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Saturday, 11 November, 2000, 22:24 GMT
Clinton's climate change warning
Polluting emissions
Environmentalists want to limit harmful emissions
By environment correspondent Alex Kirby

President Clinton has told Americans that climate change is a reality, and that the United States faces serious damage as a consequence.

Mr Clinton said the threat of global warming was "one of the greatest challenges we face".

He announced a new approach to limiting air pollution from US power plants, which he said would produce significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

It could mean more flooding, more droughts, more extreme weather and a serious disruption of water supplies

US President Bill Clinton
And he spelt out the US stance for the UN climate conference in The Hague, which begins on Monday.

Mr Clinton gave his warning in an address broadcast over the internet.

He included details of a scientific report which he said "provides the most detailed assessment ever of the potential impacts of global warming across the United States".

The report - Climate Change Impacts on the United States: The Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change - was completed by the US Global Change Research Program.

'Huge' temperature change

The president said it painted "a sobering picture of the future".

He said: "Scientists project that continued growth in greenhouse gas emissions could raise temperatures across our country by five to nine degrees Fahrenheit [three to five degrees Celsius] over the next 100 years.

"To put that in perspective, the Earth has not seen a temperature change of that magnitude since the end of the last ice age.

"This new study makes clear that this projected warming threatens serious harm to our environment and to our economy."

President Clinton
President Clinton: "The stakes of not acting are simply too high"
Mr Clinton said the scientists were warning as well that "there may be many other impacts that we simply cannot predict".

The president said he and Vice-President Gore - whom he named specifically - had already done a lot to tackle climate change.

Reminding his audience of the steps his administration had taken - "common sense strategies to reduce greenhouse gas pollution", as he called them - Mr Clinton said he was calling for a comprehensive approach to limiting harmful emissions from electrical power plants.

This would establish national emissions standards for the main greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, and also for sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and mercury.

On The Hague conference, called to finalise the workings of the Kyoto Protocol, the international treaty on tackling climate change, the president said the US would work for real progress "toward a treaty that is both environmentally strong and cost-effective".

"We must continue to move forward together," he said. "The stakes of not acting are simply too high."

US aims

He set out what the US would seek to do in the negotiations:

  • seek strong, market-friendly rules to fight climate change, and oppose restrictions on the use of mechanisms such as emissions trading
  • urge an airtight accounting system and binding legal consequences for failure to meet targets
  • seek appropriate credit for agricultural and forest sinks which help sequester carbon dioxide and therefore reduce global warming
  • urge a prompt start to the clean development mechanism, to help developing nations establish clean energy infrastructures.
Some of these aims will win wide support, notably the call for penalties for those who do not comply with the protocol.

But the US will certainly face opposition from some developing countries, and from environmental campaigners, in its pressure to allow soils and forests to be counted as stores for carbon.

And they will distrust Mr Clinton's call for "market-friendly rules", and his emphasis on helping developing nations to develop clean energy.

It sounds good, but there will be many who fear that the US will seek to use activity abroad as an excuse for inaction in curbing greenhouse emissions at home.

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06 Nov 00 | Sci/Tech
Climate treaty 'robs the poor'
06 Sep 00 | Sci/Tech
Global warming 'a reality'
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