006 and is now counsel to the National Commission on Energy Policy, a nonpartisan research group that supports limits on gases. “When he announced his voluntary greenhouse-gas intensity reduction goal in 2002, he said it would be re-evaluated in light of scientific developments. The science now clearly calls for a mandatory program that establishes a price for greenhouse-gas emissions.”

…Drafts of the report were provided to The New York Times by a government employee at the request of a reporter. The employee did not say why this was done, but other officials involved with producing it said they have been frustrated with the slow pace of its preparation. It was due more than one year ago.

For more background on the Climate Action Report problem see this earlier post

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the foundational climate treaty to which the United States is a party, sets forth requirements for UNFCCC Parties to provide periodically a national communication that lists the steps they are taking to implement the Convention.  The U.S. Climate Action Report is a series of official national communications that has been submitted by the U.S. Government to the UNFCCC Secretariat to fulfill this commitment.  The fourth U.S. Climate Action Report was due no later than January 1, 2006.  A public review draft of the report originally announced by the State Department as upcoming in the summer of 2005 is now long-overdue.  The missing-in-action report is clearly being held up at the political level of the Administration.  Prolonged holding up of the Climate Action Report exemplifies the Administration’s failure to communicate appropriately.

The report should present a forthright discussion of U.S. vulnerability to climate change impacts, drawing on the growing body of scientific research and assessment on the observed and projected societal and environmental impacts and consequences of climate change that has been developed since the third Climate Action Report in 2002.  Experts and stakeholders should subject to critical scrutiny the chapter on vulnerability, impacts, and adaptation, when and if it is ever made available.  How does it compare with the discussion in the 2002 third Climate Action Report, which drew on the now-suppressed but not superseded National Assessment of Climate Change Impacts?  How does it compare with the North America impacts chapter of the forthcoming IPCC Working Group II scientific assessment of climate change impacts and adaptation.

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