Hearing of the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works Hearing Senators' Perspectives on Global Warming
Statement before the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works Hearing Senators' Perspectives on Global Warming
Senator Joseph R. Biden, Jr.
Washington, DC - U.S. Senator Joseph R. Biden, Jr. (D-DE) submitted the following statement into the congressional record of the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works hearing today on Senators' Perspectives on Global Warming:
"If anyone wants evidence that the climate is changing, just look around this room. The climate has changed here in the Senate and climate change is on the agenda. The heat is on us to do something about it.
"I congratulate Senator Boxer on her ambitious agenda for this committee, and for convening this forum today.
"One of the President's first acts in office was to break his promise to do something about climate change. Instead of action, he turned his back on international cooperation and pulled us out of the Kyoto process.
"That train has now left the station. The rest of the industrial nations have taken on commitments to reduce their emissions to 7 percent below 1990 levels, during the period 2008 to 2012. We missed the chance to find a way to make the Kyoto Protocol workable for the United States. We missed a chance to begin the process of slowing, stopping, and reversing our emissions. "We missed the chance to turn the impending threat of catastrophic climate change into an opportunity to reduce the security threat of our dependence on oil, to reduce the health threat from pollution, to reduce the sheer waste and inefficiency in our economy.
"And we missed the chance to do what many of the leading businesses in this country know we should do - capture a leadership position in the global competition for the next generation of clean technologies. Last week, we heard from an alliance among some of our most important corporations and some of our most respected non-governmental organizations, the United States Climate Action Partnership. I am particularly proud that DuPont, from my home state of Delaware, has taken the lead on this issue for many years.
"Once again this year, Senator Lugar and I have joined together to introduce a resolution calling on the Administration to return to a leadership role in international climate change talks.
"Our resolution calls for United States participation in negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change - signed by the first President Bush - that will protect the economic and security interests of the United States, and that will commit all nations - developed and developing - that are major emitters of greenhouse gases to achieve significant long-term reductions in those emissions.
"The resolution also calls for a bipartisan Senate observer group - based on our experience with arms control negotiations - to monitor talks and ensure that our negotiators bring back agreements that all Americans can support.
"S. Res. 30 states that evidence of the human role in global warming is clear, that the environmental, economic, and security effects will be costly, and that the response must be international. The resolution recognizes that there are real economic benefits from both reducing the waste and inefficiencies inherent in greenhouse gas emissions, and from the markets for new, climate-friendly technologies. Most importantly it puts the Senate on record, calling for the United States to resume its role as leader in the international effort to address this global threat.
"As the body that will ratify any international treaty on climate change, the Senate's position must be clear to the rest of the world. This resolution says we are reading to take on binding commitments that achieve significant long-term reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions.
"The physical consequences of global warming are right before our eyes: the shrinking polar ice cap, retreating glaciers, stronger storms driven by warmer ocean waters, and changing growing seasons, animal migration, and rainfall patterns.
"Future consequences if we continue business as usual will include rising sea levels, the spread of diseases, abrupt climate shifts that could shut down of the Atlantic cycle that warms Europe, or the shrink the Amazon rainforest that provides twenty percent of the oxygen we breathe. "These changes will profoundly alter the assumptions on which the economic, political, and security arrangements of our world have been constructed. Our national borders, our cities, our cultures, are all built around patterns of rainfall, arable land, and coastlines that will be redrawn as global warming proceeds.
"By one estimate, 200 million people, in the coastal cities of New York, Tokyo, Cairo, and London, in low-lying countries such as Bangladesh, in the islands of the Pacific and Caribbean, could be permanently displaced by climate shifts.
"Throughout human history, massive population shifts, frustrated expectations, and the collapse of economies, have all led to conflict. Even the richest nations, source of the emissions behind global warming, will face huge costs coping with those catastrophes.
"The poorest nations, whose economies have contributed little or nothing to the greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, will be hit the worst, and will have the fewest resources with which to respond. This is a recipe for global resource wars, and even greater resentment of our wealth by those less fortunate - a new world disorder.
"We are failing in our responsibility to steward the riches we have inherited. We are bequeathing our children not just a ruined landscape, but a world of conflict as well.
"This is a classic tragedy of the commons. We have treated our atmosphere as a costless dump for the waste gases that are the byproduct of our great wealth.
"There was a time when we could plead ignorance. That day is past. The science is now clear. There was a time when we might have claimed the cost of changing our ways was too great. That day is past. We now know the costs of inaction are unacceptably high. There was a time when we could claim that our actions, in isolation, would be ineffective. That day is past. It is now clear that our inaction reduces the effectiveness of international efforts to address climate change, and provides an excuse for China, India, Mexico, Brazil, and the other leading emitters of the future to stay with us on the sidelines.
"I personally believe that the single most important step we can take to resume a leadership role in international climate change efforts would be to make real progress toward a domestic emissions reduction regime. For too long we have abdicated the responsibility to reduce our own emissions, the largest single source of the problem we face today. We have the world's largest economy, with the highest per capita emissions. Rather than leading by example, we have retreated from international negotiations.
"Beginning with the hearing Senator Boxer has convened today, we will see renewed efforts to pass legislation to create that regime, to reduce our domestic emissions, and to open our many responsible American businesses to both international emissions trading and the new markets for clean technologies in the developing world. Moving toward that goal will be crucial to the effectiveness and credibility of our international efforts.
"There are many possible paths to that goal. Our legislative process with provide the forum for us to consider many options. One option that we do not have is inaction. "We are all on this planet together. We cannot protect ourselves from the effects of climate change by acting alone - this is a global problem that will require a global solution. To undertake meaningful reductions, countries will need to know that their actions will not be undercut by "free riders" who continue business as usual while they commit to change. To build that trust will require commitments by all of the key players, and the institutions to coordinate the actions of independent nations.
"That is why the United States must be a leader on climate change issues, and that is why I have been working for three decades to take on this challenge.
"On this issue, quite literally, history will be our judge. I congratulate Senator Boxer for her leadership on this issue, as well as my colleagues on both sides of the aisle who will have joined in this effort."