Report on The State Department Climate Action: Introduction and Overview

International Activities

No single country can resolve the problem of global climate change. Recognizing this, the United States is engaged in many activities to facilitate closer international cooperation. To this end, the U.S. government has actively participated in international research and assessment efforts (e.g., through the IPCC), in efforts to develop and implement a global climate change strategy (through the FCCC Conference of the Parties and its varied subsidiary bodies and through the Climate Technology Initiative), and by providing financial and technical assistance to developing countries to facilitate development of mitigation and sequestration strategies (e.g., through the Global Environment Facility (GEF)). Bilateral and multilateral opportunities are currently being implemented, with some designed to capitalize on the technological capabilities of the private sector, and others to work on a government-to-government basis.

In the existing Convention framework, the United States has seconded technical experts to the FCCC secretariat to help implement methodological, technical, and technological activities. U.S. experts review national communications of other Parties and are helping to advance the development of methodologies for inventorying national emissions.

The United States has been active in promoting next steps under the Convention. It has encouraged all countries to take appropriate analyses of their own circumstances before taking action--and then act on these analyses. It has suggested--and, where possible, has demonstrated--flexible and robust institutional systems through which actions can be taken, such as programs to implement emission-reduction activities jointly between Parties, and emission-trading programs. The United States has also sought to use its best diplomatic efforts to prod those in the international community reluctant to act, seeking to provide assurances that the issue is critical and warrants global attention. Through these efforts, the ongoing negotiations are expected to successfully conclude in late 1997. The successful implementation of the Convention and a new legal instrument will ensure that the potential hazards of climate change will never be realized.

As a major donor to the GEF, the United States has contributed approximately $190 million to help developing countries meet the incremental costs of protecting the global environment. Although the United States is behind in the voluntary payment schedule agreed upon during the GEF replenishment adopted in 1994, plans have been made to pay off these arrears.

The principles of the U.S. development assistance strategy lie at the heart of U.S. bilateral mitigation projects. These principles include the concepts of conservation and cultural respect, as well as empowerment of local citizenry. The U.S. government works primarily through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). In fact, mitigation of global climate change is one of USAID's two global environmental priorities. Other agencies working in the climate change field, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Departments of Agriculture and Energy, are also active internationally. Projects fit into various general categories, such as increasing the efficiency of power operation and use, adopting renewable-energy technologies, reducing air pollution, improving agricultural and livestock practices, and decreasing deforestation and improving land use.

Perhaps none of the U.S. programs is as well known as the U.S. Country Studies Program. The program is currently assisting fifty-five developing countries and countries with economies in transition to market economies with climate change studies intended to build human and institutional capacity to address climate change. Through its Support for National Action Plans, the program is supporting the preparation of national climate action plans for eighteen developing countries, which will lay the foundation for their national communication, as required by the FCCC. More than twenty-five additional countries have requested similar assistance from the Country Studies Program.

The United States is also committed to facilitating the commercial transfer of energy-efficient and renewable-energy technologies that can help developing countries achieve sustainable development. Under the auspices of the Climate Technology Initiative, the U.S. has taken a lead role in a task force on Energy Technology Networking and Capacity Building, the efforts of which focus on increasing the availability of reliable climate change technologies, developing options for improving access to data in developing countries, and supporting experts in the field around the world. The United States is also engaged in various other projects intended to help countries with mitigation and adaptation issues. The International Activities chapter focuses on the most important of these U.S. efforts.

Introduction and Overview

Since the historic gathering of representatives from 172 countries at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992, issues of environmental protection have remained high on national and international priorities. Climate change is one of the most visible of these issues--and one in which some of the most significant progress has been made since the 1992 session. Perhaps the crowning achievement in Rio was the adoption of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC). This Convention represented a shared commitment by nations around the world to reduce the potential risks of a major global environmental problem. Its ultimate objective is to:

Achieve ¼ stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic human interference with the climate system. Such a level should be achieved within a time frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened, and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner.

However, since the 1992 Earth Summit, the global community has found that actions to mitigate climate change will need to be more aggressive than anticipated. At the same time, the rationale for action has proven more compelling. Few "Annex I" countries (the Climate Convention's term for developed countries, including Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) member countries and countries with economies in transition to market economies) have demonstrated an ability to meet the laudable, albeit nonbinding, goal of the Convention--"to return emissions of greenhouse gases to their 1990 levels by the end of the decade." While voluntary programs have demonstrated that substantial reductions are achievable at economic savings or low costs, the success of these programs has been overshadowed by lower-than-expected energy prices as well as higher-than-expected economic growth and electricity demand, among other factors.

Recognizing that even the most draconian measures would likely be insufficient to reverse the growth in greenhouse gases and return U.S. emissions to their 1990 levels by the year 2000, new U.S. efforts are focusing most intensively on the post-2000 period. Thus, while some new voluntary actions have already been proposed (and are included in this report), an effort to develop a comprehensive program to address rising U.S. greenhouse gas emissions is being developed in the context of the ongoing treaty negotiations and will be reported in the next U.S. communication.

In spite of difficulties in meeting a domestic goal to return emissions to their 1990 levels, the U.S. commitment to addressing the climate change problem remains a high priority. President Clinton, in remarks made in November 1996, both underlined U.S. concerns and exhorted the nations of the world to act:

We must work to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions. These gases released by cars and power plants and burning forests affect our health and our climate. They are literally warming our planet. If they continue unabated, the consequences will be nothing short of devastating ¼. We must stand together against the threat of global warming. A greenhouse may be a good place to raise plants; it is no place to nurture our children. And we can avoid dangerous global warming if we begin today and if we begin together.

Difficulties in meeting the "aim" of the Climate Convention prompted the international community, gathered at the first meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the FCCC (held in Berlin, Germany, in March 1995), to agree on a new approach to addressing the climate change problem. At their first session, the Parties decided to negotiate a new legal instrument containing appropriate next steps under the Convention. At the Second Conference of the Parties (COP-2), the United States expressed its view that the new agreement should include three main elements:

  • a realistic and achievable binding target (instead of the hortatory goals and nonbinding aims of the existing Convention),

  • flexibility in implementation, and

  • the participation of developing countries.

Each of these elements was included in a Ministerial Declaration agreed to at COP-2, and the United States expects that a legal instrument containing these elements will be one of the outcomes from the Third Conference of the Parties, to be held in Kyoto, Japan, in December 1997.

As international negotiations continue on a new legal commitment, the United States is assessing options for a domestic program. The results of this analytical effort are being used to inform the U.S. negotiating positions, and will subsequently be used to develop compliance strategies to meet any commitments established under the new regime.

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