Global Warming Laws And Regulations

Global Warming Laws And Regulations

Michael Oppenheimer (Professor, Princeton University) gives expert video advice on: Are there global warming laws and what do they do?; Why did US President Bush refuse to sign the Kyoto Protocol?; Have recent regulations in the US had any impact on global warming? and more...

Are there global warming laws and what do they do?

In many countries, states and cities, and even at the international level in treaties, there are many laws that deal with global warming. In fact, the problem of not controlling global warming seems to more and more be a problem of inside the beltway, because the Administration and the Congress have not dealt with the problem yet. However, in California, there's a comprehensive limit on the emissions of the greenhouse gases; this means that the amount of carbon dioxide coming out of the tailpipes of automobiles or the smokestacks of power plants and factories is going to be strictly limited in the future. In several states in the northeast; New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Vermont and a couple of others, emissions from power plants are being strictly limited and there are also plans to limit the emissions from motor vehicles as well. At the international level, there's a treaty called the "Kyoto Protocol", which the U.S. is not a party to, but by which the EU, Japan, Canada and almost every other industrialised country has agreed to abide, which will gradually slow the emissions of the greenhouse gases in those places. All that's missing from really getting on top of this problem is political leadership out of Washington. If Washington would step forward, I think we'd bring all countries into the fold and we would have a global solution to global warming.

How large a role has the US played in helping to form global warming regulations?

The US played an important role during parts of the 1990s in bringing countries together to commit to reducing the emissions of the gases that are causing this problem. Ironically though, then the US stepped out of it, and, particularly with the advent of the Bush administration, decided it did not want a mandatory approach to controlling these gases. But we're not going to solve this problem by voluntary measures. It requires laws, it requires regulations, it requires restrictions on emissions. Now, because of the vacuum created in Washington, many states are stepping forward, and we're starting to get state-level regulation. And eventually, I'm convinced, this will bring the Congress to act, and it will cause the President, either this one or the next one, to sign legislation to curtail emissions and get us on the road to solving the problem.

How many federal bills have passed to stop global warming pollution in America?

There has been not one single piece of federal legislation passed by the congress, and certainly not signed by the President, that would create mandatory controls on the emissions of the greenhouse gases that are causing global warming; that is the single biggest missing element in global attempts to tackle the problem.

What is the "Clean Air Act" and what role does it play in the fight against global warming?

The Clean Air Act is a federal law that limits the emissions of air pollution; the kind of emissions that we're familiar with that cause smog, that are a threat to human health, and that made many of our cities virtually, I'd say, almost uninhabitable 30 and 40 years ago. Americans grappled with the problem. They passed landmark legislation that led the world in cleaning up air pollution, and as a result, the health of Americans particularly in urban areas but also in rural areas is going to be improving, and has probably already improved because they are no longer breathing the smog, the particles, and the ozone that destroys the insides of their lungs and hurts their health. Air pollution is bad, particularly for children, old people, and for people who are already sick due to something else. With great foresight, the federal government brought in a regime of control which has greatly improved the situation for Americans. We want the federal government to bring the same type of attention to the global warming problem. In the end, it's really not any harder to fix. It just requires focused attention and seriousness; the same level of seriousness that is embodied in the Clean Air Act.

What is the "Climate Action Network"?

The "Climate Action Network" is an international group of environmental organizations that have worked since 1989 to push countries to solve this problem. The "Climate Action Network" has had considerable success in going to international negotiations, pressuring governments to move as fast as possible on this problem and providing technical information to governments, who lack their own expertise. In that way, the C.A.N. is contributing to the development of the UN framework convention on climate change and the Kyoto protocol, both of which are gradually moving most countries, if not the United States, in the direction of reducing their emissions.

What is the "Montreal Protocol" and why was it so significant?

Certain chemicals that used to be emitted in the atmosphere called chlorofluorocarbons, some of which were also called freons, had long lifetimes, travelled up to the stratosphere about 20 miles above earth's surface, fell apart there, and the fragments destroyed ozone. Ozone down here is bad because it's air pollution, but up there it's good because it filters out the ultraviolet rays of the sun, and without that filter, there would be a pandemic of skin cancer on earth's surface and other very substantial problems for ecosystems. We discovered, about 30 years ago, that these chlorofluorocarbons, which were widely used as the coolants in air conditioners and refrigerators, to blow foam plastics, as solvents in the electronics industry, and actually at that time as the propellants in aerosol spray cans, were gradually destroying the ozone layer. So, in in 1987, all the major countries in the world got together and agreed to gradually eliminate those chemicals. The Montreal Protocol was the first step in that process; a landmark global agreement to protect the ozone layer, and it's working. The levels of the chemicals are now decreasing, and gradually the ozone layer will self-repair.

What is the "Kyoto Protocol"?

The Kyoto Protocol signed in 1997 committed the industrialized countries of the world to the first steps to reducing their emissions of the greenhouse gases, particularly, carbon dioxide. All of the industrialized countries, and that means Europe, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and several other countries that are sort of like the United States, they all ratified the treaty. The U.S. and Australia are the only two that did not. The Bush administration, in fact, completely backed out of the Treaty and it is now essentially too late for the U.S. to ever participate because the deadlines for implementing the treaty begin in 2008 but if the U.S. develops a sound domestic program to deal with the greenhouse gases, I think the U.S. can then re-enter international negotiations and actually try to be in at the beginning of formulating the first post-Kyoto global warming treaty. And we're going to need to do that because there's only a short window of opportunity to avoid what I think eventually could become a very dangerous warming. So, we didn't take the first step in the Kyoto Protocol; we're gonna have to skip over it and have an even larger second step.

Why did US President Bush refuse to sign the Kyoto Protocol?

President Bush was under pressure from several different directions when he refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol. Number one, there was some legitimate concern that the Kyoto Protocol didn't provide a significant mechanism for engaging the developing countries like China which are now emitting, on the whole, about as much greenhouse gases as the developed or industrialised countries like the United States. That is a problem that needs to be solved. Number two, there was some less legitimate criticism that the Kyoto Protocol would hurt the US economy. There is no evidence that the cost of the Kyoto Protocol would have been significant or that it would have hurt the US economy. It would, however, have had some effect on some industries, like the oil and coal and auto industries, which fought it tooth and nail politically, and that pressure was brought to bear on the administration. I think that, rather than just picking up their marbles and going home, which is what the Bush administration did, if the Bush administration didn't like the developing country elements of the treaty it should have stayed, completed negotiations, and argued for additions to the treaty that would have made it more acceptable. In fact, the European countries have implemented Kyoto. It looks like Kyoto will be a success, and that's a good thing because it means emissions are lower than they would otherwise be globally. It will also give the US a chance to come back and, hopefully, lead the way in developing the second step; what's called the post Kyoto phase of greenhouse gas regulation.

What is the "Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change" (IPCC) and what do they do?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established in 1988 to provide advice to governments on what the basic science was of the climate issue. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was set up to give the governments the sense that there was a secure basis for developing policy and ultimately to advise the international negotiators that are developing treaties to control the problem. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) provides guidance as to how strong the emissions reductions actually ought to be in order to stay in line with what the science requires. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been a terrific success, it's given governments and people broadly the sense that there is a problem, it's a serious one, it needs to be dealt with.

What is the "National Oceanic and Atmospheric Climate Administration" (NOAA)?

The "National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration" is a US government agency. The Agency overseas much of the government's research on oceans , atmospheres and the science of climate change.

Have recent regulations in the US had any impact on global warming?

Regulations to limit global warming, at the state and city level, have now been developed for the last several years. These plans are starting to have an effect on the way businesses plan and on the way individuals think about how to deal with energy use in their everyday lives; a big factor in greenhouse gas emissions. We don't expect the legal effects of those regulations to really bite for a few more years, but the anticipation of those regulations being implemented has already shifted people's behavior, and the behavior of firms.