Climate Changing, U.S. Says in ReportBy ANDREW C. REVKIN
a stark shift for the Bush administration, the United States has sent a climate
report to the United Nations detailing specific and far-reaching effects
that it says global warming will inflict on the American environment.
In the report, the administration for the first time mostly blames human
actions for recent global warming. It says the main culprit is the burning
of fossil fuels that send heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
But while the report says the United States will be substantially changed
in the next few decades — "very likely" seeing the disruption of snow-fed
water supplies, more stifling heat waves and the permanent disappearance
of Rocky Mountain meadows and coastal marshes, for example — it does not
propose any major shift in the administration's policy on greenhouse gases.
It recommends adapting to inevitable changes. It does not recommend making
rapid reductions in greenhouse gases to limit warming, the approach favored
by many environmental groups and countries that have accepted the Kyoto Protocol,
a climate treaty written in the Clinton administration that was rejected
by Mr. Bush.
The new document, "U.S. Climate Action Report 2002,"
strongly concludes that no matter what is done to cut emissions in the future,
nothing can be done about the environmental consequences of several decades'
worth of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases already in the atmosphere.
Its emphasis on adapting to the inevitable fits in neatly with the climate
plan Mr. Bush announced in February. He called for voluntary measures that
would allow gas emissions to continue to rise, with the goal of slowing the
rate of growth.
Yet the new report's predictions present a sharp contrast
to previous statements on climate change by the administration, which has
always spoken in generalities and emphasized the need for much more research
to resolve scientific questions.
The report, in fact, puts a substantial
distance between the administration and companies that produce or, like automakers,
depend on fossil fuels. Many companies and trade groups have continued to
run publicity and lobbying campaigns questioning the validity of the science
pointing to damaging results of global warming.
The distancing could
be an effort to rebuild Mr. Bush's environmental credentials after a bruising
stretch of defeats on stances that favor energy production over conservation,
notably the failure to win a Senate vote opening the Arctic National Wildlife
Refuge to exploratory oil drilling.
But the report has alienated environmentalists,
too. Late last week, after it was posted on the Web site of the Environmental
Protection Agency, private environmental groups pounced on it, saying it
pointed to a jarring disconnect between the administration's findings on
the climate problem and its proposed solutions.
"The Bush administration
now admits that global warming will change America's most unique wild places
and wildlife forever," said Mark Van Putten, the president of the National
Wildlife Federation, a private environmental group. "How can it acknowledge
global warming is a disaster in the making and then refuse to help solve
the problem, especially when solutions are so clear?"
a White House spokesman, said, "It is important to move forward on the president's
strategies for addressing the challenge of climate change, and that's what
we're continuing to do."
Many companies and trade groups had sought
last year to tone down parts of the report, the third prepared by the United
States under the requirements of a 1992 climate treaty but the first under
For the most part, the document does not reflect industry's
wishes, which were conveyed in letters during a period of public comment
on a draft last year.
The report emphasizes that global warming carries
potential benefits for the nation, including increased agricultural and forest
growth from longer growing seasons, and from more rainfall and carbon dioxide
But it says environmental havoc is coming as well.
"Some of the goods and services lost through the disappearance or fragmentation
of natural ecosystems are likely to be costly or impossible to replace,"
the report says.
The report also warns of the substantial disruption
of snow-fed water supplies, the loss of coastal and mountain ecosystems and
more frequent heat waves. "A few ecosystems, such as alpine meadows in the
Rocky Mountains and some barrier islands, are likely to disappear entirely
in some areas," it says. "Other ecosystems, such as Southeastern forests,
are likely to experience major species shifts or break up into a mosaic of
grasslands, woodlands and forests."
Despite arguments by oil industry
groups that the evidence is not yet clear, the report unambiguously states
that humans are the likely cause of most of the recent warming. Phrases were
adopted wholesale from a National Academy of Sciences climate study, which
was requested last spring by the White House and concluded that the warming
was a serious problem.
A government official familiar with the new
report said that it had been under review at the White House from January
until mid-April, but that few substantive changes were made.
a news release or announcement, the new report was shipped last week to the
United Nations offices that administer the treaty and posted on the Web (www.epa
A senior administration official
involved in climate policy played down the significance of the report, explaining
that policies on emissions or international treaties would not change as
Global warming has become a significant, if second-tier,
political issue recently, particularly since James M. Jeffords, the Vermont
independent, became chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee
last year. Mr. Jeffords has criticized the president's policy.
new report is the latest in a series on greenhouse gases, climate research,
energy policies and related matters that are required of signatories to the
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which was signed by
Mr. Bush's father and ratified by the Senate.
The convention lacks binding obligations to reduce gas emissions like those in the Kyoto Protocol.
Mr. Bush and administration officials had previously been careful to avoid
specifics and couch their views on coming climate shifts with substantial
caveats. The president and his aides often described climate change as a
"serious issue," but rarely as a serious problem.
The report contains
some caveats of its own, but states that the warming trend has been under
way for several decades and is likely to continue.
"Because of the
momentum in the climate system and natural climate variability, adapting
to a changing climate is inevitable," the report says. "The question is whether
we adapt poorly or well."
Several industry groups said the qualifications
in parts of the report were welcome, but added that the overall message was
still more dire than the facts justified and would confuse policy makers.
Dr. Russell O. Jones, a senior economist for the American Petroleum Institute
who wrote a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency a year ago seeking
to purge projections of specific environmental impacts from the report, said
it was "frustrating" to see that they remained.
"Adding the caveats is useful, but the results are still as meaningless," Dr. Jones said.