Global Warming Debate Gets Hotter

As President Bush was about to leave for his first presidential trip to Europe, a panel of distinguished scientists issued a report affirming predictions of global warming. Amid rising international criticism of his policies on greenhouse-gas emissions, Bush acknowledged the problem but offered few specific proposals to counter it.

“We can make great progress in reducing emissions, and we will,” said Bush at the White House this week, noting the panel’s conclusion that Earth’s average temperature has risen about 0.6C since 1900.

The report, which the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in Washington, D.C., produced with unusual swiftness, asserts a strong scientific consensus regarding climate predictions. The panel, headed by atmospheric scientist Ralph Cicerone of the University of California, Irvine, agreed that an accumulation of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases could heat the planet between 1.4 and 5.8C in this century. That shift “could well have serious adverse societal and ecological impacts,” according to the report.

President Bush had commissioned the report shortly after his March rejection of the Kyoto Protocol, an agreement signed in 1997 by negotiators for 167 nations, including the United States. The accord sets limits on the emissions of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide. Bush reaffirmed his rejection of the protocol but said he would continue to seek international solutions to the problem. “My administration is committed to a leadership role,” he said.

The NAS report came to much the same conclusions as a longer scientific report that the United Nations compiled in January for nations still hashing out the Kyoto accord. The NAS panel called the U.N. report an “admirable summary of research.”

Both the U.S. and U.N. reports conclude that human activity “very likely” has caused the increase in global temperatures since 1900. Both reports also concede that uncertainties remain about the role of human-generated gas emissions because of gaps in knowledge about natural climate variations.

In his White House statement, the President highlighted those uncertainties, while announcing plans to increase funding for research that could sharpen climate predictions and create new emission-cutting technologies. He offered no detailed proposals to reduce emissions now. He promised, however, to address the problem through voluntary market-based incentives, as well as through the use of nuclear energy and other technologies that yield little greenhouse gas.

“The President is helping to lead the world out of the Kyoto quagmire,” said Glenn Kelly of the Washington, D.C.–based Global Climate Coalition, which represents fuel industries. In Kyoto, Japan, U.S. negotiators agreed to reduce greenhouse emissions to 7 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. Congress never ratified the proposal, however, and Bush has called the goals “unrealistic.”

Environmentalists saw little substance in the President’s proposals. “Where is the actual cut in pollution?” asks Kalee Kreider, global warming campaign director of the National Environmental Trust, also based in Washington.

Anders Jessen, the European Union’s counselor for transport, energy, and environment in Washington, D.C., said he shares the skepticism of many in Europe who doubt that Bush can come up with a workable alternative to the Kyoto Protocol. “I think there is a lot of reluctance around the world to throw all that work out the window and start over,” said Jessen. Adds Kreider, “Somehow he [Bush] thinks that 10 people in the White House are going to come up with something better.”

While the European Union is on target to meeting its Kyoto-agreed goal of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions to 8 percent below 1990 level by 2012, U.S. emissions have increased more than 11 percent during the past decade.

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