[T]he US government’s first foray into climate policy came in 1978, when Congress enacted the National Climate Program Act of 1978 (33 USC §§ 2901 et seq, Pub. L. 95-367, § 2, Sept. 17, 1978, 92 Stat. 601). That short statute, which predated the creation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) by 10 years, explicitly noted the existence of evidence that human emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, and other gases into the atmosphere might be causing a “long-term and substantial increase in the average temperature on Earth, a phenomenon known as global warming through the greenhouse effect.” Congress explicitly incorporated other findings into § 1101 of the Act including:
- global temperature increases could affect agricultural production and habitability of large portions of the Earth;
- thermal expansion of oceans and melting polar ice caps could cause sea levels to rise;
- although the effects of climate change might not be manifest for decades, continuing emissions and deforestation could render the process irreversible; and
- US leadership on climate change could “greatly enhance” prospects for international cooperation, which would be needed to deal effectively with this global problem, but US leadership requires “a coordinated national policy.”
Based on those findings, Congress, in §1103 of the National Climate Program Act, specified four goals of US policy:
(1) “Increase worldwide understanding of the greenhouse effect and its environmental and health consequences;”
(2) “foster cooperation among nations to develop more extensive and coordinated scientific research efforts” on climate change;
(3) “identify technologies and activities that limit mankind’s adverse effects on the global climate by … slowing the rate of increase of concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere in the near term; and … stabilizing or reducing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases over the long term;”
(4) “work toward multilateral agreements."
The National Climate Program Act did not set specific climate stabilization goals or emissions reduction targets; nor did it mandate a regulatory framework for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to administer. Instead, it called on EPA to develop and propose to Congress “a coordinated national policy on global climate change,” based on research findings of the National Academy of Sciences and other governmental units conducting climate science. Meanwhile, Congress instructed the Secretary of State to work together with the EPA on the development of US policies for achieving multilateral cooperation on the climate change problem.
Viewed in hindsight, the 1978 National Climate Program Act seems a creditable first step on the path toward a substantive policy of domestic GHG regulations. But that early promise was not realized.
Friday, January 15, 2010
The US Wasn't Always Behind the Curve on Climate Policy
From the draft of Chapter 4 of my forthcoming book, Selling Hot Air: Emissions Trading and Offsets in Climate Policy: