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Panel I and II of a Hearing of the Senate Commerce , Science and Transportation Committee

Location: Washington, DC

Federal News Service


SEN. MCCAIN: Welcome.

Today's hearing will be the third in a series of hearings this committee has held this year on the very critical topic of global climate change, an issue of worldwide importance. The National Academy of Sciences has reported that, quote, "Greenhouse gases are accumulating in the Earth's atmosphere as a result of human activities, causing surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean temperatures to rise. Temperatures are, in fact, rising. The changes observed over the last several decades are likely mostly due to human activities, but we cannot rule out that some significant part of these changes is also a reflection of natural variability."

While the National Academy of Sciences statement allows that factors other than human activity may affect temperatures, there's broad scientific consensus that global warming is occurring, that human activity is causing it, and that its consequences are extremely serious. While these consequences are alarming to think about and politicians are naturally inclined to postpone tough choices, no excuse for inaction on this issue is acceptable.

While Congress and the administration continue to expend their efforts on justifying our inaction, many countries have already recognized the scientific consensus, some states have joined together to address the problem, and domestic businesses are taking their own actions to respond to global climate change.

Earlier this year, Senator Lieberman and I introduced S. 139, the Climate Stewardship Act of 2003, which proposes to establish a mandatory carbon dioxide reduction program along with an emissions- trading system. We believe that a market-based approach combined with mandatory caps and federal oversight offers the best way for the nation to respond to a growing global environmental threat.

We requested the Energy Information Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency to conduct analyses of our climate change proposal. While EIA responded to our request, EPA did not. Based on the EIA's analysis as well as an independent analysis performed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Tellis (sp) Institute, we intend to offer a modified approach when the Senate finally debates our climate change legislation, which we expect to occur later this month.

Specifically, Senator Lieberman and I will offer a substitute amendment which will, among other things, eliminate the second target date for reductions of greenhouse gases. It also would require the affected sectors to reduce their greenhouse gases -- greenhouse emissions to the year 2000 levels by the year 2010, which is approximately 1.5 percent below today's levels. The bill as introduced would have required additional reductions by the year 2016. By modifying the bill, we expect to build additional momentum for the measure in the Senate. We've insisted on and secured an agreement for a vote on the measure, a vote that must take place in order for constituents to know where their senators stand on one of the most important environmental issues of our time.

We have a number of witnesses with us today to help further inform the committee about the results of leading-edge scientific research, discuss actions being taken by industry in response to this growing worldwide concern, and public reaction to recent environmental reports on climate change. We're also joined today by a representative from the European Union to discuss the EU's efforts to develop a -- a cap-and-trade system.

I welcome our witnesses here today and look forward to their testimony. First, I'd like to ask Mr. Joseph (sic) Delbeke -- he's the director for Air Quality, Climate Change and Biotechnology, the Delegation of the European Commission of the European Union -- to come forward. (Pause.)

Welcome, Mr. Delbeke, and thank you for giving us your perspective, given your responsibilities on this issue. And thank you. And I understand that your testimony will be in the form of a statement of position. So, we make that clear for the record. Thank you, sir. Please proceed.


SEN. MCCAIN: Thank you very much, sir. You mention in your statement that the estimated cost of Kyoto compliance is less than 0.1 percent of GDP. How does -- how does that fit in with estimates from here in the United States that if the United States were involved in a similar activity it would be a huge and devastating impact on our economy? I don't quite understand the contradiction there.

MR. DELBEKE: Well, Mr. Chairman, when we embarked on this exercise, we were asked to do that exactly for that reason, because we were told that the costs could be very high -- and indeed they could be very high. But when we were spotting low-cost measures, including emissions trading, we were discovering for ourselves how vast the possibilities are for companies to improve their energy efficiency. In most cases we learned through their participation in this study -- it was a stakeholder involvement, but also businesses, experts, member states, et cetera, were present -- that they were gradually discovering for themselves that if you have squeezed out some 5 to 10 percent energy efficiency in many different parts of the economy, that that is possible. So the art is to squeeze them out where they are available at the lowest cost. And, for example, we know that we have subsidy schemes in place in Europe for the coal sector and energy field in general, where we could do a major exercise in scaling them down -- what we have been doing currently over the last decade. They are still there, but far less important than what they were at the beginning of the exercise.

SEN. MCCAIN: Could you send us the basis for your estimates of the impact on the economy and the rationale for it? It would be very helpful when we discuss it here on proposed impacts.

This isn't exactly on the subject, but the heat wave in Europe this summer was a prominent topic in the American media, not to mention the European media. Can you comment on observation or analysis of the European Commission regarding the correlation between that and patterns of global climate change? Or was that just a one- shot experience?

MR. DELBEKE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Indeed we are very much willing to convey all information to you about the economics with it, and that is indeed available already on the website of the European Commission Climate Change Unit.

SEN. MCCAIN: Thank you very much.

MR. DELBEKE: But I can confirm to you that the heat wave in Europe, and the way water has appeared in the news over the last couple of years, has become a very dominant theme in the minds of the day-to-day people. We have had the flooding in Central Europe and in Eastern Europe, and we have had the heat wave and the drought last summer. So people are very, very much aware about how the appearance of water is becoming irregular, and people talk about it and make the link with climate change. That's why I think the policies we have been discussing have been supported by an overwhelming majority in the parliament, in the parliaments of the member states, because people feel that something is happening. They are aware of the research that has been done worldwide, including from the IPPC, and they would like to contribute their little bit to the solution of the problem, and would look very much to other parties in the world to do the same.

SEN. MCCAIN: Thank you. And, again, your economic estimates will be very helpful to us, because the major opposition to the very modest proposal that Senator Lieberman and I have is the economic consequences. And so I think it would be very helpful in the debate to use your analyses of cap and trade, and so I think it can be very helpful. And you have been very helpful to us today.


SEN. MCCAIN: I thank Mr. Delbeke. In the laws of unintended consequences that a number of countries, including this one over time, may take a look at advanced technology as it applies to nuclear power. I think there's been a dramatic change both in generation of nuclear waste and size of -- but it will be a very interesting thing to observe.

Mr. Delbeke, I thank you for coming today. I appreciate the opportunity of getting your outlook and your plans and proposals for the European Union, and we look forward to working with you, and we hope some day we will all be working together. Thank you very much for being here.

MR. DELBEKE: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

SEN. MCCAIN: Thank you. Our next panel is Dr. Antonio Busalacchi, who is the chair of the Climate Research Committee, Board on Atmosphere Science and Climate on the National Research Council; Mr. Tom M.L. Wigley, who is the senior scientist, Climate and Global Dynamics Divisions, the Climate Analysis Section and program director of Consortium for the Application of Climate Impact Assessments, the National Center for Atmospheric Research; Mr. Stephen H. Schneider, who is a professor, Department of Biological Sciences, and co-director of Center for Environmental Science and Policy at Stanford University. Mr. Schneider, I particularly want to thank you for traveling a long way on short notice. And, Mr. Wigley, I would like to congratulate you as the longest title of any -- (laughter) -- witness who has appeared here. Thank you.

Mr. Busalacchi, thank you, and we'll begin.

MR. BUSALACCHI: Good morning, I've submitted --

SEN. MCCAIN: Is that the proper pronunciation, sir?

MR. BUSALACCHI: Perfect. Very good, thank you. Good morning, senators. Thank you very much for this opportunity to testify. I'm Tony Busalacchi, professor at the University of Maryland, and I serve as the chair of the National Academies' Climate Research Committee. I want to use my time this morning to summarize what most scientists agree to be true about the change in the Earth's climate.

Understanding climate and whether it is changing and why is one of the most crucial questions facing humankind in the 21st century. This question is a subject of much scientific research, and of course policy debate, since the economic and environmental implications could be large. The National Academies have produced number of reports focused on understanding climate in recent years, and my testimony draws heavily from two of these -- a February 2003 report here, I show here, that give input to the administration's draft, "U.S. Climate Change Science Program's Strategic Plan," and a 2001 report called "Climate Change Science," that was done at the request of the White House. This report answered a series of specific questions designed to identify areas in climate change science, where there are the greatest certainties and uncertainties. If you haven't read this report, there's an excellent summary only about 25 pages long. It is written in very straightforward language.

As explained in that report, the "Climate Change Science," there is wide scientific consensus that climate is indeed changing. Greenhouse gasses are accumulating in the Earth's atmosphere as a result of human activities, causing surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean temperatures to rise. Our confidence in this conclusion is higher today than it was 10, or even 5, years ago.

Yet uncertainties remain. Because there is a level of natural invariability inherent in the climate system, on time scales of decades or centuries, that can be difficult to interpret with precision, because we gather this evidence from spare observations, numerical models and proxy records such as ice cores and tree rings. Despite the uncertainties, however, there is widespread agreement that the observed warming is real, and particularly strong within the past 20 years.

A diverse array of evidence supports the view that global air temperatures are warming. Instrumental records from land stations and ships indicate global mean surface temperatures have warmed by about 0.7 to 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit during the 20th century. The warming trend is spatially widespread, and it is inconsistent with the global retreat of mountain glaciers, reductions in snow-cover extent, the earlier spring melting of ice on rivers and lakes, 20th century sea- level rise, to name a few. The ocean, which represents the larger reservoir of heat in the climate system, has warmed since the 1950s by about a 10th of a degree when averaged from surface down two miles at depth into the ocean.

The role that human activities have played in causing these climate changes has been a subject of debate and research for more than a decade. There is no doubt that humans have modified the abundance of key greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, in particular carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and tropospheric ozone. These gasses are at their highest recorded levels. In fact, ice core records of carbon dioxide and methane show that today's amounts are significantly larger than at any period over the past 400,000 years.

The increase in these greenhouse gasses is primarily due to fossil fuels combustion, agriculture and land-use changes. Recent research advances have led to widespread acceptance that the human- induced increase in greenhouse gas abundance is responsible for a significant portion of the observed climate change. The precise size of that portion is difficult to quantify against the backdrop of natural variability and climate forcing uncertainties.

Because the Earth system responds so slowly to changes in greenhouse gas levels, and because altering established energy use practices is difficult, changes in impacts attributable to these factors will continue during the 21st century and beyond. Current models indicate a large potential range for future changes, with global mean surface temperature warming by anywhere from two and a half to ten and a half degrees Fahrenheit by 2100.

Given increasing evidence of how humans have modified the Earth's climate over the last century, it is imperative for the nation to continue directing resources toward better observing, modeling and understanding the forms future changes in climate and climate variability may take; substantial positive and negative impacts of these changes on humans and ecosystems; and how society can best mitigate or adapt to these changes.

Thank you for this opportunity to talk about climate change. This is a problem that affects us all, and a problem that the scientific community does take seriously, and does not shy away from its responsibility to provide objective scientific assessment in support of sound policy decisions. I'll be happy to take any questions at the appropriate time.

SEN. MCCAIN: Thank you very much, doctor. Dr. Wigley.


SEN. MCCAIN: Thank you very much, Dr. Schneider. Dr. Busalacchi, could I refer back to your statement? I think it's a very strong and compelling one. "Despite uncertainty, there's widespread agreement that the observed warming is real and particularly strong within the last 20 years." It's -- your statement is full of very strong assertions that we have a serious problem, and yet your answer is, well, all we need to do is keep monitoring and observing. "It's imperative for the nation to continue directing resources towards better observing, modeling and understanding of what form future changes in climate and climate variability may take, potential positive and negative impacts of these changes on human -- (inaudible) -- and how society can best mitigate" -- Doctor, your recipe belies the problem. Don't you think we should at least take some modest steps towards reducing these impacts that are -- that you so graphically and dramatically described, rather than continue monitoring and observing?

MR. BUSALACCHI: I'm trying to make -- draw a distinction between myself as a physical scientists, trying to give you the state, the assessment of the system. You asked my -- you asked me now as a parent, as a citizen, then I give you a different answer. All right. So, I am trying -- I'm not trying to play games, okay?

SEN. MCCAIN: Well, as a parent and a citizen, perhaps we deserve the benefit of your view.

MR. BUSALACCHI: I want -- I want an environment, I want the quality of life for my grandchildren to be better than it is for me right now. We --

SEN. MCCAIN: And better than it's projected to be under the present circumstances.

MR. BUSALACCHI: That's correct. And we are not -- right now, we collectively are not on a path to give my grandchildren and your grandchildren improved quality of life. So, now we're talking about policy actions. Yes, I mean, the time has come to take action. The burden of proof there within the scientific community is there. Outside this room, quite oftentimes the pulse of the scientist community is oftentimes described as you have a collection of scientists over here that a pro-global warming, and a collection of scientists over here that are skeptical. That's not the way the situation is. In reality, it's actually like the burden of proof is way over on this side that we have a problem, this planet has a fever, and it is time to be taking action.

SEN. MCCAIN: And could I -- could I reemphasize your point, going back to what Dr. Schneider was mentioning -- this hearing 15 years ago in the '80s, we would have had basically that balance you're talking about, right?

MR. BUSALACCHI: Yes, but --

SEN. MCCAIN: I've been around long enough to know that. And the preponderance keeps shifting in the direction of the conclusions that you reach in your statement.

MR. BUSALACCHI: The evidence is there. The time is now to take action.

SEN. MCCAIN: Well, I thank you for that -- for that statement.

Dr. Wigley, one of the comments -- and thank you for all your good works, also, by the way. Dr. Wigley, we've had witnesses and writings and other things. Look, back 40,000 years ago, or whatever it was, we had an ice age, and earth almost froze. Look, you guys are not looking at the long-term problem here. Now, that's one reason why I was very interested in your chart, just going back to 1870. But there are many people who are opposed to us taking any action who will claim that this is just one of those actions of history, exactly as the ice age was a well.

MR. WIGLEY: Yes, I don't deny that there are natural changes, but the changes that are projected over the next hundred years are far, far greater than anything that's occurred over the last 10,000 years at least. And as Stephen Schneider pointed out, there's very strong evidence that the present warming in the last 20 to 50 years is totally unprecedented in the last 2,000 years. So, you know, we're talking about moving into totally unknown territory. Forty thousand years ago, you know, if you were a mammoth, then maybe you were happy, but I don't think there were any industrialized nations or human beings, you know, coping with water resources and agriculture at that time. You know, we are in a different situation nowadays, and these changes really are unprecedented. And they're in a direction where immediate action of some form is absolutely required.

SEN. MCCAIN: You know, this proposal of Senator Lieberman's and mine has been described as the end of Western civilization as we know it. Would you perhaps comment, perhaps all three of you very briefly, as to -- as to -- I'm sorry to say, this very modest measure that it indeed is. Maybe -- I don't know if you want to comment Dr. Busalacchi, but perhaps you would.

MR. BUSALACCHI: I'd just follow-up on what I said last time. It's time to be moving forward. Even if it is modest steps, they're steps forward rather than no steps at all. And so we need to be advancing on this issue, plain and simple.

SEN. MCCAIN: Thank you, sir. Dr. Wigley.

MR. WIGLEY: Yes, of course, I agree.

SEN. MCCAIN: And if you had a magic wand, you would want us to do the following.

MR. WIGLEY: The proposals you've made I think are both beneficial to the environment and potentially beneficial to the economy. As with the Kyoto Protocol, they are only first steps in what is a century time scale problem, but they seem to be very positive first steps. And as the European Union is doing, I mean, the only way to approach this problem is learning by doing. And, you know, the only way to learn by doing is to do first and then benefit from that experience and then decide what to do on a longer time scale.

SEN. MCCAIN: Thank you. Dr. Schneider, would you respond? And also, would you care to comment, because you are highlighted by Senator Inhofe as being a critic of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change results, maybe you'd like to clarify your comments there?

MR. SCHNEIDER: Yes, thank you. You began your question to us by noting that rhetorical excess is not absent from the climate debate either, and we're all used to it. The unfortunate problem is that when you have a complex issue of this type, what happens is when you go through the procedure outdoors where -- where you get one scientists who says "good for you" and one "the end of the world," and they get equal time in the op ed pages, it's very easy for people to be confused about this complexity. But as my colleagues had said earlier, there is very little debate among the mainstream scientific community over the substantial likelihood that humans are already in the game and will in fact become increasingly strong over time.

Looking backwards 40,000 years in fact is very important. It's the backdrop against which we calibrate our understanding to go forward. There are no analogies from the past on what will happen in the future because there weren't six billion people tightly locked in national boundaries. They didn't have a billion of them at nutritional margins. They didn't have the land use pressures that they've put on, nor the dependencies on expected climate to feed that many people, for example. So, as a result of that, the situation is different, and we go backward to try to explain how the thing works, then we look at what humans might do and what policies, such as those that you are discussing now, might do in reducing the pressure we put on.

And we ask those questions differentially, and I think that's the appropriate mode to go in. And the rhetorical excesses will go on because those are often by people who are -- let's be very blunt -- who are special interests in protecting certain groups who are afraid that the kinds of actions to remind us that the atmosphere is not a free sewer, and if our tail pipes are going to be reducing what we dump in it, it will probably have to have a charge associated with it, otherwise it won't work. It's very difficult to expect people to stop at red lights or at stop signs if they were voluntary. And as a result of that, one has to look towards rules that are fair and effective, and I applaud the committee for doing that.

You asked one other thing at the end, and I'm not certain I remember. If you could remind again my jet-lagged head, I will try to answer that, because I was answering the first part of your question.

SEN. MCCAIN: Senator Inhofe --


SEN. MCCAIN: -- environment --

MR. SCHNEIDER: Yeah, quoting me as saying that there's uncertainty is fine, that's a correct quote. In fact, for the last IPCC, Richard Moss and I were somewhat unaffectionately dubbed the "uncertainty cops," because we wrote the guidance paper that was rather aggressive in insisting that, for policymakers to find statements from scientists useful, they wanted to have probabilities attached so that you'd know how to make resource decisions in the face of scarcity by knowing the relative likelihood of various outcomes.

And I clearly believe that uncertainty is necessary. I'm also, like any scientist, skeptical of any result, new and old, when we're always continuously refining, which is precisely how the community works. On the other hand, the more we try to prove something wrong and the less we can do it, the more we begin to believe that there's a substantial likelihood that it's true. And that's precisely where the mainstream scientific community is sitting on this.

What he quoted, unfortunately, was not accurate. He quoted me as saying that the IPCC was not peer-reviewed. In fact, the IPCC is mega-peer-reviewed. I edit a peer-review journal, "Climatic Change," and I am very envious of the degree of peer review IPCC or the National Research Council is able to obtain.

I get two or three scientists to comment on a paper, and then usually the comments are sufficiently critical that we have to have it rewritten. And maybe I'll bring in a fourth person to try to give advice on whether it's a balanced response, and I, like a judge, have to make a decision as to what's enough.

In the case of the IPCC, it was almost odious, for those of us who were lead authors, because not only did we have peer-review comments from hundreds and hundreds of people and from many, many different nations and from all stakeholder groups, but we had to prepare, in our revisions, responses to review editors saying how we dealt with each comment.

We couldn't just dismiss it, because, you know, in the coffee klatch around the room, we said, "Well, we don't like this guy so we don't trust him, so we're going to ignore it." There had to be real reasons written down to justify to the review editors any peer comment that was ignored, and we had to explain how we dealt with them and why and that we didn't overreact.

And this didn't just happen once. It happened three times. So for a pro bono operation, it was absolutely amazing that the scientific community responded by putting in so many personal hours working on this project with this kind of peer review and the requirement that it be justified how you respond.

And I'm personally very proud of my colleagues for having done that and appreciate your noticing the credibility of the IPCC and the National Academy. And those people who impugn it either don't know about it or have other convenient personal reasons for making charges that are frankly false.

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