Public Policy Archives
Like many concerns, global climate change has received little attention after 9/11. But the issue now is once again coming to the fore in light of the expected announcement by the Administration of its strategy to address climate change. While some propose very limited action, others call for sweeping reform. In their June, 2001 statement, Global Climate Change: A Plea for Dialogue, Prudence and the Common Good, the bishops note that “Although debate continues about the extent and impact of this warming, it could be quite serious … Consequently, it seems prudent not only to continue to research and monitor this phenomenon, but to take steps now to mitigate possible negative effects in the future.”
While the bishops state no definitive view about the Kyoto Protocol, the dynamics of the debate surrounding Kyoto provide the context for current U.S. debate. In November 2001, international negotiators reached technical agreements on how to implement the Kyoto Protocol, which calls for mandatory limits on emissions by major industrial countries. There is an expectation that the Kyoto Protocol will go into effect at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development that will take place in September, 2002 in South Africa. For the Kyoto protocol to go into effect, 55 nations must ratify it representing 55% of the emissions of the industrialized countries. The next round of international negotiations takes place in April, 2002 in Rome and the topic will be the participation of the developing and poorer nations in the global governance of climate change.
If the Protocol is adopted in South Africa, it will occur without the United States. The U.S. government has rejected the Kyoto protocol. The government's opposition to Kyoto is that its mandatory greenhouse emissions levels would cripple the U.S. economy unfairly. The Administration also wants to include major developing nations like China, India and Brazil in any mandatory global compact to address climate change. Three years ago the U.S. Senate adopted a similar position. The Administration has conducted a series of Cabinet meetings to devise a strategy for global climate change and released its plan on February 14. The plan calls for voluntary measures by industry, tax incentives to reduce emissions and flexible emissions targets rather than the mandatory and fixed targets called for by the Kyoto Protocol.
In Congress, the number of legislative proposals dealing with climate change is growing. A key aspect of the debate is about the future of U.S. energy policy. What mix of fossil and other alternative fuels should our economy depend upon and what technologies are available or could be developed to mitigate greenhouse emissions? Thus far, in the absence of a comprehensive proposal from the Administration or either party in the Congress, the debate has become balkanized into specific pieces of legislation such as the farm bill, the transportation bill and various energy bills. The Administration's; plan may alter this legislative scenario, depending upon its acceptance in Congress.
In June 2001, the bishops adopted their climate change statement, Global Climate Change: A Plea for Prudence, Dialogue and the Common Good. The statement calls for a less polarized public debate and more focus on the global common good. It advocates a thoughtful dialogue that relies upon the use of the virtue of prudence, which is not simply a cautious and safe approach, but rather a thoughtful, deliberate, and reasoned basis for taking or avoiding action to achieve a moral good. The USCCB accepts the scientific findings of the International Panel on Climate Change as the basis for continued research and prudent action.
While the statement is not a detailed policy prescription, the Conference supports strong U.S. leadership and advocates for much greater assistance to the developing nations, particularly in providing economic development assistance and in making available to poorer countries state of the art technology transfers and mitigation assistance. The bishops also call for greater emphasis on conservation of energy, the development of renewable and clean energy resources, and assistance to industries and workers displaced in any transition to new and more benign energy production. The statement recognizes that the U.S. economy and the global economy need to continue to rely upon fossil fuels as part of their economic energy mix.
The bishops’ primary concern in the current public debate is that the needs of the developing and poorer nations not be neglected. These countries have a right to a level of economic development that diminishes their poverty, while at the same time they are assisted in mitigating the negative effects of climate change. Poorer countries cannot be made to bear an undue burden of the global adjustments needed to address climate change. The Conference will closely monitor U.S. policy in the up-coming international talks, particularly regarding assistance levels, technological transfers, and help to developing and poorer nations in enhancing their ability to participate in decision making.
We ask you to contact your Senators and Congressional representative to urge greater U.S. leadership in addressing climate change, providing significant economic and technical support to developing countries, enhancing conservation, and developing fuels that emit less or no green house gases. We also strongly urge you to assist your bishop in sending a cover letter and a copy of the bishops’ statement, Global Climate Change: A Plea for Dialogue, Prudence and the Common Good, to your members in both the House and Senate.
For more information on this project, contact Walt Grazer at 202-541-3182 or firstname.lastname@example.org.