[CRS Issue Brief for Congress]

89005: Global Climate Change

Updated December 4, 1996

John R. Justus and Wayne A. Morrissey
Science Policy Research Division

CONTENTS

SUMMARY

MOST RECENT DEVELOPMENTS

BACKGROUND AND ANALYSIS

Greenhouse Effect and Global Warming
Greenhouse Gases: Sources and Trends
The Policy Context
International Action
Framework Convention on Climate Change
First Conference of Parties (COP) to the FCCC
The Berlin Mandate
Ad Hoc Group on the Berlin Mandate (AGBM)
"Beyond Berlin"
COP-2 and a Ministerial Declaration
Next Steps
Congressional Interest and Activities
104th Congress

CHRONOLOGY

FOR ADDITIONAL READING


SUMMARY

There is concern that human activities are affecting the energy-exchange balance between Earth, the atmosphere, and space, inducing global climate changes. Possible effects may have results that could be seen as both positive and negative. Human activities, particularly burning of fossil fuels, have increased atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) and other trace gases, including chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), methane, and nitrous oxide. If these gases continue to accumulate in the atmosphere at current rates, global warming could occur through intensification of the natural "greenhouse effect," moderating Earth's climate. Such warming could affect agriculture, forestry, and water resources, and, under certain scenarios, could lead to either rising or falling sea levels depending upon climate system responses. Although causal relationships between these projected long-range trends, the record-setting warmth of the 1980s, or singular events such as the severe U.S. drought of 1988, and severe flooding and storms in the 1990s, have not been firmly established, such conditions have focused public attention on extremes of climate change and on the need for better understanding of climate and for improved climate prediction models. The basic question is: Given the scientific uncertainties regarding the magnitude, timing, rate, and regional consequences of the potential climatic change, what are the appropriate policy responses?

Fossil-fuel combustion, the primary source of CO2 emissions, also emits other "greenhouse" gases. Removing these gases after combustion imposes severe technical difficulties and economic penalties. Policy options to curb emissions stress energy efficiency and conservation, tree planting to offset atmospheric CO2, market-oriented strategies such as carbon taxes, and the substitution of nuclear energy, renewable energy, and less CO2-intensive fossil fuels.

Global warming would probably have far reaching effects on agriculture and forestry. Regional agricultural practices could change, yield stabilities might decrease in some regions, and survival over winter of some insect pests might increase. Forest productivity might decline in some regions; and changes in climate, when added to other stresses forests are undergoing, could produce major regional disturbances. Some modification, e.g., in northernmost growing regions, might be beneficial, however.

Congress has sought to acquire information about possible climate change, to evaluate potential economic and strategic impacts of a warmer climate, and to formulate appropriate policy responses. Because of the global implications of this problem, some Members and committees of Congress elevated concern internationally through direct communication with world leaders, participation in international conferences, passage of congressional resolutions and appropriate legislation, and exchange of views and information with international organizations within and outside the United Nations system. It is in this milieu that scientists, diplomats, and policymakers completed negotiations on a framework convention on climate change under United Nations General Assembly auspices--achieving consensus on a binding, yet voluntary agreement to attempt to stabilize atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations. Governments are now deciding what steps, if any, may be necessary in the post-2000 period to "prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system."


MOST RECENT DEVELOPMENTS

On July 18, 1996, in Geneva, The Ministerial Declaration of the Second Conference of Parties (COP-2) of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC) was adopted. The Declaration expresses the intent of FCCC parties to 1) accept, outright, the scientific findings on climate change proffered by the 1995 scientific assessment of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC); 2) rejects uniform "harmonized policies" for all economically developed (Annex I) countries in favor of flexibility; and 3) calls for "legally-binding mid-term targets," which would be implemented between 2010-2020, and synchronized with developed countries economic and environmental interests.

U.S. negotiators rejected any rapid transition strategies, such as that suggested in the EU proposal to begin emissions reductions in the year 2005, which they claim would interrupt economic growth in the United States or compromise economic interests of energy providing industries. They also rejected an imposition of "harmonized policies and measures" on Annex I countries, such as uniform international CAFE standards and energy taxes, but rather would consider implementing an emissions trading model whose precedence is found in the U.S. Clean Air Act, and employ other "flexible measures", which include joint implementation projects.


BACKGROUND AND ANALYSIS

Greenhouse Effect and Global Warming

Concern is growing that human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, and certain land-use practices, are increasing atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) that, along with increasing concentrations of other trace gases (chlorofluorocarbons-CFCs, methane, nitrous oxide), could affect global climate. According to some projections based on computer models of the atmosphere, if these gases continue to accumulate, a globally averaged warming of 3 to 8 degrees F. could occur over the next 100 years through enhancement of Earth's naturally occurring "greenhouse effect" -- the process by which the atmosphere traps infrared radiation emitted by the Earth, thus warming the Earth's surface. Such a warming could shift temperature zones, rainfall patterns, and agricultural belts and, under certain scenarios, cause sea level to either rise and inundate low-lying coastal areas or, in the event polar ice sheets grow, to fall and expose more land area near the coasts. Global warming could have far-reaching effects -- some positive, some negative depending upon how it may be experienced in a given region -- on natural resources; biodiversity; food and fiber production; energy supply, use, and distribution; transportation; land use; water supply and control; and human health and welfare.

There have been some controversial claims that a CO2-induced global warming signal has been detected. Indeed, globally averaged air temperatures have warmed by about 0.9 degrees F over the last 100 years. Natural variability of climate is large enough, however, that even the record-setting warmth of the 1980s or singular events such as the severe U.S. drought of summer 1988, flooding of the Mississippi River and the devastation of Hurricane Andrew in 1993, or severe winter storms in 1995 do not allow the vast majority of knowledgeable scientists to state beyond a reasonable doubt that these weather extremes are attributable to global warming, at least at the present time. Although causal relationships between long-range global trends and present-day severe weather events are beginning to be established, as in the case of periodic El Nino events, singular extreme events such as these focus attention on possible climate change and the need for better understanding of global and regional climate. Recently IPCC scientists acknowledged a "discernable human impact on the climate system. Some surface data point to 1995 as being the warmest year since historical records have been kept, while satellites, which have been measuring the conditions of the atmosphere above the surface over the past 15 years, are hard pressed to demonstrate temperature trends. IPCC findings point to data reflecting climatic changes more rapid than have been observed over the past 10,000 years. Also there have been changes noted in the measured frequency and intensity of precipitation which are consistent with some computer models of enhanced greenhouse effect. So the question is now raised whether scientists can affirm a "smoking gun" which would indicate that humans are indeed the cause of recent climatic change and would be responsible for future global warming.

Greenhouse Gases: Sources and Trends

The four most important variable greenhouse gases, whose atmospheric concentrations can be influenced by human activities, are CO2, methane, nitrous oxide, and chlorofluorocarbons-CFCs. Historically, CO2 has been the most important, but over the past several decades other gases have assumed increasing significance. Collectively, they are projected to contribute, directly, about as much to potential global warming over the next 60 years as CO2.

The amount of carbon cycling from naturally occurring processes each year through the biosphere as CO2 is enormous -- some 700 billion tons. As evidenced by the general long-term stability of the global climate, the amounts generated by natural processes have been about equal to the amounts absorbed by natural processes. Human activity, mostly in the form of burning fossil fuels, is now generating some 24 billion tons of CO2 per year. Available evidence shows that only about half this amount is being absorbed by natural processes, where as atmospheric CO2 concentrations are increasing steadily, and are now about 26% higher than they were 100 years ago. Government scientists recently suggested that a greater amount of CO2 than had been suspected is being stored in northern latitude temperate forests, which focuses greater interest on the role of burning of biomass and deforestation in these regions.

Human activities are believed to be responsible for half or more of the total annual generation of methane and nitrous oxide, but there has been much less study of sources and sinks (both natural and human-related) of these gases, so some uncertainties remain (see Policy Context). Nonetheless, available data show that the atmospheric concentrations of methane and nitrous oxide are also growing steadily, but the rate of growth rate of methane appears to be decreasing. Methane that results from human activities comes from cattle-raising, rice paddies, and trash dumps, and from losses to the atmosphere of natural gas during its production, transportation, and use. Natural sources include ruminant (grazing) animals, wetlands, and, to a lesser extent, termites. Most people-related nitrous oxide results from fossil fuel combustion and industrial production of nylon, while most naturally occurring nitrous oxide emissions are from biological processes in soil.

There are no naturally occurring chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). These gases, which may last in the atmosphere for a century or more, all result from human activity. Ironically, CFCs became so ubiquitous because they are mostly nontoxic (in low ambient concentrations), nonflammable, and very stable compounds. Their effects on the atmosphere, such as their capacity for depleting stratospheric ozone, were totally unforeseen when they entered commerce. Global reductions have been achieved by regulatory means and additional voluntary actions taken by the signatory parties of the 1987 Montreal Protocol. November 1992 amendments phased out production of CFCs and halons beginning in 1996, and proposed future phaseouts of less destructive CFC substitutes known as HCFCs. Methyl bromide, a widely used agricultural fumigant, is also regulated, but certain quarantine uses are exempted, for now, until 1997. At the sixth meeting of the Vienna Convention, parties agreed to an adjustment to the Montreal Protocol, subjecting all HCFCs and methyl bromide to a global phaseout by 2040, but with provisions for continued essential uses until that time. With such steps as these, some scientists have reported that the Earth's ozone layer may well be on the way toward a recovery and that atmospheric concentration of ozone depleting substances, chlorine in particular, could return to "pre-ozone hole levels" just after the turn of the century.

UNEP scientists found that CFCs can have both a direct global warming effect and a cooling effect, the latter occurring because CFC-induced depletion of ozone -- itself a greenhouse gas -- exerts a climate-cooling effect when loss of stratospheric ozone reduces the amount of heat radiated down into the troposphere. But taken together, the radiative forcing (global warming potential) of the CFC molecules and the climatecooling effect of ozone depletion were estimated by scientists to be similar in magnitude, opposite in sign, and, indeed, might even be offsetting. Also, it is important to note that cooling effects of the CFCs might not be distributed uniformly over the globe, but might favor regions with high sulfate emissions.

Scientists are also assessing the indirect cooling effects that occur due to ozone depletion involving background concentrations of sulfate aerosols in the stratosphere. Such reactions did not figure in older computer models that simulate stratospheric ozone chemistry. The so-called "parasol effect", which is most pronounced in the northern hemisphere, owing to industrialization and resultant air pollution, is attributed to the reflection of incoming solar radiation (sunlight) by sulfate "veils" in the lower stratosphere, as well as to reflection of sunlight by clouds, the formation of which is influenced by the capacity of sulfate particles to act as cloud condensation nuclei. Sulfate aerosols can be byproducts of fossil fuel combustion or natural processes such as volcanic eruptions and sea spray. Higher background concentrations of sulfate aerosols tend to be found near areas of industrialization. Some augmented, albeit transient, increases are anticipated in the weeks and months following a major volcanic eruption. However, scientists have pointed out that the real implications for Earth'sclimate are associated, to a greater degree, with longer-term ozone depletion effects that occur because of the longer-lived, man-made ozone-depleting substances. The FCCC explicitly precludes greenhouse gases, such as CFCs, regulated by the Montreal Protocol for meeting its goals. (See International Action)

There has been scientific debate about why observed temperatures have so far lagged behind theoretical climate model projections of greenhouse gas-induced temperature increases, at least as far a daytime maximum temperatures are concerned. Research has yielded finding that the particle size and mass distribution of sulfate aerosols would produce different climatic effects. For example, large aerosol droplets also trap longwave radiation and, like a greenhouse gas, reradiate heat which warms the troposphere. Therefore, although the parasol effect (cooling) of sulfate aerosols would prevail during daylight hours, scientists believe a heat-trapping effect would probably prevail at night, when heat gained during daylight hours is released from the Earth's surface. This effect, some scientists claim, can already be observed as an average increase of 0.3o C (0.5o F) of daily minimum (nighttime) temperatures over northern hemisphere mid-latitudes. Others representing a more skeptical point of view have countered that sulfate particles represented in global climate models cannot account for the magnitude and distribution of cooling being observed.

Last fall, when preparing its second "Integrated Assessment of Climate Change," IPCC (U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) scientists claimed to have found compelling evidence to suggest that if the nations of the globe intend to hold collective greenhouse gas concentrations to no more than a third of current predictions for 2100, or at around 700 parts per million in equivalent concentrations of CO2--which translates into a 0.5oF-2.7oF temperature rise--then stronger actions to control greenhouse gas emissions will have to be taken in the very near future. This is contradicted somewhat by a recent assertion that no stronger controls are necessary until 2040, if technological measures to significantly reduce or eliminate emissions can be employed at that time. Some scientists have asserted that there would not be any significant differences in the state of the climate by the middle of the next century, whether countries were to take stronger control measures now to control greenhouse gases or wait until the year 2040. They admonish, however, that it is critical to have control technologies implemented by 2040, and aggressive strategies that would allow for significant reductions and, in some cases, elimination of emissions after that time. Scientists are also debating whether recent reemergence of tropical diseases in higher latitudes may be an indication that Earth's climate is warming.

If all these interactions among pollutants and the atmosphere sound complicated, that is because they are. Atmospheric pollution might be causing global warming, but atmospheric pollution might be holding it in check, too--at least in the northern hemisphere--making policy choices all that much more difficult!

The Policy Context

The prospect of global warming from an increase in greenhouse gases became a major science policy issue during the past decade. Seeking answers to a number of questions - - How much warming?...How soon?...Should we worry? -- a growing number of policymakers at the national and international levels continue to debate the advantages and disadvantages of an active governmental role in forging policies to deal with prospective climate change.

Many who wish to improve knowledge about climate change, and those who support cautious and informed policy responses, have been proponents of long-term scientific research efforts which would help to identify sources and sinks of greenhouse gases; the Earth-atmosphere energy budget; and how humans might be contributing to and potentially may be affected by climate change. Some have also suggested that conduct of research along these lines would improve climate model prognostications.

How real is the human-induced global warming threat? Another 10-15 years of continued warming would add certainty to the scientific projections, but waiting for this added assurance might put society at risk for a larger dose of climate change than if actions to curb or slow the buildup of greenhouse gases were implemented now. But actions on what scale? Moreover, in times of fiscal restraint and deficit reduction, many policymakers, here and abroad, are counseling cautious courses of action to address potential climate change. They wish to avoid committing their governments and private sectors to the expenditure of major resources in support of remedial, perhaps expedient actions for consequences that are theoretical and cannot be foreseen with confidence.

Given uncertainties about the timing, pace, and magnitude of global warming projections and the imprecise nature of the regional distribution of possible climate changes, and recognizing the complex feedback mechanisms within the climate system that could mask, mimic, moderate, amplify, or even reverse a greenhouse-gas-induced warming, the question is posed: What policy responses, if any, are appropriate, now, or in the future? Some have suggested that collectively, a number of anticipatory, yet flexible policy responses might be likened to the purchase of an "insurance policy" to hedge against the risks of potential climate change in the future. For example, the Netherlands, below sea-level, and some low lying U.S. coastal cities, such as Charleston, SC, have already pursued policies and actions to protect themselves against potential future sea-level rise as they are already susceptible to flooding and storm surges.

Broader national responses could range from engineering countermeasures, to passive adaptation, to prevention, and an international law of the atmosphere. One approach that has been widely discussed, the so-called "no regrets" approach, is to implement those policies now that would not only reduce emissions of greenhouse gases but would provide additional benefits to society as well. Policy options that stress energy efficiency and conservation, renewable energy, planting trees to enhance CO2 sequestration from the atmosphere, and fuel substitution are important examples. Many scientists also stress that such actions might buy time to gain a better understanding of global climate change, by forestalling the onset of potential global warming or, at least, slowing the rate of climate change that may be human induced.

The Bush Administration adhered to a "no regrets" policy, without actually committing to CO2 targets and timetables, in an attempt to come into alignment, in principle, with a majority of industrialized nations whose governments pledged to stabilize their respective emissions of CO2 by the year 2000. This was a basic tenet of the U.S. position during international negotiations toward attaining a Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC) under United Nations auspices. However, President Clinton announced in his Apr. 21, 1993, Earth Day speech, that he would reverse U.S. policy and, instead, seek measures to stabilize U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases at 1990 levels by the year 2000.

On October 19, 1993, President Clinton released his Administration's version of a domestic Climate Change Action Plan (CCAP), which featured measures that might be taken to attain the goal of greenhouse gas emissions stabilization as outlined under the terms of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change and which reflected the President's own emissions goals. The CCAP relies on a comprehensive suite of voluntary actions by industry, utilities and other large-scale energy users. It also promotes energy-efficiency upgrades through new building codes in residential and commercial sectors, and other energy-efficiency improvements in generic energygenerating or using technologies. Large-scale tree planting and forest reserves would be encouraged to enhance sinks for atmospheric carbon dioxide and conserve energy. Other provisions of the plan call for increased utilization of hydroelectric power sources including upgrading of existing facilities; encouraging use of public transportation; implementing environmental controls on methane in land fills and exploiting waste methane as a fuel source; and instituting controls on nitrous oxide and some currently unregulated hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC) byproducts believed to be contributing to global warming. Also, the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Policy Planning, and Program Evaluation, in consultation with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), published guidelines for voluntary reporting of domestic greenhouse gas emissions and reductions, and carbon sequestration. (June 1, 1994. Washington, Federal register, vol. 59, no. 104: 28345-28353.)

The White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) is charged with monitoring the progress of the CCAP and its impact on emissions. An interagency task force which answers to CEQ has claimed it has authority to modify the program to keep the emission reductions on track. Recently, there has been discussion in the Administration about implementing some form of carbon tax, which if need be, might be considered as an option for meeting domestic stabilization goals. However, the Clinton Administration appears to be retreating from such a position. (See COP-2)

Many environmental groups, such as the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) originally gave the CCAP a lukewarm reception. Some expressed reservations that the new plan contained no specific commitments that would sustain lower emissions beyond the turn of the century. Others were critical that the plan relied too heavily on voluntary actions. Still others claimed that, in effect, no new policies or controls would be implemented. CCAP was also criticized because a number of the programs cited as contributing to U.S. stabilization goals were, in the opinion of some, inadequately funded. Clinton Administration officials in the then-White House Office of Environmental Policy indicated, however, that long-term commitments for control of greenhouse gases were assured through a number of the planned actions and new standards of energy efficiency that would be undertaken to realize the President's goals. Furthermore, they forewarned that if it appears that voluntary actions, which are the keystone of the Climate Change Action Plan, were not effective, alternative measures could be evoked which are more regulatory, and less voluntary, in nature. In avoiding mandatory command and control measures, CCAP, in one sense, is viewed in some quarters as moving aggressively to implement no-regrets policies.

The Washington, D.C.-based Global Climate Coalition (GCC), a group representing America's industry and utility sectors, has been one of the most vocal opponents to stronger controls on CO2 emissions. GCC believes its members would bear the greatest economic burden of meeting the President's fossil fuel emissions reduction goals. This group has expressed opposition against any effort by the President to embed arbitrary targets and timetables for greenhouse gas reductions in domestic legislation or in negotiations of any future regulatory agreements, such as protocols, to which the United States would be a party. Not all business-related organization are of the same opinion however. The Business Council for Sustainable Energy, for example, is on record as supporting new directions proposed by the United States at COP-2 (see Next Steps).

President Clinton, however, assured them that all such actions necessary to stabilize U.S. greenhouse emissions by the year 2000, prescribed in the CCAP, could be initiated without any new legislation with the necessary cooperation of industry and that, in fact, many of those prescribed actions were already underway. While maintaining their basic position, the GCC has been touting the ideas of some economists who have concluded that a flexible policy response which seeks to address the most critical greenhouse gas emissions, where and when they occur, might save the U.S. a significant amount of financial obligation. GCC is also promoting international measures and "activities implemented jointly," which are also sensitive to the life cycle and marketing of capital equipment currently in use. Such measures figure highly in a recently released Ministerial Declaration at COP-2.

The GCC has joined many of the so-called "skeptics" of the global warming theory in charging that the most recent IPCC scientific assessment (1995) had underplayed uncertainties about the human role in climate change.

"The U.S. Climate Action Report," which qualifies as the official U.S. national communication to the first COP (See First Conference of Parties), includes much of the current CCAP as the cornerstone of the mitigation chapter, but it also includes chapters on technology cooperation, development assistance, and joint implementation. This document satisfied U.S. reporting requirements under FCCC, except for periodic updates which would highlight new measures and subsequent inventories of greenhouse gas emissions. Ground rules for a U.S. Initiative on Joint Implementation pilot projects (USJI) were also included in the U.S. national communication to the COP. The COP, however, is expected to compile its own international guidelines for JI, now referred to as activities implemented jointly, which, consequently, may call for some adjustments for USJI at that time.

Some scientists have argued that blanket policy actions tied to "targets and timetables" which are expressed under FCCC may be impractical or unable to attain for all of the signatory parties. One argument relates to a U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group One-report, "Supplemental Report to the IPCC Scientific Assessment (1994) on Radiative Forcing on the Climate System," released last September, that provided new estimates of global warming potentials for the changing radiative properties of different greenhouse gases over different time horizons (50, 75, 100 years). UNEP scientists believe emissions of CO2 may be far less significant than those of other greenhouse gases beyond a 50-year time horizon. Therefore, mandatory requirements to impose limits on CO2 emissions, in the near term, in those countries which are more effectively emitting other greenhouse gases now or at a more critical time horizon in the future, might unjustly have some options for industrial development stymied; and whereas it might be more crucial for those countries in the near term to concentrate on mitigating critical emissions of other greenhouse gases.

There is substantial evidence now to conclude that the United States and many other industrialized (Annex I) countries will be unable to achieve stabilization goals as prescribed in FCCC. In March 1995, Vice-President Gore had stated that goals related to domestic stabilization of greenhouse gases in CCAP were developed based on estimates which neither accounted for a rapid growth of emissions that had been realized, nor the subsequent pledges of U.S. business and industry to adopt voluntary emissions reductions programs. The Administration has been on record as viewing these two "external factors" as somewhat canceling each other out, but will assess their implications in a forthcoming biennial update to the U.S. Climate Action Report. By August 1995, the State Department was announcing that the United States would "take its projected shortfall of 30 percent into consideration," if negotiations for climate protection in the Post-2000 period resume. On July 17, 1996, Timothy Wirth, Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs, presented a position statement on behalf of the United States to the Second Conference of Parties in Geneva, containing elements of what the Clinton Administration might agree to in a formal decision to address climate change protection in the post-2000 era.

International Action

Laying the foundation for future United Nations negotiations on a climate change convention/treaty, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was organized in November 1988 under the auspices of the U.N. World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP) to assess the "scientific information... related to the various components of the climate change issue" and formulate "response strategies for the management of the climate change issue."

IPCC Working Groups submitted their findings to the full IPCC in June 1990. After an IPCC plenary session in August 1990, the First Assessment Report was presented to the 45th session of the U.N. General Assembly and to the Second United Nations World Climate Conference convened under the auspices of WMO, UNEP, and the International Council of Scientific Unions that December. The IPCC report was adopted by the General Assembly, and would form the basis for future international negotiations on a framework convention on climate change. The U.N. General Assembly on December 21, 1990, recalling its resolutions 43/53 of 6 December 1988 and 44/207 of 22 December 1989 in which it recognized that climate change is a common concern of mankind, established an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC), which would be supported by WMO and UNEP. The INC was charged with preparing an effective framework convention on climate change, containing appropriate commitments and any related legal instruments as might be agreed upon. This resolution, A/RES/45/212, also called for the framework convention negotiations to be completed prior to the June 1992 U.N. Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) and opened for signature during that conference.

Framework Convention on Climate Change

The INC commenced negotiations in February 1991, at a session hosted by the United States, in Chantilly, VA, near Washington, DC. It concluded negotiations at a continuation of a fifth session in New York in May 1992, when parties met as a whole to finalize the text of a so-called framework convention on climate change (FCCC). FCCC was opened for signatures at the June 1992 UNCED conference in Rio de Janeiro ("the Earth Summit"). On June 12, the United States, along with 153 other nations, signed the FCCC. The FCCC contains a legal framework that upon ratification commits signatories' governments to voluntary reduction of greenhouse gases, or other actions such as enhancing greenhouse gas sinks. These actions would be aimed at stabilizing global atmospheric emissions of greenhouse gases at 1990 levels by the year 2000. The FCCC also contains other binding agreements related to its establishment, support, and administration. Furthermore, the FCCC suggested the possibility of continuing negotiations by means of a conference of parities (COP), subject to a judgment of the ratifying parties after its entry into force, to pursue subsequent actions to counter global warming -- rather like the 1985 Vienna Convention, which preceded the Montreal Protocol on Protection of the Ozone Layer.

The majority view among INC representatives, at the close of the Rio Summit, appeared to be that the convention opened for signature at UNCED represented a scientificallysound first step toward a proactive stabilization of atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations. However, many skeptics challenged this so-called "consensus opinion," claiming that opposing views were not considered in the IPCC review process. Many of these same skeptics launched a rebuttal of minority views against the IPCC, which would become to be known as the "science by consensus vote," debate. It remains to be seen whether a flexible, voluntary, and general framework convention or a specific, prescriptive, and quantitative convention is the best venue to approach the potential climate change problem. However, the former position has been the one decided upon by a majority of FCCC parties so far.

On September 8, 1992, FCCC was transmitted by the President for the advice and consent of the Senate to U.S. ratification. The Foreign Relations Committee endorsed the treaty and reported it (Senate Exec. Rept. 102-55) October 1, 1992. The Senate consented to ratification of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change on October 7, 1992, with a two-thirds majority division vote. President Bush signed the instrument of ratification October 13, 1992, and deposited it October 15, 1992, with the U.N. Secretary General. Having received over 50 countries' instruments of ratification in December 1993, the Convention entered into force March 24, 1994.

First Conference of Parties (COP) to the FCCC

The First Conference of Parties to FCCC (COP-1) met in Berlin, Germany, March 27- April 6, 1995. This was the first opportunity for FCCC parties to consider amendments or a separate protocol to the treaty. Dr. Angela Merkel, German Minister of the Environment, presided. Timothy Wirth, Under Secretary of State for the Environment, represented the U.S. delegation at a ministerial session at the conclusion of COP-1. Wirth was on record, shortly before COP-1, as affirming that it remains the policy of the United States to pursue climate change protection measures beyond its 2000 stabilization goal. He also remarked that the United States would likely face a 30% shortfall in achieving 1990 greenhouse gas emissions levels by 2000. At this time, however, other Administration representatives countered that there is was "official" estimate for such a shortfall, and suggested that time yet remains to explore alternative solutions to meet pre-2000 goals.

The United States participated on a panel to review countries' communications to COP, and they and other participants were somewhat concerned that Annex I countries did not adopt a standardized or uniform method for reporting, as reflected in their individual submissions. This entails how some national inventories of greenhouse gases were prepared or not prepared, and how some failed to provide future projections for emissions growth. Under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC), Annex I Countries include economically developed countries and "other parties" which are former centrally-planned economies now in transition to market-based economies. Annex II Countries are economically developed countries which have added responsibilities under FCCC such as fiscal and technological assistance to economically developing countries which would to help the latter meet Commitments incumbent upon all FCCC parties. All Annex II Countries are also Annex I Countries. All remaining parties under the FCCC, not classified as either Annex I or Annex II, are considered to be economically Developing Countries.

The Berlin Mandate

Seeking grounds for a uniform approach toward climate protection, the COP expressed concerns about the adequacy of countries' current commitments under FCCC; that sense was expressed in a U.N. ministerial declaration known as the "Berlin Mandate." Over the next 2 years during an Analytical and Assessment Phase (AAP), parties hope to negotiate a "comprehensive menu of actions" from which countries may pick and choose options to address climate change which, individually, make the best economic and environmental sense, as well as a uniform approach to reporting emissions and measures. So far, most of the principles of the Berlin Mandate have endured throughout working sessions occurring since COP-1. During AAP, FCCC parties are expected to discuss possible amendments and protocols and whether numerical aims, such as targets and timetables, binding or non-binding agreements, or technologyrelated goals, alone, are "adequate" for climate protection. Serious discussion continued at COP-1 about revisiting what some have called "an arbitrary division between Annex I and Developing countries," involving the respective commitments or requirements of each class under FCCC. Criticism has been levied by some OECD countries that many newly industrializing countries, such as Brazil, India, and China, which are now classified as Developing Countries, enjoy certain exemptions under FCCC, whereas these and some other countries stand to become the greatest contributors to future greenhouse gas emissions.

Ad Hoc Group on the Berlin Mandate (AGBM)

The Ad Hoc Group on the Berlin Mandate (AGBM) was established at COP-1, and was charged with defining the terms and scope of the AAP, and planning an agenda for COP-2. Some FCCC parties pressed for talks about whether formal negotiations toward a protocol should proceed on a parallel track, or begin only at the conclusion of AAP. Several formal protocols were tabled for discussion, including those of the Association of Small Island States (AOSIS), Germany, and the UK, inter alia. Many of these call for further reductions of greenhouse gases beyond what is currently suggested under FCCC. The U.S. negotiating team has described many of these as "top down approaches" embodying arbitrary "targets and timetables," which it opposes.

At its second meeting in October 1995, the AGBM became focused on a proposal by the European Union to adopt a protocol with a specific timetable for reducing greenhouse gases in 2005, 2010 and 2015. The EU proposal would also cap global atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases at 550 ppm (parts-per-million) volume by midcentury .

Negotiators at AGBM III, which met in Geneva, March 4-8, 1996, adopted a new phraseology for "targets and timetables" which had been previously considered by some parties to be non-negotiable. Any such actions, aimed at specific measures which would focus on controlling emissions where and when they are most critical, from here on out would be referred to as quantified emissions limitation and reduction objectives (QUELROS). However, resistance to any additional regulatory actions by international policymakers continues from traditional camps which would stand to be the most greatly affected by any measures which seek to limit, significantly, emissions of greenhouse gases. Most opposition has come from the international industrial and transportation sector, fossil-fuel energy producers users; and the forest products, commercial agricultural sector, and commercial land developers which in many cases may be vying for acquisition of lands and biomass comprising some of the world's major CO2 sinks.

"Beyond Berlin"

In July 1995, the U.S Department of State (DOS) issued Climate Change: Next Steps, identified as a "non-paper," whose purpose is to serve as guidelines for, and an interpretation of, how future negotiations for climate protection might proceed more credibly and effectively. DOS expects that initial formal discussions during AAP will address how FCCC parties can arrive at specific interim goals for post-2000 climate protection before COP-3. However, The United States is maintaining the position that it will neither issue a formal protocol, nor will it seek formal negotiations toward a protocol, until the completion of the AAP, which now appears to be in February 1997. Others contend that the December 1997 deadline may be too soon.

Many Annex I parties have predicted shortfalls in achieving their 1990 emission level goals under Article 4.2 of FCCC (Commitments). Consequently, U.S. negotiators and others have proposed that countries aggressively pursue policies that support what is feasible to do now, instead of jeopardizing progress in climate protection by insisting commitments which are uniform or stricter than are possible. DOS anticipated criticism from other FCCC parties, because it further suggested that implementation of "next steps" should not occur until after 2000, and further emissions reductions would likely not be pursued before the year 2010. A forthcoming updated U.S. Climate Action Report will review actions on climate protection to date and, according to Administration representatives, it will portray a more realistic view of domestic progress toward the President's goals of emissions reductions for the year 2000.

At the IPCC plenary session in Rome, December 11-15, 1995, three IPCC working groups on Science; Impacts, Adaptation and Mitigation Options; and Technical Assessments of Socioeconomic Considerations presented their policymakers summaries of a second assessment of climate change for adoption of the full IPCC. The full reports were also adopted in December 1995 by the U.N. Secretary General, and are now recognized as the "state-of-the-knowledge" by which any future negotiations might proceed.

The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released its published volumes of a second assessment of climate change, along with policymakers summaries and an integrated assessment of the study. There is controversy about the recently released science and impacts working group reports which stems from IPCC's highly "acclaimed" peer review process. Many who are critical of these reports contend that reviewers were chosen based upon a predisposition to the global warming theory. The IPCC has countered that all points of view (including dissenting views) were included in all of the reports, and those chosen to review the reports were considered based upon expertise in their field, regardless of whether they had a proclivity to support or refute the theory of enhanced greenhouse effect. Furthermore, the IPCC asserted that in many cases there was very little peer-reviewed scientific evidence to back claims of the skeptics who refute the global warming theory. Many of the skeptics' charges, the IPCC Secretariat affirms, were addressed in a section on "Scientific and Controversies," and throughout the full reports.

Creating possibly the greatest controversy since in the climate change debate, IPCC scientists in a policymakers summary of the working group report on science concluded that, "The balance of evidence suggests a discernable human impact on Earth's climate system." Chapter 8 of this report has been the target of criticism of skeptics who claim that the original text had been modified after acceptance of the report by the U.N. governing bodies, calling into question whether IPCC procedures were properly followed.

COP-2 and a Ministerial Declaration

The Ministerial Declaration of the Second Conference of Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC) was adopted July 18, 1995, and is predominantly derived from a U.S. position statement presented by the Honorable Timothy Wirth, Under Secretary for Global Affairs at the U.S. State Department, at the Ministerial Meeting which took place on July, 17, 1996. The Declaration 1) accepts outright the scientific findings on climate change proffered by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC); 2) rejects uniform "harmonized policies" in favor of flexibility; and 3) calls for "legally-binding mid-term targets," which many COP-2 parties consider an earnest commitment to protect "dangerous anthropogenic interference with Earth's climate system," in the post-FCCC era. Legally, the Declaration represents the consensus of ministerial participants at COP-2 that, as a body, they do not object to a "future decision which would be binding on all parties under the FCCC," except with reservations of some parties as included and noted. The details of such a "decision," however, have yet to be determined, and it is unlikely these will be negotiated, formally, before December 1997.

Medium-term binding targets are described as occurring between 2010-2020, certain provisions of which would be incumbent upon all FCCC parties, and synchronized with developed countries economic and environmental interests. Long-term goals, also addressed in the Declaration, look toward the next 50-100 years and are also sensitive to corporate time tables for investment. State Department officials believe concrete long term goals will send a signal and give a go-ahead to companies to invest in the future. At the same time, U.S. negotiators rejected any rapid transition strategies such as that suggested in the EU proposal to begin emissions reductions in the year 2005, which would interrupt economic growth in the United States or compromise economic interests of energy-providing industries.

U.S. negotiators also rejected the imposition of "harmonized policies and measures" on Annex I countries, such as uniform CAFE standards and energy taxes, but rather would consider implementing an emissions trading model whose precedence is found in the U.S. Clean Air Act, and employ other "flexible measures", including joint implementation projects, and U.S. bilateral efforts, such as the U.S. Country Studies program and environmental technology trade initiatives sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency jointly with the Department of Energy. In this respect U.S. negotiators believe that such climate protection measures would not put OECD countries at an economic disadvantage, but perhaps put them in a position to eventually gain a return on such investments.

Even prior to COP-2, U.S. State Department officials argued that adjustments or amendments of a regulatory nature need not take the form of a protocol, which normally would require establishment of a separate Secretariat and administrative bodies in addition to those which currently support the FCCC.

Next Steps

Still to be worked out, but not specifically addressed at COP-2, are possible compliance enforcement measures, whether they would be "hard or soft," and by whom compliance would be enforced. Next steps after COP-2 will be pursued at two upcoming meetings, one December 8-18, 1996, in Geneva, and one February 24-March 7, 1997 in Bonn, Germany. During these meetings, according to The Business Council for Sustainable Energy, which met in Washington, DC, on August 1, 1996, U.S. representatives will set out to:

At its February 1997 meeting, FCCC parties hope to have the final text of a legallybinding agreement ready for international review which would then be opened for signature at COP-3.

Congressional Interest and Activities

For a review of legislative activities in the 100th-102nd Congresses, see CRS Report 93- 445 SPR: Global Climate Change Legislation: A Review of the 102nd Congress. A review of 1994-1995 is forthcoming. A listing for the 104th Congress is maintained by the Science Policy Research Division.

104th Congress

COP-1 provided a milieu in which to begin discussing future negotiations for climate protection in the post-2000 period. Some Members of the 104th Congress have argued that many FCCC parties' interpretations of "adequacy" of current commitments have been politically driven, given that much of the science of climate change has been "accepted on blind faith" and global warming has been taken for granted to occur. U.N. IPCC scientists have countered that there is a valid scientific basis that allows for adoption of reasonable interim goals for greenhouse gas emissions reductions. Prior to COP-1, some Members of Congress became concerned about a potential shift in balance of political power under the FCCC, because of proposals on the table to adopt new voting rules. Also, they are wary about differential commitments for Annex I and Developing Countries proposed under the Berlin Mandate. U.S. negotiators will address many of these issues during the next 2 years. Congress is expected to monitor closely subsequent deliberations of U.S. negotiators and, in effect, may issue a joint resolution expressing the intent of Congress with regards to the conduct of U.S. negotiations at future sessions.

Leading up to COP-2, many in Congress cautioned U.S. negotiators that they will not consent to any new agreement that proposes new commitments for the post-2000 period, if those commitments were not uniform and binding for all parties whether they are industrialized countries, in transition, or developing. Consequently, U.S. lawmakers are currently assessing the ramifications of a Ministerial Declaration adopted at the Second Conference of Parties, which some argue may have violated the intent of the U.S. Congress. (See COP-2)

The House Science Committee, Energy and Environmental subcommittee initiated a series of hearings on "Scientific Integrity and the Public Trust" which, among other things, reviewed current science policy on ozone depletion, climatic change, atmospheric quality regulations; and reassessed the U.S. Global Change Research Program and NASA's space -based Earth Observing System proposed for its Mission to Planet Earth (MTPE) program. On June 11, 1996, Senator Liebermann, ranking minority member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Welfare, held a scientific roundtable on climate change to obtain the opinions of many top scientists involved with the IPCC science and impacts working groups about whether potential global climate change continues to be a significant concern for the American people and the U.S. Congress. Another purpose of the roundtable discussion was to address an alleged bias in the IPCC, that has been charged by those who claim to have been precluded from the review process because of dissention with the global warming theory. Members of the 105th Congress will more than likely continue to keep a close watch on U.S. negotiations under the FCCC process and the development of the elements of a legally-binding framework for climate protection for after the year 2000.


CHRONOLOGY

07/08-19/96 --- COP-2 met in Geneva. Ministerial Declaration addressing climate protection measures in the post-2000 period adopted by FCCC parties (07/18/96).

02/23-03/08/96 --- SBSTA and SBI prepared for AGBM-III, reviewed IPCC 2nd Assessment documents. AGBM-III met to consider possible elements of a protocol or amendment to FCCC, for climate protection in the post-2000 period.

12/11-15/95 --- IPCC Plenary Session in Rome, Second Assessment of Global Climate Change-Policy Makers Summaries adopted.

10/30-11/03/95 --- At AGBM II, European Union proposes new, accelerated approach to climate change protection.

08/21-09/01/95 --- In Geneva, Ad Hoc Advisory Group on the Berlin Mandate and FCCC Subsidiary Bodies met for the first time.

03/28-04/06/95 --- First Conference of Parties (COP-1) convened in Berlin, Germany.

09/05/94 --- U.S. Climate Action Report submitted under reporting requirements of U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.

03/24/94 --- U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change enters into force.


FOR ADDITIONAL READING

U.N. Environmental Program. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. IPCC Second Assessment Synthesis of Scientific-Technical Information Relevant to Interpreting Article 2 of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, 1995 and Summaries for Policymakers of Working Groups I,II, and III of the IPCC 1995. IPCC Secretariat, World Meteorological Organization, Geneva, Switzerland. December 1995. var. pag.

U.S. Climate Action Report: Submission of the United States of America Under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. Washington, U.S. Govt. Print. Off., 1994. 200 p.

U.S. Congress. Senate. Committee on Foreign Relations. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Report [To accompany Treaty Doc. 102-38]. Exec. Rept. 102-55. 102nd Cong., 2d session. [Washington, Oct. 1, 1992] 16 p.

U.S. Executive Office of the President. Climate change action plan, by President William J. Clinton and Vice President Albert Gore, Jr. [Washington] October 1993. 50 p.

U.S. Office of Science and Technology Policy. Committee on Environment and Natural Resources Research. Our changing planet: the FY1996 U.S. Global Change Research Program; a supplement to the U.S. President's fiscal year 1996 budget. [Washington, 1995]. 152 p.

CRS Reports

CRS Report 94-816. Climate change: Three policy perspectives, by Larry Parker and John Blodgett.

CRS Report 94-404. Climate change action plans, by Larry B. Parker and John E. Blodgett.

CRS Report 96-699. Climate change: The U.N. Framework Convention's Second Conference of Parties and the Ministerial Declaration, by Wayne A. Morrissey.