Introduction to Climate Change

8. Prelude to Kyoto

In 1995, the IPCC released a report that was one of the most significant milestones in the development of the climate change regime. For the first time, the IPCC formally reported a consensus among scientists that "the balance of evidence suggests that there is a discernible human influence on global climate." This conclusion sparked considerable debate, pitting the great majority of atmospheric scientists and environmentalists who endorsed the IPCC report, against a small but vocal group of "greenhouse skeptics" funded substantially by the fossil fuel industry.

At Berlin, the United States continued its lack of clear commitment to any target or timetable, although this position was an increasingly isolated one. Finally, in part because of the findings in the 1995 IPCC Report and because of growing public pressure, the United States surprised climate negotiators by announcing for the first time that it would support binding targets and timetables for greenhouse gas emissions. President Clinton announced at the five year anniversary of the Earth Summit (June 1997) that he would use the six months remaining before Kyoto to educate the American public about the need for greenhouse gas reductions.

The Clinton Administration announced its long awaited policy on October 22, 1997. The U.S. position proposed a binding target of stabilizing emissions at 1990 levels by the year 2008 to 2012, and further unspecified reductions by the year 2017. To meet these targets, the President outlined a program of $5 billion in tax and other incentives to spur energy efficiency technologies; endorsed the concept of an international pollution trading system that would allow for reduced costs of compliance; and emphasized the restructuring of the electric industry concurrent to deregulation (a process that was already beginning).

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