May 30, 2008

Court Orders New Climate Assessment From Bush

A new climate change assessment has been released by the Bush administration that said human-induced global warming will likely lead to problems like droughts in the U.S. West and stronger hurricanes. This assessment comes four years late and was pushed forward by a court order.

This comes as a surprise from President Bush, who now acknowledges that global warming is happening despite his previous denial of climate science throughout most of his presidency. Still, some watchdog groups claim Bush's decision to intervene in setting air pollution standards is part of a pattern of meddling in environmental science.

The report released on Thursday, titled the "Scientific Assessment of the Effects of Global Change on the United States" is an amalgam of previous reports including those by the government's climate change science program and last year's work by the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

U.S. government agencies and lawmakers in Congress will now have a single document to refer to when forming climate policy.

The assessment was praised by environmental groups at the forefront of the lawsuit that led to the court order forcing the administration to issue the report by the end of May.

"Hats off to the federal scientists who were allowed to do their work," said Kassie Siegel, climate program director of the Center for Biological Diversity.

Still, Siegel was critical of the administration for waiting until the final months of Bush's presidency to release the statement.

The Global Change Research Act is a law established in 1990 that requires the government to do an assessment on global warming every four years. But the last assessment had not been issued since 2000 during the Clinton administration.

The Bush administration has worked to get large-emitting countries to agree to non-binding goals on reducing output of carbon dioxide and other gases blamed for trapping heat in the Earth's atmosphere and altering the climate.

However, Bush drew criticism for his refusal to regulate greenhouse gases that led to the United States' withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol. Bush insisted U.S. involvement would hurt the economy.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, some 37 industrialized nations must limit their greenhouse gas emissions between 2008 and 2012. The protocol allows countries that undercut their caps to sell that unused quota to other states busting theirs.

The United States is the world's top emitter of carbon dioxide, but China is expected to soon take the lead.

The Bush government was accused of censoring its scientists on global warming, such as NASA expert James Hansen. This led to the firing of a NASA official.

"This document offered a greater focus on what scientists know about climate change impacts in the United States than the 2007 reports by the U.N. panel," said Sharon Hays, the White House associate science director.

Along with many environmental groups, Siegel believes that since the government now has an assessment, it should launch a cap-and-trade program on greenhouse gases and federal limits on emissions to slow climate change.

"Now it's time to actually do something about climate change," she said.

Although few expect it to pass before the next administration comes to power, the Senate is expected to take up the leading climate bill next week.