. ‘, 2. ., :, .” _‘. I. ., i . ,. . ,: ^ “.. ,, ,_,,I :. ./ ., ,, - ,. -‘, ‘.’ :. . ..I- .: Resources, Community, and Economic Development Division B-240222 September Z&l990 The Honorable Mike Synar Chairman, Environment, Energy, and Natural Resources Subcommittee, Committee on Government Operations House of Representatives Dear Mr. Chairman: This report provides an overview of federal research on global warming and identifies policy issues for dealing with climate change. It is intended to provide a framework for understanding the science and policy issues concerning global climate change. As agreed, unless you publicly release its contents earlier, we will make no further distribution of this report until 30 days from the date of this letter. At that time, we will send copies to the Administrator of EPA, Members of Congress, and other interested parties. We will make copies available to others upon request. If you have any questions about the report, please call Richard L. Hembra, Director, Environmental Protection Issues, at (202) 275-6 111. Other major contributors are listed in appendix V. Sincerely yours, $etiFq Assistant Comptroller General Executive Summ~ Growth in industry, agriculture, and transportation over the last several Purpose centuries has resulted in the increase in “greenhouse” gases, which may produce long-term and perhaps dramatic changes in global climate. The results of this increase may be higher sea levels and changes in agricul- tural productivity and in ecosystems. In response to a request by the Chairman, Environment, Energy, and Natural Resources Subcommittee, House Committee on Government Operations, this report + describes what is known and not known about greenhouse gases, . examines the strengths and limitations of est,imates of enhanced global warming, and . identifies possible policy responses. Gases, such as carbon dioxide, methane, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCS), and Background nitrous oxide are building in the atmosphere, where they trap heat and cause the earth to warm. This phenomenon is enhancing the natural greenhouse effect that maintains the earth’s current average tempera- ture at about 60 degrees Fahrenheit. To understand the effect of increases in greenhouse gases, scientists use complex computer models, known as general circulation models, to ana- lyze future climate changes. Four federal agencies operate or fund such models: the Department of Energy (DOE), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (~‘oAA), and the National Science Foundation (NSF). Addi- tional research on global climate change is conducted primarily by these agencies and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the U.S. Geological Survey. Funding devoted primarily to research in climate change by these seven agencies j was over $660 million in fiscal year 1990. The administration’s budget for fiscal year 1991 proposed increasing funding to over $1 billion. Industrial and agricultural activities are causing the atmospheric con- Results in Brief centrations of some greenhouse gases to exceed historic levels. Without action now, these concentrations are expected to grow, although the rate of increase is uncertain. From their review of computer modeling results, most climate scientists agree that the climate’s response to this growth will be an increased average temperature over the next 100 Page 2 GAO/RCED9O-58 Global Wan&g Executive Summary years. They do not concur, however, on the timing and magnitude of this change or on the associated regional climate changes. While research should reduce these scientific uncertainties, quick fixes or easy answers are unlikely to emerge. Rather, research results are expected to continue pointing to the need for a comprehensive multina- tional, multidecade response strategy. In the meantime, however, many agree that certain actions can be justified because they have benefits in addition to reducing greenhouse gases. Reducing CFCS is an example of one such activity already underway, and more can be done in other areas, such as improving energy efficiency. Principal Findings Causesof Global Warming Concentrations of greenhouse gases are increasing primarily because of fossil fuel combustion and the use of nitrogen fertilizers and CFCS. Green- house gases are expected to increase because of these activities, although at an uncertain rate. Carbon dioxide is responsible for about half of the contribution green- house gases make to global warming. Since the beginning of the indus- trial revolution, the level of carbon dioxide has increased about 25 percent and is approaching the maximum amount that scientists believe has occurred naturally over the past million years. According to DOE, difficulties in estimating future levels may be due, in part, to problems in modeling fossil fuel emissions on a loo-year time scale and uncertain- ties in modeling natural ocean and terrestrial processes that emit carbon dioxide and remove it from the atmosphere. To better estimate the growth of greenhouse gases, scientists have iden- tified the need for (1) further research on the chemical, biological, and geophysical processes that. affect changes in atmospheric concentrations and (2) improved, long-term monitoring of atmospheric trends. Federal agency scientists expect that the research they have planned and are undertaking will produce more precise estimates of increases in green- house gases. These estimates, in turn, should help researchers and policymakers to understand how and when these gases may affect the climate and to devise strategies to limit their growth. Page 3 GAO,‘BCED-!+!I-68 Global Warming Executive Summary Estimates of the Effects of According to current estimates of climate change made by five general ; circulation models, the average global temperature will increase by 3 to 1 GreenhouseGaseson 9 degrees Fahrenheit over the next century, assuming a doubling of the Future Climate effect of greenhouse gases. Even the lower of these estimates could be the most rapid temperature increase the earth has ever experienced. Although such temperature increases have not yet been detected, some scientists believe that the warming could soon become noticeable to the average person. z Some models also predict (1) greater warming near the poles than around the equator, (2) changing rainfall patterns, and (3) rising sea levels. However, the models are inconsistent on regional climate changes I j and specific time frames for changes. For example, a NOAA model esti- / mated that summers would be drier than normal in the southeastern United States, while a NASA model estimated the opposite. Limitations in the models affect their accuracy and are responsible for their differing results. First, general circulation models divide the earth 1 into a gridwork of boxes, each usually 300 miles square. The large area 1 covered by a box means that small-scale meteorological phenomena, such as thunderstorms and clouds, cannot be included in the models or i’ must be simplified, and that variations in temperature and rainfall, for example, cannot be taken into account. Second, processes that may amplify warming or cooling effects are inadequately incorporated into the models. For example, the manner in which the models simplify com- 1 plex interactions between the ocean and atmosphere accounts for some 11 differences in their estimates. i Ongoing and planned research is addressing these limitations and is expected to improve estimates of climate change. Plans include (1) research to better understand climate processes, (2) long-term measure- : ments of climate change, and (3) more computer resources. Improved estimates will help policymakers to develop a strategy to mitigate or prepare for possible climate changes. I / Policy Issues Although the extent, magnitude, and timing of global warming are ( uncertain, past and current emissions of greenhouse gases probably make warming unavoidable. National and international policymakers are discussing ways to reduce man-made emissions and to adapt to pos- sible impacts of global climate change and risks that may result from i delaying action. By acting now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 1 Page 4 GAO/RCED-90-68 Global Warming J3xecutiveSummary rather than waiting for better information, policymakers may minimize potentially harmful changes to the environment. Developing a worldwide strategy to slow global warming will be eco- nomically and politically contentious because it will involve a decreased reliance on fossil fuels, which currently provide over 75 percent of the world’s energy. Fossil fuel consumption can be reduced by improving the efficiency of energy use or by replacing fossil fuels with alternative energy sources, such as solar or nuclear power. In preparing for global warming, policymakers must therefore weigh the risk of more adverse impacts by delaying action while they wait for additional scientific information against prematurely taking costly actions that may prove unwarranted. Nevertheless, it has been argued that actions can be taken now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that will have other benefits, such as lessening dependence on foreign oil and improving air quality. This report was intended to describe global warming research and policy Recommendations issues and thus contains no recommendations, and EPA generally agreed that the report was useful to policy- Agency Comments NASA makers, but NASA, DOE, and NOAA recommended including more current information. This report was therefore updated to reflect the final report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, to be issued later this year. EPA also recommended adding information on the effects of climate on living systems, but GAO'S intent in this report was to focus initially on estimates and causes of global climate change. NOAA and DOE advised including information on costs and benefits of emissions reduc- tion. Recognizing that economic tradeoffs have to be considered in any emission reduction strategy, GAO nevertheless believes that actions could be implemented now that have benefits beyond reducing emissions Page 6 GAO/RCEIM04V3 GlobalWarming ..- Contents Executive Summary 2 Chapter 1 10 Introduction Background 10 Objectives, Scope, and Methodology 16 Chapter 2 19 Greenhouse Gases Agreement Exists on the Greenhouse Effect of Certain 19 Gases Increasing at Future Growth of Greenhouse Gases Uncertain 22 Uncertain Rate Keed for Improved Understanding of Processes 27 Controlling Greenhouse Gases and for Better Data GAO’s Observations 28 Agencies’ Comments 28 Chapter 3 30 Global Warming Estimates by Climate Models 30 Estimates Expected to Models’ Limitations 34 Implications of the Models’ Limitations 38 Improve as Research Requirements to Improve GCMs 39 Continues GAO’s Observations 42 Agencies’ Comments 42 Chapter 4 ,. 44 Policy Framework to Nature of the Problem ’ 44 Actions to Respond to Global Warming 47 Address Global U.S. Options to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions 56 Climate Change Timing of Responses to Global Warming 57 GAO’s Observations 58 Agencies’ Comments 59 Appendixes Appendix I: DOE’s Comments 60 Appendix II: EPA’s Comments 62 Appendix III: NASA’s Comments 66 Appendix IV: NOAA’s Comments 68 Appendix V: Major Contributors to This Report 72 Tables Table 1.I : Federal Agencies* Budgets for Research on 15 Global Climate Change Page 6 GAO/RCEtHMMS Global Warming Contents Table 2.1: Summary of Information on Several 21 Greenhouse Gases Table 2.2: Annual Growth Rates and Sources of 24 Greenhouse Gases Table 3.1: Average Global Warming Estimated by GCMs 31 for a Doubling of Carbon Dioxide Table 3.2: GFDL Estimates of Climate Change 33 Figures Figure 1.1: How the Greenhouse Effect Works 11 Figure 1.2: How One General Circulation Model Works 13 Figure 2.1: Contributions of Greenhouse Gases to Global 20 Warming During the 1980s Figure 2.2: Carbon Dioxide Levels and Temperature 22 Changes Over the Last 160,000 Years Figure 2,3: Concentration of Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide 23 at Mauna Loa Observatory, Hawaii Figure 3. I: Precipitation Estimates for the Southeastern 34 United States Figure 3.2: GCM Grids (Measuring 4 by 5 Degrees) Over 35 the United States Figure 4.1: Regional Contributions to the Greenhouse 45 Effect During the 1980s Figure 4.2: Activities Contributing to Global Warming 46 Figure 4.3: Gains in Energy Efficiency in the United 50 States From 1973 to 1988 Page 7 GAO/‘RC~SII Global Wanuing Contents Abbreviations CFC chlorofluorocarbon DOE Department of Energy WI Department of the Interior EPA Environmental Protection Agency ERBE Earth Radiation Budget Experiment FEMA Federal Emergency Management Agency GAO General Accounting Office GCM general circulation model GFDL Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory GISS Goddard Institute for Space Studies GNP gross national product IPCC Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change NASA National Aeronautics and Space Administration KCAR National Center for Atmospheric Research KOAA National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration NSF National Science Foundation OSU Oregon State University PPMV parts per million by volume TRMM Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission USDA U.S. Department of Agriculture USGS U.S. Geological Survey Page 8 GAO/RCmNcIB Global WarmIng Page 9 GAO/RCED-90-58 Global Warming htroduction Growth in industry, agriculture, and transportation for over a century has resulted in the buildup of heat-trapping “greenhouse gases” that may be creating an unprecedented, worldwide environmental problem. As the earth warms rapidly under the effect of these greenhouse gases, species may become extinct, sea levels may rise, and weather and agri- cultural patterns may be altered. Given such potential changes, scien- tists and policymakers around the world are examining what can be done to prevent or mitigate an enhancement of the greenhouse effect. Climate and weather are determined by complex interactions of the Background atmosphere, land surface, snow, sea ice, and oceans, involving the exchange of energy within and among these components. These interac- tions vary considerably from day to day, month to month, and year to year. Changes in the amount of energy emitted by the sun, changes in the atmospheric composition (because of volcanic eruptions and emis- sions of aerosols and greenhouse gases), and changes in the earth’s sur- face (such as deforestation) can also cause the earth’s energy balance, and, hence, climate to vary. Greenhouse gases-such as water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone-occur naturally in the atmosphere. They serve as a figurative thermal blanket that absorbs the earth’s infrared radiation and re-radiates it downward, trapping part of the heat that would otherwise radiate into space. (See fig. 1.1.) This process warms the earth’s surface and lower atmosphere so that an average global tem- perature of about 60 degrees Fahrenheit is maintained. Many scientists and policymakers are concerned, however, that if concentrations of these natural greenhouse gases and synthetically produced chloroflouro- carbons (CFC) increase, the atmospheric temperature will also increase. Page 10 GAO/RCED-9f.68 Global Warning Chapter 1 lntrcduction Figure 1 .l : How the Greenhouse Effect Works Source, Based on W R. Moomaw, “The Basis of the Greenhouse Effect” (Washington, D C World Resources Institute, Sept. 16, 1988), p. 2, and J B. Smith and D.A. Tlrpak (eds.), The Potential Effects of Global Climate Change on the Unlted States, EnvIronmenta! Prolecllon Agency, draft (Washington, D C Ott 1988), p. 2-3. Computer Modeling of Scientists use complex computer models, called general circulation Climate Change models (GCM), as one means of estimating climate changes based on vari- ations in greenhouse gases.’ GCMS apply equations representing basic physical laws, such as the conservation of energy, to the atmosphere, oceans, and ice sheets. These basic laws are then combined with more detailed processes, such as the reflectivity of clouds. These equations are too complex to be solved exactly; consequently, modelers create a discrete number of grid boxes around the globe in which solutions to the equations are approximated, as shown in figure 1.2. Roughly, the grid boxes in some GCMS are about 300 miles by 300 miles. The size of the grid box determines the level of analysis (resolu- tion). Anything that occurs on a smaller scale is not explicitly treated in ‘EPA has noted that several other modeling and analytical techmques are used to study climate changes, such as radiative-convective models and chemical models. Like GCMs, each analytical tool has its strengths, weaknesses, and domain of usefulness. Page 11 GAO/RCED-90-58 Global Warming Chapter1 Introduction the model, but is instead approximated within each grid box. These grid boxes allow scientists to compromise between the need to include rele- vant processes and interactions and the need to run the models on avail- able computers in reasonable periods of time. Even so, 1 year of modeled time on a GCM might take 26 hours of super-computer time; thus, each complete run would normally take thousands of computer hours. Page 12 GAO/RCED90-68 Global Warming Chapter 1 Introduction Figure 1.2: How One General Circulation Model Works Layers l Earth is divided into a gridwork of 1,920 “boxes” about 300 miles on a side. l The atmosphere above each box is divided into 9 layers. l The ocean under each box is divided into 12 layers. l Each layer’s program includes initial Ocean conditions (such as winds and temperature) Surface and formulas for basic physical laws (such as the conservation of energy). 9 The computer calculates how processes in each layer affect conditions in each 12 Layers neighboring layer and feeds that data into Ocean adjoining layers. Floor * The computer repeatedly recalculates as modeled days pass into months. As seasons change, it varies the amount of sunlight. Source Based on W Booth, “Computers and ‘Greenhouse Effect’ The Genesis of UnderstandIng,” The Washlngton Post, June 12, 1989, p A3. Page 13 GAO/RCED-90-68 Global Warming Chapter 1 Introduction Because different modelers use different methods to approximate processes that affect clouds, oceans, and seasonal cycles, each GCM dif- fers somewhat in its computational structure. For example, some GCMS have day/night cycles, while others do not. In addition, most GCMS use very simple representations of the ocean (for example, representations not including ocean currents), each in its own way. Several groups of scientists have been developing GCMSover the past 2 decades. In 1975, researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory reported the first attempt to use a full GCM to study carbon dioxide- induced climate change. Today, several federal agencies are using GCMS to study the potential climate impacts of increasing greenhouse gases: the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Goddard Institute for Space Studies, NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Labora- tory, the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) National Center for Atmos- pheric Research, and DOE-funded research at Oregon State University.2 Federal Involvement in Federal research on global climate change is conducted primarily by seven federal agencies. All of this research relates directly or indirectly Global Climate Change to the global warming issue. Research by these agencies encompasses Research the chemical, biological, and physical processes that affect climate change; the influence of human activities on global climate and vice i versa; and ways to adapt to or limit global climate change.3 Specifically, l the Department of Energy (DOE) focuses on energy technology develop- ment, atmospheric research, modeling analysis, impact analysis, and economic analysis for potential responses; l the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) evaluates options to slow the rate of global climate change, assesses the effectiveness of such options in protecting environmental resources, and assesses feedback effects involving greenhouse gases; 2The Oregon State University model is now run by the University of Illinois. Other groups in the United States running GCMs include the University of California at Los Angeles, Colorado State Uni- versity, and XASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. However, these groups do not study long-ten-o climate change with their models. 3Recently GAO examined federal agencies’ coordination and U.S. participation in international activ- ities conckning global warming activities (Global Warming: Administration Approach Cautious Pending Validation of Threat, GAO/NSLAD-90-63, Jan. 8, 1990) and DOE’s research activities on global warming (Greenhouse Effect: DOE’sPrograms and Activities Relevant to the Global Warm% Phenomenon, GAO/RCED-90-74BR, Mar. 5,199O). Page 14 GAO/RCED-90-58 Global Wamdng Chapter 1 Introduction I . NASA is responsible for earth science research from space, including broad scientific studies of the planet as an integrated system; . the Department of Commerce’s NOM emphasizes improving estimates of climate change and the regional implications of that change, including climate research and modeling, oceanic and atmospheric monitoring and analysis, and the collection and management of climate data; . NSF’S Global Geosciences Program supports university-based basic research in earth, atmospheric, and ocean sciences; l the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) researches the climate’s impact on agriculture and ecological systems and the impact of those systems on the climate; and l the Department of the Interior’s (DOI) U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) researches past climate changes and processes related to climate change, such as the interaction of hydrologic and ecological systems with climate.4 The funding devoted primarily to research on climate change by these agencies in fiscal year 1990 was approximately $660 million, and the proposed budget for fiscal year 1991 would increase funding to over $1 billion. Table 1.1 shows each agency’s share of the research budget for fiscal year 1990 and the proposed budget for fiscal year 1991. Table 1.1: Federal Agencies’ Budgets for Research on Global Climate Change Dollars in Milllons -.---- .__. - __... - Agency -.-.. Fiscal year 1990 Fiscal year 1991 DOI $133 $43.7 DOE 50 0 66.0 EPA 154 24.0 .---... NASA 488 6 661 .o NOAA 180 87.0 NSF 55 0 103.0 USDA -~ 21.2 47.4 Total $661.5 $1032.1 Note. The U S Global Change Research Program includes climate, ecological, btogeochemical. and solld earth processes: human acttvltles that affect such processes: and the sun’s influence on the earth Enhanced global warmlng IS an Important element In this research program. Sources Committee on Earth Science and EPA 4Several other agencies are involved in this issue. The Department of State is the lead agency for coordinating and setting policy for U.S. participation in international programs, and the National Academy of Sciences’ Committee on Global Change is the federal advisory body for establishing pri- orities for research on global climate change. Page 15 GAO/RCED!WSS Global Warmlug Chapter 1 lntrodnction Federal research on global warming is coordinated by the Committee on Earth Sciences, an interagency group of the Federal Coordination Council for Science, Engineering, and Technology, under the direction of the President’s Science Advisor. The Chairman, Environment, Energy, and Natural Resources Subcom- Objectives, Scope, and mittee, House Committee on Government Operations, requested that we Methodology examine the science and policy issues concerning climate change. Specif- ically, our objectives were to 4 describe what is known and not known about greenhouse gases, l describe the strengths and limitations of models used to estimate global warming, and l identify possible policy responses. In fulfilling the first two objectives, we interviewed officials and reviewed relevant studies and reports at NSF headquarters and the NSF- funded National Center for Atmospheric Research; DOE headquarters and the Do&funded climate research program at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory; NASA headquarters, Goddard Space Flight Center, and Goddard Institute of Space Studies; and NOAA headquarters and its National Climate Program Office, Geophysical Fluid Dynamic Labora- tory, and Aeronomy Laboratory. In addition, we interviewed officials at the Committee on Earth Sciences, EPA, the National Academy of Sci- ences, USDA, and USGS.However, we did not inventory all federal research being conducted on global warming because of the large number of projects currently underway and the breadth of topics being studied. Furthermore, new findings based on this research are fre- quently being reported in the scientific literature. This report discusses research reported as of October 1989. It was updated to reflect more recent findings as appropriate. In addition, we attended several major conferences on climate change and spoke with representatives of several nonfederal organizations involved in global warming studies for information on the causes, effects, and estimates of global warming: Columbia University’s Lamont- Doherty Geological Observatory, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Joint Oceanographic Institutions, the National Academy of Sciences’ Committee on Global Change, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Pacific Institute, Resources for the Future, the University Corpora- tion for Atmospheric Research, the University of Maryland’s Laboratory Page 16 GAO/lUXlNM8 Global Rhrdu~~ Chapter 1 lutroduction for Coastal Research, the [Jniversity of Virginia, and the World Resources Institute. In addressing the first objective, we gathered information on the life spans, rates of growth, sources, and radiative effects of greenhouse gases. We obtained information on research that is needed to address areas of uncertainty. To pursue the second objective, we gathered information on general cir- culation models, which are a basis for climate change estimates. We compared the findings of four climate models funded by federal agen- cies--NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, NASA’SGoddard Institute of Space Studies, NSF’SNational Center for Atmospheric Research, and Oregon State llniversity (funded by NSFand WE)-and obtained opinions from the researchers at these institutions and others in the scientific community on the models’ strengths and limitations.5 We chose these four modeling groups because they were identified as the only federally funded groups using general circulation models to study long-term climate change. Where appropriate, we also included findings from the climate model run by the United Kingdom’s Meteorological Office. In meetings with the modeling groups, we also discussed uncer- tainties surrounding the causes and effects of global warming. In addi- tion, WCvisited Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which conducts research on climate modeling, including a project comparing climate models. At Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, we obtained infor- mation on how the various models used to estimate climate change COEI- pare in structure and output. We also reviewed the draft executive summary of a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IIYX) containing a scientific assessment of climate change. As part of our second objective, we assessed how research on the effects of climate change is influenced by limitations in the climate models. Using one of the most certain effects of global warming, a rise in sea level, as a case study, we gathered information on how well effects can be assessed, given the uncertainties in forecasting climate change. We interviewed scientists at EPA,Joint Oceanographic Institutions, and the University of Maryland’s Coastal Research Laboratory who have been studying the rise in sea lcvcl associated with climate change. We gath- ered information on the effects of a rise in sea level, the populations “We did not interview researchers at Oregon State University. During our review, the chief rlimate modelers left the university. (km.sxxpently, the university no longer xmducts climate research. Page 17 GAO/RCED-9@58 Global Warming Chapter 1 Introduction that would be most greatly affected, and time frames for the expected rise. To address our third objective, we obtained information on policy issues from the following environmental and industry groups: the American Nuclear Energy Council, the American Petroleum Institute, the Center for Energy and Environmental Studies at Princeton IJniversity, the Cli- mate Institute, the Edison Electric Institute, the Electric Power Research Institute, the Environmental and Energy Study Institute, the Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Association, the National Association of Manu- facturers, the Kational Coal Association, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Public Citizen, Renew America, Resources for the Future, the Solar Energy Industries Association, the ITS. Public Interest Research Group, and Worldwatch Institute. We also discussed responses to global warming with officials at federal agencies, particularly EPA and IK)E. Our work was conducted between November 1988 and October 1989 in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards. Information was updated through August 1990. DOE, EPA, NASA, NOAA, and NSF were given the opportunity to comment on a draft of this report. NSF declined to respond. The other agencies’ responses are in appendixes I through IV. Page 18 GAO/RCED-90-58 Global Warming Chapter 2 GreenhouseGasesIncreasing at Uncertain Rate Fossil fuel combustion and other human activities are emitting gases into the atmosphere that could result in long-term changes to global cli- mate. The increased atmospheric warming that may be caused by these gases is known as an enhanced greenhouse effect, which, until recently, was believed to be caused solely by increases in carbon dioxide. It is now known that other gases- such as methane, CFCS,nitrous oxide, and ozone-in the lower atmosphere, when taken together, are also very important and may soon surpass carbon dioxide as the primary contrib- utors to enhanced global warming. The atmospheric concentrations of these gases are increasing, although their future rates of growth are uncertain because the biological, physical, and chemical processes that regulate their atmospheric concentrations are not fully understood, The sources of CFCS and carbon dioxide have been identified better than the sources of the other greenhouse gases. The research being undertaken and planned by several federal agencies is expected to help resolve the uncertainties surrounding the sources and processes that regulate the concentration of greenhouse gases. For nearly 100 years, scientists have known that a buildup of carbon Agreement Exists on dioxide in the atmosphere has the potential to warm the earth by the Greenhouse Effect enhancing the natural greenhouse effect that maintains the average of Certain Gases global temperature at about 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Over the past 10 years, however, awareness has grown in the scientific community that other greenhouse gases, when taken together, have a warming effect comparable to that of carbon dioxide. Almost all climate scientists believe that increases in greenhouse gases are very likely to raise the average global temperature. This belief is based on calculations derived from well-established physical principles and is supported, in part, by the study of other planets and by analyses of past glacial and intergla- cial climates on earth that show a close relationship between changes in global temperature and changes in the atmospheric concentration of some greenhouse gases, Carbon Dioxide Is Scientists estimate that during the 1980s about half of the greenhouse Responsible for Half the gases’ contribution to global warming was due to increases in carbon dioxide and half was due to increases in the other greenhouse gases Enhanced Greenhouse combined (see fig. 2.1). The relative contribution of each gas to Warming increased atmospheric heating is determined by its ability to absorb infrared radiation and its atmospheric abundance. Atmospheric abun- dance is determined by the quantities being emitted and the lifespan of the gases in the atmosphere. For example, methane is about 25 times Page 19 GAO/RCED90-58 Global Wamhg Chapter 2 Greenhouse Gases Increasing at Uncertain Rate more efficient per molecule in absorbing infrared radiation than carbon dioxide, but its contribution to atmospheric warming is currently much lower than carbon dioxide because methane is not as abundant. Figure 2.1: Contributions of Greenhouse Gases to Global Warming During the 1980s Other Carbon Dioxide Methane I CFCs Note: The “Other” category Includes halons, tropospheric ozone, and stratosphenc water vapor. The percentages are based on eshates of Increases in concentration of each gas during the 1980s. Source. D.A. Lashof and D A Tlrpak (eds ), Policy Options for Stabllizlng Global Climate, EPA, draft (Washington. D.C Feb 1989), p. 11-M. Table 2.1 summarizes information on the atmospheric concentration, lifetime, and atmospheric heating contribution of several greenhouse gases. It is based on a 1988 DOEreport that evaluated the current scien- tific understanding of basic information on numerous greenhouse gases and a similar report by EPA.’ ‘This information has been updated to reflect more recent findings by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Page 20 GAO/RCED-go-58 Global Warming Chapter 2 Greenhouse Gases Increasing at Uncertain Rate Table 2.1: Summary of InfOrmatiOn on Several Greenhouse Gases Atmospheric heating contribution Atmospheric per molecule concentration Atmospheric relative to Greenhouse gas (ppmv)” lifetime (years) carbon dioxide Carbon dioxide 353 50to 200 1 Methane 172 7to10 About25 Nitrous oxtde 0.31 About150 About230 CFC-11 0.00028 65 Abo;t 16,000 _ I-~ ~~~~~~~ ~~~ CFC-12 0.000484 130 AboutZ1,OOO aParts per million by volume. Sources. D.J Wuebbles and J Edmonds, A Primer on Greenhouse Gases, U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Research (WashIngton. D.C : March 19t38), pp 2-39, and Lashof and Tlrpak, Poky OptIons for Stablllzlng Global Clrmafe, pp. II-29 to 11-39.This informatIon has been updated in “policy- makers Summary of the Scientific Assessment of Climate Change,” IPCC, draft (May 25. l%O), p. 7. Historic Increases in Most scientists believe that the eventual response to increases in green- house gases will very likely be, on average, global warming. There is Carbon Dioxide Have Been historic evidence, based on analyses of air samples trapped in ice, that Associated With Climate long-term changes in temperature are correlated with changes in the Change atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide. Analyses indicate that the carbon dioxide level varied between a low near 200 parts per million in cold, glacial times and a high near 280 parts per million (but currently about 350 parts per million) in warm, interglacial times. Recent analyses show direct evidence of these trends over the last 160,000 years.2 As shown in figure 2.2, two large increases in temperature and carbon dioxide occurred about 15,000 years ago and nearly 140,000 years ago. The low carbon dioxide concentrations generally correspond to the gla- cial conditions that prevailed for most of the last 100,000 years. Whether the level of carbon dioxide was a response to or contributed to the temperature changes is uncertain. *.J. M. Barnola et al., “Vostnk Ice Core Provides 160,000-year Record of Atmospheric CO”,” e, vol. 329 (1987). pp, 408-14. Page 21 GAO/RCED-90~5B Global Warming Chapter 2 Greenhouse Gases Increasing at Uncertain Rate Figure 2.2: Carbon Dioxide Levels and Temperature Changes Over the Last I 160,bOO Years - 280 260 c 240 E L? h 2.5 8 220 0 200 -2.5 180 -5.0 -7.5 -10.0 vi0 ii0 so io 0 Age: Thousands of Years Present Source, Barnola et al., “Vosak Ice Core Prowdes 160,000-Year Record,” p. 410 The atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide has been increasing at Future Growth of least since the beginning of the industrial revolution. The concentrations Greenhouse Gases of other greenhouse gases are also increasing. Estimates of future atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide and some of the other greenhouse Uncertain gases, however, are uncertain primarily because the future emission rates are uncertain. Carbon Dioxide Levels Carbon dioxide-produced by fossil fuel combustion, deforestation, Increasing cement manufacture, and respiration by living organisms-has increased in the atmosphere by about 25 percent since the beginning of Page 22 GAO/RCED904S Global WarmIng Chapter 2 Greenhouse Gases Increasing at Uncertain Rate the industrial revolution. Measurements taken by NOAA since 1958 reveal a continuous and possibly accelerating increase in the mean annual con- centration, as shown in figure 2.3. In 1958, the concentration was about 315 parts per million; and in 1988, it was over 350 parts per million. According to a DOE study, all of the increase is due to human activities, predominantly fossil fuel combustion.3 Figure 2.3: Concentration of Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide at Mauna Loa Observatory, Hawaii 360 CO2 Concmlmtlon (Pad pr Ull3on) 355 . 350 345 340 335 330 925 320 315 310 m!b 300 -.-.-..-m,.-.-__ -..-.--., ..-,,,., ., 1958 ‘99 ‘99 ‘61 ‘62 ‘63 ‘64 ‘95 ‘I36 ‘67 ‘68 ‘69 70 71 m m 74 ‘79 79 77 78 79 ‘99 ‘81 ‘82 ‘93 ‘84 ‘95 ‘88 ‘87 ‘88 You% Note, The annual cycle shown in the figure IS a result of the seasonal photosynthetIc actlvrty In the Northern Hemisphere. That is, during the growing season more carbon dioxide IS drawn out of the atmosphere by photosynthesizlng plants than is released Into rt by resplratlon: In winter, the opposite is true Source NOAA. Records at other NOAA sites, such as Antarctica, confirm that this increase is a global phenomenon. These records indicate that the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere has increased by nearly 10 per- cent during the last quarter century and is approaching the apparent 3D. J. Wuebbles and J. Edmonds, + Primer, p. 8. According to comments received from NOAA, this statement is somewhat strong in light of the present understanding of natural sources and “sinks” in the global carbon cycle. A major debate is currently underway on whether a m&or Northern Hemi- sphere “sink” exists. Page 23 GAO/RCED-9668 Global Warming Chapter 2 Greenhouse Gases Increasing at Uncertain Rate limits of natural variation characteristic of the glacial-interglacial cycles of the past million years.4 Other GreenhouseGases According to published reports, other greenhouse gases are similarly Also Increasing increasing in concentration. (See table 2.2.) Although these gases occur naturally (except CFCS), their increases are caused nearly exclusively by human activities. Table 2.2: Annual Growth Rates and Sources of Greenhouse Gases Annual growth Gas rate (percent) Sources Carbon dioxide About 0 5 Fossil fuel combustion Deforestation Cement manufacturing Methane 0.9 Wetlands Rce paddies Cattle and sheep Termites Biomass burninga Natural gas and mlninq losses Solid waste - Nitrous oxide 0.25 Fossil fuel combustion Fertilized and cultivated SOIIS Biomass burninga CFCs 4 Refrigerator coolants, air conditioner coolants, insulating and packing foam, and aerosol propellants Ozone Uncertain Chemical interactlons of hydro- carbons, carbon monoxide, methane, and nitronen oxide aBiomass is dry organic matter Sources: Smith and Tirpak, Potential Effects of Global Climate Change on the United States, pp 2-4, Z- 10, and 2-l 1; and WuebbIes and Edmonds, Primer on Greenhouse Gases, pp. K-40. This informahon has been updated in “Policymakers Summary,” IPCC, p. 7. For example, the methane concentration increased in the atmosphere by about 1 percent per year from the early 1950s through the early 1980s.5 Analyses of air trapped in ice indicate that the atmospheric concentra- tion of methane started increasing over the last several hundred years, after being constant for 10,000 years or more. It has increased to 4R.H. Gammon, et al., “History of Carbon Dioxide in the Atmosphere,” in J.R. Trabalka(ed.), Atmos- pheric Carbon Dioxide and the Global Carbon Cycle, DOE (Washington, DC.: Dec. 1985), p. 27. The authors discuss the evolution of the concentration of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere during the last 100 million years ‘Wuebbles and Edmonds, Primer on Greenhouse Gases,p. 22. Page 24 GAO/RCRB9MS Global Warming Chapter 2 Greenhouse Gases Increasing at Uncertain Rate approximately double the natural levels of several centuries ago. Since this increase corresponds with the growth of the human population and industrial society, it is believed to be a result of increased methane emis- sions from the expansion of rice agriculture, the raising of ruminant ani- mals such as cattle and sheep, the storage of organic waste in landfills, and the mining and use of fossil fuels. Estimates of Future It is uncertain whether the current growth rate in the atmospheric con- centrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases will continue, Atmosphe ric Levels according to scientists.” In some cases, uncertainty is due to insufficient Uncertain understanding of the natural processes that affect their atmospheric levels and/or difficulties in predicting human activities a century from now. Although the sources of carbon dioxide and CFCS have been identified better than the sources of other greenhouse gases, uncertainties still remain in predicting future atmospheric concentrations. For example, according to a DOE study, the principal uncertainty hampering accurate estimates of atmospheric carbon dioxide levels a century from now is the future rate of emissions from fossil fuel combustion.7 Some of the largest uncertainties surrounding future emissions concern future eco- nomic and population growth rates. Uncertainties in projected energy use and choices of energy technologies are factors that make such fore- casts difficult. Additionally, DOEreported that estimates are hampered by unknowns about the role the biosphere and oceans play in regulating carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere. Calculations of worldwide fossil fuel usage indicate that over twice as much carbon dioxide is injected into the atmosphere yearly than can be accounted for by the increases in atmospheric concentration that are being measured at observation stations. The remaining carbon dioxide, scientists believe, is being removed by the photosynthesis of green plants and by the chem- ical and biological interaction of the ocean with the atmosphere. There are uncertainties, however, in apportioning the amounts of carbon %PA concurs that estimates of the future growth of greenhouse gas emissions are uncertain, How- ever, EPA notes that projections of future emissions are being made and used by the United States and other countries for planning purposes. EPA further states that these projections are reasonable scenarios for the future, and using these scenarios, the United States and other countries can begin to plan and determine the types of reductions that will be necessary to limit greenhouse gas emissions, 7M.P. Farrell (ed.), Master Index for the Carbon Dioxide Research Stateaf-the-Art Report Series, DOE, Office of Energy Research (Washington, D.C.: Mar. 1987), p. 6. Page 25 GAO/RCEDSO-58 Global Warming Chapter 2 Greenhouse Gases Increasing at Uncertain Rate dioxide being removed from the atmosphere between plants and the oceans, although most atmospheric scientists believe that removal by the ocean is substantially larger. Future growth in the atmospheric concentration of methane is also uncertain, according to a report by DOE, because of insufficient data on the amount of methane emitted by natural and man-made sources.* As a result, the ranges estimated for individual sources are large. For example, according t,o the DOE report, wetlands are emitting between 60 billion and 160 billion metric tons of methane per year, and rice paddies are emitting between 40 billion and 100 billion metric tons per year. Additionally, growth rates are uncertain because enhanced global warming could possibly increase the release into the atmosphere of large quantities of methane frozen in the ice and soil in arctic and subarctic regions. Uncertainties also surround scientists’ understanding of the future growth rates of other greenhouse gases. For example: . Although the sources of nitrous oxide have been reasonably identified, the processes and conditions under which more or less nitrous oxide is released from the soil need to be better understood.g l Measurement techniques for determining reliable, long-term global ozone trends need to be developed,‘” Despite uncertainties in the sources and rates of future growth, the Director of NOAA’S Aeronomy Laboratory predicts that within the next decade the greenhouse gases other than carbon dioxide, when taken together, will surpass carbon dioxide as the primary contributors to potential global warming.‘] 8Wuebbles and Edmonds, Primer on Greenhouse Gases, pp. 20-25 “P.M. Vitousek, “Perspectives on the Nitrogen Cycle,” in 1989 Global Change Institute on Trace Gases and the Riosphere, Office for Interdisciplinary Earth Studies, University Corporation for Atmos- pheric Research, draft (rloulder, Co.: Jan 1989), p. 9. “Wuebbles and Edmonds, Primer on Greenhouse Gases,p. 18. l’ln its recent scientific assessment,IPCC asserted with confidence that carbon dioxide has been responsible for over half the enhanced greenhouse effect in the past and is likely to contribute as much in the future. See “Pohcymakers Summary,” FCC, p. 1. Page 26 GAO/RCED-90-58 Global Warming Chapter 2 Greenhouse Gases Increasing at Uncertain Rate Scientists have identified two areas where further work is needed to Need for Improved improve their understanding of greenhouse gases: Understanding of Processes Controlling l Better experimental and theoretical understanding of the biological, chemical, and geophysical processes that control the emission and Greenhouse Gases and uptake of greenhouse gases. for Better Data l Better observational data bases. The need for a better understanding of the processes that control the emission and removal of greenhouse gases was repeatedly mentioned by scientists we interviewed and in published reports. For example, the National Academy of Sciences identified the need to improve the under- standing of primary ecosystem processes that determine the movement of greenhouse gases between the land and atmosphere. DOE cited the need to better understand the processes that release into and remove from the atmosphere carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Improved observational data on the atmospheric concentration of green- house gases, particularly long-term monitoring, will provide data to improve scientists’ understanding of these processes. According to scien- tists we spoke with, the observational data could be improved by the addition of monitoring stations and more vertical measurements of the gases’ atmospheric concentrations+ Current measurements are taken predominantly at ground level, and measurements of the distribution of greenhouse gases with altitude would improve scientists’ knowledge of the sources of these gases and the processes that remove them from the atmosphere. Additionally, the monitoring techniques for ozone in the lower atmosphere need to be improved to determine ozone’s annual growth rate (see table 2.2). The research underway or planned at several federal agencies addresses these needs and is expected to improve scientists’ understanding of greenhouse gases. The U.S. Global Change Research Program recognizes the need for more process studies and improved observational data and has proposed new research or augmentations to existing research to address these needs.‘* For example, the Global Ocean Flux Study- undertaken jointly by LIOE, NASA, NOAA,and NSF-was expanded in fiscal 12The U.S. Global Change Research Program was developed by the Committee on Earth Sciencesas part of the President’s fiscal year 1990 budget for research on global climate change. This program sets forth a comprehensive plan for such research to be undertaken by DOE, EPA, NASA, NC&A, NSF, USDA, and USGS.The program assessescurrent agency programs, identifies the highest priority areas of needed research, and outlines research initiatives for fiscal year 1990 and/or augmentations by federal agency. The Committee on Earth Sciences expects to update this plan yearly. Page 27 GAO/‘RCED-BMg Global Wamdng Chapter 2 Greenhouse Gases Increasing at Uncertain Rate year 1990 to focus on processes controlling the global marine carbon cycle, emphasizing the biological processes that control the movement of carbon into and out of the ocean, This work is proposed to be funded at $5.8 million in fiscal year 1990. In addition, NOAA'S Radiatively Important Trace Species Program under- takes laboratory and field studies to better understand the greenhouse gases other than carbon dioxide and maintains long-term measurements of these gases. There are plans to expand the program in fiscal year 1990 to set up monitoring stations to measure ozone concentrations in the lower atmosphere and to measure over time the distribution of ozone and other greenhouse gases at different altitudes. Atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, GAO’s Observations methane, CFCS, and nitrous oxide are increasing, and some are approaching or have already exceeded historic levels. However, esti- mates of future atmospheric levels cannot be strongly relied upon because the sources of some of these gases and the processes that affect their atmospheric concentration are not adequately understood. Problems with the estimates add another degree of uncertainty to pro- jections of future climate change. ‘3 These estimates are discussed in chapter 3. The research being planned and undertaken by federal agencies is intended to reduce these uncertainties and improve estimates of future atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases. Improved estimates are impor- tant to understand how and when greenhouse gases may affect the cli- mate and to determine strategies to limit their growth. Such strategies are discussed in chapter 4. EPA commented, in general, that this report represents a substantial com- Agencies’ Comments pilation of ongoing work and achieves a well-balanced view of the issues. However, EPA said that some issues presented in this chapter required further elaboration. Where appropriate in the chapter, we have included additional points provided by EPA on 13EPAemphasized, however, that there is a strong scientific consensusthat there will be an increase in concentrations of greenhouse gases resulting in increased temperatures. Page 28 GAO/RCED-SO-68 Global Wamdng Chapter 2 Greenhouse Gases Increasing at Uncertain Rate l the use of emission scenarios by the United States and other countries for planning purposes despite the uncertainties in estimates of future growth of greenhouse gas emissions and l the strong scientific consensus that there will be an increase in the con- centration of greenhouse gases resulting in increased temperature. KASAapplauded our efforts to address the complex and important issues concerning global warming, but believed that the depth and timeliness of the report were handicapped in two ways. First, the executive summary oversimplified the diverse and complex issues that were presented in the body of the report. NASA urged a careful reading of the main body of the report to understand issues such as the distinction between defores- tation and fossil fuel burning as sources of carbon dioxide at different times in history and the uncertainties regarding the loss mechanisms for carbon dioxide! which are discussed in chapter 2. Second, NASA believed that the report was limited by having to treat a rapidly evolving body of scientific knowledge while being constrained to rely on published material. In particular, NASA referred to a draft report by IPCC that will be released later this year. According to NASA, this report will present important new findings on estimates of the atmos- pheric lifetime of carbon dioxide, discussed in chapter 2, as well as sev- eral other issues discussed in chapter 3. DOE and EPA also commented that information from the IPCC report should be included in this report. Although the IPCC report is not issued, we were able to obtain a draft of the executive summary. We have updated information in the text-such as the atmospheric lifetime of carbon dioxide-to reflect these recent estimates. NASA also believed that this chapter neglected other factors that affect the earth’s energy balance and hence climate. We agreed with this point and added that information to chapter 1. Page 29 GAO/RCED-9M8 Global Warming Chapter 3 Global Warming Estimates Expected to linprove as ResearchContinues Scientists use mathematical models-general circulation models (GCM)- to estimate the effect of greenhouse gases on the future global climate. These models agree that the average global temperature will increase over the next 100 years. There is little consensus, however, on the spe- cific magnitude, timing, and regional distribution of this climate change. This lack of consensus on the specifics of climate change is due to the limitations of the models themselves. GCMS are rough approximations of the atmosphere-ocean system and do not fully treat many important cli- mate processes. The limitations affect not only the consensus among models but also diminish the usefulness of their results for research on the effects of climate change. The models’ limitations are expected to decrease over the next 5 to 10 years if improvements are made in data, computing power, and scientists’ understanding of the processes involved. Five major GCMS estimate that with the radiative equivalent of a doub- Estimates by Climate ling of carbon dioxide, the average global temperature will increase over Models the next century.l The amount of warming estimated varies from 1.6 to 5.2 degrees Celsius. The models also estimate greater warming near the poles, changing rainfall patterns, and rising sea levels. However, there is little consensus on many aspects of temporal or regional changes. Evaluations of Models To evaluate how well the models estimate climate change, modelers have tested their ability to reproduce some features of today’s climate and past climates. According to most scientists, the models are generally accurate in reproducing today’s climate and seasonal cycle on a global scale. Modelers have also assessed the ability of GCMS to reproduce past climates and have found that the models do well at simulating a few features of ancient paleoclimates. The successful simulation of past cli- mate cycles, coupled with successful simulations of general features of the relatively warm present climate, indicates to researchers that the models are capable of estimating a wide range of climatic conditions. ‘The radiative equivalent of a doubling of carbon dioxide means that the radiative effects of other greenhouse gases are included in the models by assuming that their increases are part of the carbon dioxide doubling. Modelers usually instantaneously double carbon dioxide as a convenient future see- nario. Most models estimate that such a doubling could occur sometime during the twenty-first cen- tury. These estimates, however, are uncertain, as discussed in ch. 2. Recently, some models- including those at NASA, the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, and the National Center for Atmospheric Research-have used more realistic incremental increases in greenhouse gases to study the effect of their gradual accumulation on climate. Page 30 GAO/RCED9@68 Global Warming Chapter 3 Global Warming Estimates Expected to Improve as Research Continues This capability provides more confidence in the results of these models when they are used to study carbon dioxide-induced climate change. In many assessments, however, the models do not perform well, such as in testing the representations of individual physical components of the models. For example, a model may estimate average cloudiness well, but represent the amount of warming produced by clouds poorly. In addi- tion, the models’ ability to represent regional climate shows results that vary not only in magnitude but even in the direction of change for many regions. These assessments expose several of the models’ limitations: They are inconsistent in estimating regional effects and representing small-scale processes, such as clouds. These and other limitations in GCMS are discussed later in this chapter. Unprecedented For the radiative equivalent of a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide (which could occur as early as 2030), the models estimate a 1.6- to 5.2- Temperature In.creases degree Celsius (3- to g-degree Fahrenheit) warming, as shown in table 3.1. For comparison, the warmest time during the past 100,000 years was only about 1 degree Celsius warmer than today. That is, if a doub- ling of carbon dioxide raises the temperature by even the low estimate of 1.6 degrees Celsius, the results will be beyond the range of any changes in average temperature that have existed during recent history, and the rate of temperature increase could be the most rapid the earth has ever experienced. Table 3.1: Average Global Warming Estimated by GCMs for a Doubling of Estimated warming by Carbon Dioxide Research institution GCM (degrees Celsius) United Kingdom Meteorologica Office 5.2 Goddard lnstrtute for Space Studies 4.2 Geophywal Fluid Dynamics Laboratory 4.0 Oregon State University 2.8 ~-__.-..-- Natlonal Center for Atmospheric Research 1.6 Although these models point to substantial warming by the middle of the next century, the interim increases in temperature are uncertain. Researchers at Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) have shown that their model indicated a tendency toward warming in the 198Os, but that in most regions the warming shown by the model was less than the natural variability. This variability-weather fluctuations from year to year-provides some cool years despite the slight overall warming trend and makes the detection of global warming difficult over the span of a Page 3 1 GAO/RCED-9@68 Global Warming chapter 3 Global Warming EMmates Expected t.a Improve aa Research Continues few years. In the 199Os, according to the GISS model, the warming will be comparable to the variability of many regions, and by the 2OlOs, the entire globe will experience noticeable warming. Thus, although the effects of greenhouse warming have not been large enough to date to distinguish from natural variation, some scientists believe that the warming could soon become detectable by scientists and more noticeable to the average personS Other Features of Climate Modelers are less certain about the timing, magnitude, specific features, and effects of the warming than they are about the estimate that Change Estimated by warming will occur. The Director of the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Models Laboratory (GFDL) provided his estimates of the probability of certain climate changes, derived from the GF’DL model and observational anal- yses. The results shown in table 3.2 suggest that changes such as increasing arctic warming and increasing global precipitation are very probable in a world where the amount, of carbon dioxide has doubled. As the earth warms, sea ice and snow cover in the arctic region may melt, thereby reducing surface reflectivity and allowing still more absorption of solar radiation, which would further warm this region. Global average precipitation is also expected to increase as evaporation increases.3 %ee J. Hansen, et al., “Prediction of Near-Term Climate Evolution: What Can We Tell De&ion- Makers Now?” in Preparing for Climate Change, Proceedings of the First North American Conference on Preparing for Climate Change (Washington, D.C.: Government Institutes, Inc., Oct. 27-29, 1987), pp. 36-47. Other scientists caution that there is room for doubting such predictions. 3Researchers at GISS have found that greenhouse warming may increase the frequency of conditions of extreme moisture as well as extreme drought. They report that the impact of global warming on droughts and storms provides no evidence that there will be regional “winners” if greenhouse gases continue to increase rapidly. This finding has not been substantiated by other models and, therefore, is controversial Page 32 GAO/‘RCED-!M4% Global Warming Chapter 3 Global Warming Estimates Expected to Improve as Research Continues Table 3.2: GFDL Estimates of Climate Change Expected effect Confidence0 Global average surface warming Very probable Global averaae orecioitation increase Verv orobable Arctic winter surface warmina Verv orobable Reduction of sea ice --.” _.~.~- - Very probable Northern high latitude -..--.--.-- precipita:,on increase Probable Summercontinental dryness/warming Probable Rise in global mean sea level Probable Realonat veaetatron chanaes Unceriain Tropical storm Increases Uncertain Details of next 25 years Uncertain a”Very probable,” effect has more than a go-percent chance of occurring: “probable,” effect has more than about a 67.percent chance of occurring; “uncertain,” effect has been hypothesized but evidence for its occurrence is Inadequate. Source: Testimony by Dr Jerry Mahlman, Director, GFDL. before the House CommIttee on Appropria- hens, Subcommittee on Foreign Operattons, Export Financing and Related Programs, Feb. 21, 1989 GCMs Lack Agreement on Although GCMS agree on some global average variables, the effects of increased amounts of greenhouse gases are less clear on a regional level. Regional Estimates All models show an increase in global average temperature, but the regional temperature changes estimated often differ substantially in magnitude. For example, the GISS, GFDL, and Oregon State University (0s~) models all estimate an average warming over the United States. However, the annual average increase in temperature ranges from 3 degrees Celsius for osu, to 4.3 degrees Celsius for GISS, to 5.1 degrees CekiUS for GFDL. The models also disagree on regional precipitation, as shown in figure 3.1. Although all three models estimate that the average annual precipi- tation in the United States will increase, their estimates of regional and seasonal distribution varied greatly. For example, one version of the GFDL model estimated that summers in the southeastern United States would be drier than normal, whereas a GISS model estimated that condi- tions would be wetter. This lack of agreement on regional impacts limits the models’ usefulness for studying local climate changes.4 4Agreement on regional effects, however, would not ensure accuracy. Independent measures are needed to verify the models’ estimates. Page 33 GAO,‘RCED-90-58 Global Warming Chapter 3 Global Warming Estimates Expected to Improve as Research Continues Figure 3.1: Precipitation Estimates for the Southeastern United States 0.7 Change In Millimeters par Day -. 6 Wllller Summer Annwl n GISS Source: Smith and Tirpak, Potential Effects of Global Climate Change In the United States, p 6-l 1 According to scientists we spoke with, several limitations in the models Models’ Limitations affect the accuracy of their estimates and are responsible for the lack of agreement among models. Because no model contains sufficient detail to simulate the atmosphere’s full complexity, results are approximate and vary from model to model. CXMS do not perform calculations for every part of the earth’s surface or atmosphere because the amount of data and computer capacity required would be prohibitive. Instead, calcula- tions are solved at widely spaced grids, which preclude many important small-scale climate phenomena from being included. In addition, the models do not fully treat a number of feedback processes that could intensify or lessen global warming, such as changes in cloud cover. Simi- larly, ocean processes may alter climate change, but are omitted by many of the GCMS’ simplified representations. Page 34 GAO/RCED-90-68 Global Warming Chapter 3 Global Warming Estimates Expected to Improve as Research Continues Grids Are Widely Spaced According to scientists we met with, a primary limitation of GCMs is their use of widely spaced grids. GCMSgive outputs in grid boxes that vary in Within the GCMs size from 4 degrees by 5 degrees to as much as 8 degrees by 10 degrees. Figure 3.2 shows 4-degree by 5-degree grid boxes from a GCM overlaid on a map of the United States. The grid boxes are about as large in scale as Colorado. Within each box, the actual climate may vary considerably. For example, the weather in western Nevada may be quite different from San Francisco, but both are in the same grid box, as seen in the shaded area. GCMSdo not account for variations within each grid box, but instead estimate average climate conditions for the entire box. Thus, GCMS provide a single value for temperature, rainfall, and other vari- ables for the entire grid box. Figure 3.2: GCM Grids (Measuring 4 by 5 Degrees) Over the United States f Low resolution affects not only the precision of the output but also its usefulness. Since the output is a set of variables for an area about 300 miles by 300 miles, these data cannot be used to analyze smaller regions unless additional methods are applied. Low resolution also limits the ability of planners to use data from the GCMSin developing adaptation strategies. The primary obstacle to obtaining regional resolution is com- puting power. For example, 60-mile grid spacing would take 500 times the current computing power. Page 35 GAO/RCED90-68 Global Warming Chapter 3 Global Warming Estimates Expected to Improve as Research Continues Models Describe Natural According to the scientists we spoke with, a second fundamental problem in developing climate models has been the accurate representa- Processesin a Simplified tion of key processes, known as parameterization. Because important Manner variables, such as clouds, do not occur on scales as large as a GCM grid, scientists approximate their effects. Climate models include a number of parameterizations, such as the role of clouds for water and energy transfer in the atmosphere. Scientists are still learning how to incorpo- rate processes on small spatial and temporal scales into the large-scale models. As yet, they have not resolved how small-scale processes interact with large-scale processes; consequently, the influence of the regional features on the global system is uncertain. Models Poorly Represent Introducing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere causes the earth’s system to seek a new equilibrium climate in several ways. Often called or Omit Important climate feedbacks, these responses include changes in water vapor, ice Processes cover, clouds, vegetation, and the oceans, The net effect of these feed- backs, some amplifying warming and some cooling, determines the new equilibrium climate reached after an increase in greenhouse gases. According to the scientists we spoke with, some feedbacks are incorpo- rated well in the models, some are poorly represented, and others are omitted. For example, one researcher has pointed out that the models ignore some mitigating or cooling factors, such as sulfur dioxide emis- sions from coal-burning power plants. Sulfur dioxide could cause clouds to brighten and reflect incoming solar radiation away from the earth.5 Until these feedbacks are understood and incorporated into the models, estimating global temperature increases accurately is difficult. Clouds are the most uncertain feedback in the climate models, according to climate modelers, yet they have the potential to amplify or diminish the warming significantly.” All clouds act, to some extent, as “reflecting blankets,” simultaneously cooling the earth by reflecting incoming sun- light back into space and warming the earth by preventing the earth’s heat from escaping. In general, however, low cloud coverage or depth produces a net cooling effect, while high clouds have more of a warming effect. According to scientists at GISS, some models show an increase in high clouds with doubled carbon dioxide and thus estimate more warming. However, clouds are often handled simply by GCMS. For 5As another example of limitations in GCMs, EPA noted that they do not include the possible effects of biogenic feedbacks. “D. Lashof The Dynamic Greenhouse: Feedback ProcessesThat May Influence Future Concentrations of Atmospheric Trace Gases and Climatic Change, EPA (Washington, DC.: Jan. 4, 1989), p. 7. Page 36 GAO/RCED-9M2.4 Global Warming Chapter 3 Global Warming Estimates Expected to Improve as Research Continues example, in the GFDL model, if 90 percent or more humidity is estimated in a grid box, it has cloud coverage. Thus, there are large uncertainties about how clouds will really behave, and the different modeling groups that we spoke with put little confidence in their models’ ability to account for cloud feedback. Exclusion of the Deep Ocean processes can affect climate change from increases in greenhouse gases in several ways. For example, the ocean’s absorption of carbon Ocean dioxide would lower the amount retained in the atmosphere and, thus, lessen the extent of greenhouse warming. In addition, possible changes in ocean currents would alter the global distribution of heat. Until recently, atmospheric GCMS included only simplified representations of oceans in which oceans were assumed to have no currents, to instanta- neously mix with the upper ocean, and to do little more than absorb and conduct heat. Modelers are now attempting to join an independent ocean circulation model with one for the atmosphere. In recent years, more complex representations of the oceans have been developed by GFDL, the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), and osu. A recent NCAR model, for example, considers ocean circulation and estimates a global warming of only 1.6 degrees Celsius from a doubling of green- house gases. According to scientists at GFDL, GISS, and NCAR, fully coupled ocean- atmosphere models would take into account heat transport and other interactions throughout the ocean, rather than just at the surface. Including these interactions is important because the ocean’s huge heat- absorption capacity could potentially slow the effect of atmospheric warming. A coupled ocean-atmosphere model run by osu in 1984 esti- mated that there would be a lag of 50 years or more before the tempera- ture increase from greenhouse gases was realized.7 In addition, scientists at GFDL estimated that there would be a lag in the warming at the South Pole because of effects calculated by their model’s deep ocean compo- nent. Specifically, because of the upwelling of cold, deep ocean water, the surface waters around Antarctica would fail to warm for several hundred years, keeping the sea surface temperature at Antarctica cooler than estimated by previous models. 7J. Norris, “To Predict Pace and Extent of Global Change Better Computer Models Are Needed,” -NSF News (Feb. 1989), p. 6. Page 37 GAO/RCEPSO-68 Global Warming Chapter 3 Global Warming Estimates Expected to Improve as Research Continues The limitations in GCMShave hindered scientists’ ability to use the Implications of the models’ estimates for research on the effects of global warming. The Models’ Limitations models’ coarse resolution hinders researchers’ ability to study regional effects, and the crude parameterization of key climate processes limits the precision of the warming estimates. Improved estimates are needed to help policymakers at the federal, state, and local levels develop better strategies for adapting to climate change. One of the most certain effects of global warming is a rise in sea level, but a reliable, accurate estimate of the possible rate of potential increase is not available. Currently, the best estimate of the rise in sea level by the year 2050 is about 30 centimeters, but the uncertainties surrounding this estimate allow the possibility of a rise of as much as 70 centimeters, or perhaps none at alLa Global warming contributes to this rise in sea level in three primary ways- thermal expansion of the oceans, melting of mountain glaciers, and melting or sliding of ice sheets into the oceans. Estimates of potential thermal expansion are only as good as the esti- mates for ocean circulation and the potential average surface warming of the earth, and are. therefore, affected by the models’ limitations. In addition, because ocean currents and ice sheets are not incorporated well in the models, the melting threshold of these sheets is relatively unknown, Finally, without regional representation of warming trends, it is difficult to estimate how much mountain glacier or ice melting will occur. The extent of the rise in sea level is also uncertain because there is con- siderable uncertainty about when to expect the increased warming and the rate at which the warming will occur. Analysis of the rise in sea level needs to include the timing of the warming because that will affect how much the oceans expand and whether ice sheets and glaciers break up. However, the precise timing of climate change is still unknown because of uncertainties surrounding future releases of greenhouse gases and the limitations of the climate models. Federal, state, and local officials need accurate estimates of the rise in sea level and of its timing to evaluate individual projects in coastal zones. Parties that could be affected by a rise in sea level need to deter- mine whether the impacts will require changes in their operations and how much these changes will cost. EPA estimates that it may cost between $73 billion and $111 billion (cumulative capital costs in 1985 ‘M.F. Meier, “Reduced Rise in Sea Level,” Nature, vol. 343 (-Jan. 1I, 1990), pp.115.116. Page 38 GAO,‘RCED-!#0-68 Global Warmiug Chapter 3 Global Warming Estimates Expected to Improve as Research Continues dollars) to protect developed coastal areas in the United States against inundation and erosion from a 1-meter rise in sea level. For example, it was reported that Charleston, South Carolina, is designing a new storm drainage system that will cost about $4.8 million, and what the capacity of the system should be depends in part on what the rise in sea level will be.g For an additional $270,000, larger pipes could be installed to accommodate the 30-centimeter rise in sea level expected by 2025. Without the larger storm runoff system, and assuming the 30-centimeter increase, the system would require a $2.4- million retrofit, The city has to decide whether to invest in a larger storm runoff system in anticipation of a future rise in sea level, or to choose the less expensive system that would meet its needs if there is no significant rise. On the federal level, several agencies need estimates of the rise in sea level to effectively implement their programs. The Army Corps of Engi- neers will need to consider the rise in sea level before developing future coastal projects, such as beach restoration, which costs millions of dol- lars. In addition, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provides federal flood insurance to coastal properties worth billions of dollars. FEMA needs to anticipate the rise in sea level in order to adjust its policies and insurance rates Until GCMS are improved, the models’ results will be useful only as “sce- nario” climate variables-numbers used to build possible scenarios of future climate, upon which impact analyses can be based. Improved esti- mates from GCMS are needed to aid policymakers in developing effective adaptation strategies for climate change. The limitations in WMs-coarse resolution and exclusion of key climate Requirements to processes-are expected to decrease over the next 5 to 10 years, Improve GCMs according to scientists we spoke with. The rate of improvement depends on additional research to better understand climate change, increased computer capacity, and additional observational data. The scientists we spoke with generally agree that improvements in the models are likely and estimates should improve with time. ‘J.G. Titus, “Greenhouse Effect, sea Level Rise, and Coastal Zone Management,” Coastal Zone Mar- agement Journal, vol. 14 (1986), pp. 163-164. Page 39 GAO/RCED-90-58 Global Warming Chapter 3 Global Warming Estimates Expected to Improve as Research Continues ResearchNeeds To improve their understanding of climate change, according to scien- tists, science will need to advance in many research areas, such as cli- mate modeling, biological modeling, atmospheric chemistry, and oceanography. Furthermore, additional scientists will be needed to ensure that research in these areas advances. Graduate students need to be attracted to climate change research to ensure that an adequate number of scientists will be working on the problem in the coming decades, according to the Director of GISS. He emphasized that a variety of specialists-including field observation gatherers, modelers of hydrologic cycles, and atmospheric scientists- are needed to gain a better understanding of these issues. Observational Data Most scientists we spoke with emphasized the need for extensive, long- term observational programs to provide data on climate systems. These climate data are needed to improve the climate processes included in the models and to evaluate the results of the models by comparing them to the current climate. For instance, better ocean models require more mea- surements of ocean processes, and improved forecasts of regional vege- tation require better data on its distribution and changes. Both satellite and ground-based data on climate change need to be gathered for decades to gain a continuous record. Climate processes represented in GCMS cannot be evaluated without observational data and studies of these processes in the present climate. For example, many modelers have been working on improving the repre- sentation of clouds in GcMs, one of the weakest components of the models. To evaluate their estimates of cloud behavior, modelers need to compare their modeled clouds with observations of clouds in the present climate. A recent observational program, funded by NASA and NOAA, the Earth Radiation Budget Experiment (ERBE), has been collecting satellite data on the radiative balance of the earth.‘* Until ERBE, observations around the globe were insufficient to determine whether clouds cooled or warmed the earth. Data obtained from the ERBE program have given scientists a basis to begin improving their modeled clouds. loThe radiative balance of the earth is the balance between radiation gained from the sun and radia- tion lost through re-radiation from the earth. The balance between radiation lost and gained depends upon the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Page 40 GAO/RCED-90-58 Global Warming Chapter 3 Global Warming Estimates Expected to Improve as Research Continues Similarly, NASA has studied the feasibility of implementing a satellite program for measuring tropical rainfall-the Tropical Rainfall Mea- suring Mission (TRMM). Atmospheric circulation is in large part deter- mined by the energy released by precipitation; consequently, an accurate measurement of global precipitation is essential for under- standing how the global climate system operates. The amount of precipi- tation falling on the earth at many specific locations may be 2 or 3 times more or less than current estimates, according to NASA scientists. TRMM would help fill that informational gap and increase scientists’ under- standing of precipitation patterns and of how to simulate them in cli- mate models and how to estimate changes in precipitation in response to other climate changes. The planned TRMM project will be undertaken jointly by the United States and Japan, costing each nation about $150 millionL1 Computer Resources The development of models and improvements in regional estimates of climate change are also affected by computing power. The largest supercomputers available are saturated by today’s GCMS, despite their vast simplifications. Some improvements in models, such as increased resolution and ocean-atmosphere coupling, cannot be made without increased computing power. Scientists are hampered in their attempt to improve the models’ resolu- tion because smaller-scale models require more computing time and capacity and, thus, are becoming more expensive. To reduce grid sizes by half would require 8 times the number of calculations on a supercom- puter and 16 times the number of calculations if vertical resolution were made correspondingly finer. In addition, running completely coupled atmospheric and oceanic models for a sufficient number of simulated years to adequately describe cli- mate change is not yet possible, in part because there is no computer powerful enough to deal with the necessary data. Some researchers believe that massively parallel supercomputers are needed to improve the models’ estimates. Two modeling groups we met with, GFDL and NCAR, are planning to obtain more current supercomputers for modeling. Expected benefits from their updated computers include improved resolution in GCMS, more real- istic atmosphere-ocean climate models, better treatment of clouds and ’ ‘According to MSA, this project is in the planning stage. A start-up date has not been determined. Page 41 GAO/RCED90-58 Global Warming Chapter 3 Global Warming Estimates Expected to Improve as Research Continues chemistry, better assessments of regional climate change, and better explanation of observational trends. Nonetheless, the modelers at GFDL expect to saturate the new supercomputers quickly, and significant com- putational compromises will still be necessary to run GCMS. The Director of GFDL explained that although an increase in computing power will give modelers the opportunity to research new pieces of the climate change problem, the climate system’s overall complexity is greater than could be handled by any supercomputer currently being planned. Although estimates from GCMS are now limited by computer resources, GAO’s Observations data, and scientists’ understanding of climate processes, these estimates indicate that greenhouse gases will increase the average global tempera- ture over the next. century. The extent, magnitude, and timing of these changes are uncertain! but are the subject of current and planned research. With better estimates, policymakers and scientists will be able to improve their understanding of the impact of climate change on diverse areas, including agricultural productivity, water resources, human health, and the environment. Such information will assist policy- makers in developing strategies to prepare for, prevent, or limit the effects that are likely to occur with climate change. EPA noted several limitations in this chapter. First, EPA noted that the Agencies’ Comments report surveys what is known about the physical climate but not what is known about the response of living organisms to climate change. EPA pointed out that as the earth’s temperature warms, biogenic feedbacks can be triggered that may affect the warming. For example, as global temperatures increase, tundra areas could melt, releasing trapped methane, which in turn would enhance the greenhouse effect. In addi- tion, EPA noted that information on the response of ecosystems to cli- mate change will be valuable in developing strategies for adapting to environmental changes induced by a changing climate. We agree with EPA on the importance of understanding the effect of cli- mat.e change not only on ecosystems but also on other important areas, such as agriculture, water resources, and human health. But before addressing these issues, we believed it was important to examine first the causes of the greenhouse effect and estimates of climate change, which we focused on in this initial effort NASA noted that some information presented in this chapter is oversim- plified in the executive summary, specifically the meaning of the use of Page 42 GAO/RCED-90-68 Global Warming Chapter 3 Global Warming Estimates Expected to Improve as Research Continues an “equivalent” doubling of carbon dioxide by modelers. In addition, NASA said that we omitted discussing that global ocean circulation models are more poorly developed than atmospheric circulation models. We agree with NASA that this is an important issue. We mentioned ocean circulation models in our discussion of the limitations of GCMS. Our pur- pose, however, was to examine atmospheric GCMS, not ocean models. NOAA commented that this report represents a summary of recent, but not current, findings of individual groups rather than a true scientific consensus on global warmingal Further, NOAAnoted that a forthcoming IPCC assessment will provide a more up-to-date evaluation of global change than this report. In particular, NOAA noted that our temperature ranges (5 to 8 degrees Fahrenheit) for global warming were higher than the current best estimates (3 to 8 degrees Fahrenheit). Similarly, DOE noted that the estimates we reported could include the results of more recent studies. To reflect these more recent estimates, we have included information from IPCC'S executive summary where appropriate. Further- more, we added estimates from a model by the United Kingdom Meteor- ological Office and more recent model results from ICAR's model, thereby expanding the temperature range cited to 3 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit. NOAAfurther stated that the report assumes that effects of global warming will occur and that they will be negative, even though there is uncertainty in many areas. NOAAalso asserted that new findings suggest that future changes may not be as severe as indicated. DOEalso com- mented that the report should discuss the potential for beneficial impacts of climate change. This report examines only one potential impact-a rise in sea level-as an example of the implications of limita- tions in GCMS. We used this example because experts told us that it was one of the most certain effects. We carefully pointed out that estimates of a rise in sea level are uncertain. We have modified our reported esti- mate of the extent of the expected rise in sea 1eveI to about 30 centime- ters to reflect more recent findings. DOE stated that the executive summary’s discussion of chapter 3 would be strengthened if estimates of the effects of greenhouse gases on past and current climates were added. We did not include such information in this chapter or the executive summary’s discussion of this chapter because we discuss it in chapter 2. 12Wewere surprisedby this comment, since previous comments from NOAA scientists we interviewed described the report as well written and thoughtful, and as doing a good job of capturing the main- stream of scientific thought. Page 43 GAO/RCED99-68 Global Warming Chapter 4 Policy Fhmework to Address Global Climate Change Depending on its extent, magnitude, and timing, global warming could have a profound effect on many aspects of everyday life. While many of global warming’s possible consequences may not manifest themselves until well into the next century, policymakers are faced with examining how best to respond now as well as in the long term, Policymakers face several challenges in preparing for global warming. First, their responses need to take into consideration the global scope of the problem: All nations emit greenhouse gases, and all will experience the impacts. Second, the scientific uncertainties make it difficult to ascertain the correct response because the climate may change more or less than anticipated and may even change in unanticipated ways. Fur- thermore, the regional effects are projected to be uneven. Third, and perhaps more importantly, policymakers must weigh the risk of more adverse impacts by delaying action while they wait for additional scien- tific information against prematurely taking costly actions that may prove unwarranted. Nonetheless, we found that some environmental and industrial organiza- tions support taking actions now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions rather than waiting until the earth is committed to potentially harmful warming. They reason that actions now will have benefits in addition to reducing greenhouse gases, Reductions of some greenhouse gases, such as CFCS, are in fact already underway. Global warming and its potential impacts on society and the environ- Nature of the Problem ment are international problems whose exact nature is unknown because of the scientific uncertainties discussed in chapters 2 and 3. Since greenhouse gases have already been released, we may be com- mitted to a l- or 2-degree Celsius increase in the average global tempera- ture. Concern about accelerated global climate change has focused national and international attention on the potential for reducing emis- sions from man-made sources and adapting to the possible impacts of global climate change. Any comprehensive, long-term solution will require the cooperation of many countries and reductions in many sources. All countries contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and share some responsibility for their con- tinued growth. As shown in figure 4.1, the United States and Western Europe account for about 35 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions. Since the early 197Os, however, their emissions have generally remained stable, while the emissions of developing countries have steadily Page 44 GAO/BCED-!MM8 Global Warming Chapter 4 Policy Framework to Address Global Climate Change increased. Because the United States is a major contributor of green- house gas emissions, some believe it should be a leader in developing responses to the problem, including assisting developing countries in limiting their contributions to greenhouse gas emissions. Figure 4.1: Regional Contributions to the Greenhouse Effect During the 1980s Rest of World United States - European Economic Cdmmunity China 6% Japan 4% India 4% Brazil Source Policy OptIons far Stabdlzing Global Climate,” EPA, briefing paper (March 1989), p. 5. Industrial and agricultural activities by these nations are responsible for the increases in greenhouse gases. As shown in figure 4.2, these activi- ties include energy production and use, industrial activities (including the use of CFCS), agricultural practices, and changes in land use (including deforestation). Page 45 GAO/RCED9068 Global Warming Chapter 4 Policy Pramework to Address Global Climate Change Figure 4.2: Activities Contributing to Global Warming 1 2kr Industrial Activities Energy Use and Production 1 CFCs Source: Lashof and Tlrpak, Pohcy Options for Stabilizing Global Climate, p. 55. International Panel on To develop an international response to t;he threat of global warming, the United States and over 35 other nations and international organiza- Global Warming tions are participating in IPCC.The panel was established in 1988 by the Established World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme. The panel’s goals are to (1) review and assess the science relevant to climate change, (2) assess the possible environmental and socioeconomic impacts of climate change, and (3) identify potential response strategies. To address these goals, the panel established three working groups in 1988. The United States chairs the working group addressing response strategies and has representatives in the two other working groups. These working groups were scheduled to complete their work and report their results in June 1990. IPCC had plans to complete its overall report by late August or early September 1990. Page 46 GAO/RCED-90.58 Global Wambqf Chapter 4 Policy Framework to Address Global Climate Change Legislation Proposed to The threat of global warming has become the subject of policy debate in the United States. The 1Olst Congress has introduced over 20 bills on Address Global Warming global warming. These bills generally propose measures to reduce green- house gas emissions and/or studies to examine responses to the effects of global warming. Several bills define federal agencies’ responsibilities for dealing with these issues. In addition, the Congress passed the Global Climate Protection Act of 1987, which, among other things, requires that the President, through EPA, develop and propose to the Congress a coordinated national policy on global climate change. The Congress fur- ther requested that EPA report on the potential effects of global climate change and on policies to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases.’ In addition, the 1Olst Congress is considering the reauthorization of the Clean Air Act, which could have implications for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, particularly CFCS. The scientific uncertainties surrounding possible global warming make it Actions to Respond to difficult for policymakers to determine the correct responses to it, Global Warming Potential strategies for responding to climate change fall into two cate- gories. Adaptation strategies adjust the environment or our ways of using it to reduce the consequences of a changing climate. Limitation strategies control or stop the growth of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere and limit climate change. These two responses are complementary, not mutually exclusive. Because past and current emis- sions probably make a warming of several degrees Celsius unavoidable, some adaptation will be necessary. On the other hand, slowing the rate of global warming would make it easier for society to adapt. WhiIe limi- tation strategies require worldwide cooperation, adapting to the conse- quences of global warming do not. Although control or abatement of greenhouse gas emissions is the most certain way of minimizing or avoiding climate change, it seems unlikely that this will happen before some greenhouse warming occurs. Several areas may be particularly affected by climate change. For example, increased temperatures and changes in precipitation could result in rising sea levels, which might erode or inundate coastal areas; dieback of forests; changes in agricultural productivity; scarcity of water resources; increased energy demand; further air pollution; and health problems. ‘Smith and Tirpak, Potential Effects of Global Climate Change on the United States, and Lashof and Tirpak, Policy Options for Stabilizing Global Climate. Page 47 GAO/ACED-90-58 Global Warming Chapter 4 Policy Framework to Address Global Climate Change Adaptive Strategies A wide range of adaptive responses to global warming can be pursued: avoiding development in unprotected coastal areas, developing more heat-resistant strains of crops, planting heat- and drought-resistant trees, using water resources more efficiently, and establishing corridors for plant and wildlife migration. Because localities will differ in how they are affected by climate changes, adaptive measures can be pursued at the local, state, and national levels. Private citizens and companies can relocate or modify their operations. Communities and states can undertake public works or enact planning measures. National govern- ments can support all of these activities. Above all, adaptive measures will require flexibility in program management to respond to unforeseen climate changes. Limitation Strategies Regardless of the scientific uncertainties, measures to limit current greenhouse gas emissions would decrease the magnitude and the speed of global warming. In developing priorities on limiting emissions of greenhouse gases, policymakers need to consider the relative importance of the gases and the practicability of controlling them. As discussed in chapter 2, carbon dioxide is responsible for about half of the potential for increase in atmospheric temperature. As a result, current discussions at the national and the international level generally center on how to control carbon dioxide. Methods being discussed include increased energy efficiency, which is considered by many groups we spoke with to be the most practical solution; increased use of renewable energy sources; limited deforestation; and increased use of nuclear energy, which is considered a solution more viable in the distant future than in the near future. Energy Efficiency An effective strategy to slow global warming will involve moving away from reliance on fossil fuels, which currently provide over 75 percent of the world’s energy. This adjustment can be achieved by using energy more efficiently, which reduces the amount of fuels that must be burned, or by replacing fossil fuels with alternative energy sources, such as solar or nuclear power. According to Worldwatch Institute, improved energy efficiency has the immediate potential to cut fossil fuel use at a rate of at least 2 percent annually in industrial countries, with a commensurate reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. Energy-efficient actions include improving the efficiency of devices that use electricity-such as appliances, lighting Page 40 GAO/RCEMO-68 Global Warming Chapter 4 Policy Framework to Address Global Climate Change devices, and buildings- and improving energy efficiency in the trans- portation sector.2 Currently, 64 percent of the world’s electricity is produced by using fossil fuels (chiefly coal), accounting for 27 percent of global carbon emissions from fossil fuels (1.5 billion tons annually). Many uses of elec- tricity can become more efficient. For example, with current technolo- gies, electric motors can be made at least 40 percent more efficient, and refrigerators 75 percent more efficient. The potential of energy efficiency to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is also evident in transportation. Transportation emissions worldwide add more than 700 million tons of carbon to the atmosphere annually. Increasing the fuel efficiency of cars would lower carbon emissions. For example, one report estimates that doubling the fuel efficiency of a typ- ical car to 50 miles per gallon could reduce its carbon emissions by half, while lowering the annual gasoline fuel bill by almost $400.3 The United States realized gains in energy efficiency during the 1970s and 1980s (see fig. 4.3) without drastic or abrupt changes in lifestyle. Some environmental groups believe that the United States can achieve even greater efficiency gains. Compared with cJapan, for example, the United States consumed roughly 60 percent more energy per dollar of national income.4 % Flavin “Slowing Global Warming: A Worldwide Strategy” (Washington, D.C., Worldwatch Insti- tute, Oct. i989), p. 34. %. Flavin and A. Duming, “Building on Success The Age of Energy Efficiency” (Washington, DC.: Worldwatch Institute, Mar, 19&Q%), p. 56. 4According to the International Energy Agency, in 1987 the United States’ energy use was 0.31 (total final consumption in tons of oil equivalent per thousand dollars of gross domestic product) compared with Japan’s use of 0.19. International Energy Agency, “Energy Policies and Programmes of IRA Countries: 1988 Review,” (Paris: 1989). Page 49 GAO/RCED-90-58 Global Warming Chapter 4 Policy Framework to Address Global Climate Change Figure 4.3: Gains in Energy Efficiency in the United States From 1973 to 1989 28 Erwgy Cmaumod per Dollar GNP’ 27 aEnergy consumed IS measured In thousand British thermal units Gross national product (GNP) is mea- sured In 1982 constant dollars. Source, DOE, Monthly Energy Review (May 1989), p 18. However, several obstacles stand in the way of increasing energy effi- ciency, according to some of the groups we interviewed. These obstacles include the relatively low cost of some fossil fuel energy, such as gaso- line, in the United States, compared with costs in other countries; choices by energy consumers that focus on short-term costs; and rela- tively low levels of federal funding for research and development, According to some environmental groups, the price of energy does not reflect its true social cost. They note that energy prices do not reflect the cost to society associated with polluting emissions from fossil fuels. These groups favor taxes on fossil fuels to bring prices closer to the social cost. Additionally, they point out that the United States’ gasoline prices are considerably lower than those in the rest of the industrialized world. Advocates of energy conservation also point to the choices made by energy consumers that do not take into consideration total long-term costs. For example, consumers may buy less energy-efficient appliances because their purchase prices are lower, even when the life-cycle costs Page 50 GAO/RCED-!M-58 Global Wamdng Chapter 4 Policy Framework TV Address Global Climate Change of higher-priced, energy-efficient appliances are lower.5 Consumers may have insufficient information on technological advances and may put economic considerations first in making choices about energy efficiency. Similarly, businesses may fail to invest in energy conservation projects with relatively high financial returns in the long term. This failure to invest may be caused by policies and institutions that encourage energy demand. For example, utilities have been regulated in a way that makes demand growth attractive for investors and, hence, makes sales attrac- tive to utility managers and investors. These obstacIes may be addressed by a variety of programs to promote conservation. For example, electric utility companies have promoted programs to increase consumers’ efficient use of energy, such as offering rebates for using energy-efficient appliances, developing home weatherization programs, and disseminating information to consumers on energy-efficient choices. Finally, the steady decrease during the 1980s in federal funds for research and development of energy-efficient technologies may be another obstacle to improved energy efficiency. DOE’s funding for energy conservation research and development dropped from $325 million in 1979 to $129 million in 1988.” Renewable Energy Sources Replacing fossil fuels with increased use of renewable energy sources- such as solar cells (photovoltaics), solar thermal energy, wind, geo- thermal energy, and biomass-would also reduce the emission of green- house gases7 In 1988, renewable energy provided about 9 percent of the total energy used in the United States. By the year 2000, one report esti- mates that it may provide almost 15 percent of the United States’ total 5Life-cycle costs include the purchase price plus operating and maintenance costs expressed in con- stant dollars over the lifetime of the appliance, less its scrap value at the end of its lifetime. “These amounts are expressed in 1982 constant dollars. 7Solar and wmd technologies convert these resources into usable high-temperature heat or electricity. Geothermal energy comes from the ireat contained in underground rocks and fluids. Biomass energy is produced from the combustion of organic materials, such as plants. Although the combustion of biomass produces carbon dioxide, the regrowth of biomass to replace what is harvested absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. As a result, there is no net increase in carbon dioxide. Page 6 1 GAO,‘RCED9@68 Global Warming Chapter 4 Policy Framework to Address Global Climate Change projected energy needs, displacing over 500 million tons of carbon dioxide.* Renewable energy, which is perceived to have a benign effect on the environment, is used to produce heat and electricity as described in the following examples.” l Photovoltaic cells provide electricity to consumer products, such as cal- culators and watches, and to remote locations that have no access to electricity. It was reported in 1989 that U.S.-manufactured solar cells provide approximately 30 megawatts of electrical capacity.lO As of 1989, there were at least 1.2 million buildings in the United States that incor- porated some aspect of solar building design, such as solar hot water heaters, Solar thermal power is estimated to have produced about 500 million kilowatt-hours of electricity in 1989.l’ l In the United States, wind-powered turbines generate approximately 1.8 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity annually. l Geothermal energy is currently used by the United States and several other countries to generate direct heat and electricity. In 1988, geo- thermal power plants in the United States produced about 20.9 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity. l Residential wood burning made up about 40 percent of the total wood energy used in 1988. Biomass electricity plants that burn sugar cane res- idues provided 58 percent and 33 percent of all electricity generated on the Hawaiian islands of Kauai and Hawaii, respectively, in 1985. The high cost of most renewable energy sources, compared with the cost of fossil fuel sources, is considered an obstacle to their increased use. For example, according to the Council for Renewable Energy Education, electricity from coal-fired power plants costs less (6.8 cents per kilo- watt-hour) than electricity generated from solar thermal sources (10 cents per kilowatt-hour), biomass (8 cents per kilowatt-hour), and wind *N. Rader, Power Surge: The Status and Near-Term Potential of Renewable Energy Technologies (Washington, DC.: Public Citizen, May 1989), pp. II-2 and III-l. ‘EPA has commented that the benign effect of renewable energy is not simply a perception. While the use of renewable energy sources does have environmental impacts, they tend to be far less serious, more localized, and often easier to address than those caused by the use of fossil fuels, “Rader, Power Surge, p. II-36 “Solar thermal electric power plants basically use mirrors to focus sunlight to heat a fluid that is then used to produce steam to run a conventional electric turbine. Page 62 GAO/RCED-90-68 Globbal Warming Chapter 4 Policy Framework to Address Global Climate Change (6.9 cents per kilowatt-hour). On the other hand, they estimate that elec- tricity from geothermal sources and hydropower is cheaper (6.5 and 4.5 cents per kilowatt- hour, respectively). Furthermore, each renewable energy source has specific disadvantages that may pose obstacles to its increased USC.For example, photovoltaic power stations require large land areas, currently about IO acres per megawatt.12 Wind-powered turbines provide intermittent power because they generate electricity only when the wind blows. Geological stress associated with drilling geothermal projects may contribute to land sub- sidence and sink holes. Residential wood burning creates air pollution problems, such as the emission of particulates because of incomplete combustion. EPA has pointed out that these limitations may have solutions or may not exist in all regions of the country. For example, there is abundant land in the southwest United States for solar energy installations, and the geothermal industry has developed methods of extracting energy to limit geothermal stress. Furthermore, EPA has noted that additional research for renewable energy would lead to greater implementation of these techniques. Reforestation According to EPA, changes in land use-including deforestation, the burning or ckaring of forest land for other uses, such as agriculture- are responsible for about 10 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions contributing to global warming. l3 Reforestation of these lands, on the other hand, absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and buys time for other policy actions to be implemented. Reforestation could be imple- mented by such actions as swapping assumptions of debt with devcl- oping countries for environmentally sound programs like reforestation and, in the United States, using IJSDA’S Conservation Reserve Program for the reforestation of highly erodible cropland.14 “According to MlE, however, photovoltaic power plants use nearly the same amount of land as conventional plants when operations, constrution, extraction, and transportation are taken into account. “‘Rurning fnrest land r&ascs stored carbon dioxide fmm the trees. Clearing forest land removes trees that would absorb carbon dioxide fmm the atmosphere through photosynthesis. ‘“The Conservation Hcserve Program assists farmers in converting erodibIe and environmentally sen- sitive cropland into forests or grassland. Some organizations that we spoke with bchevc this program is the logical place to begin a national reforestation plan to offset carbon dioxide emissions. Page 63 GAO/RCED-90-M GIobal Warming Chapter 4 Policy Framework to Address Global Climate Change One obstacle to reforestation is resistance by developing countries, Many developing countries see few alternatives to clearing forest as a way to earn hard currency, to spur regional economic development, and to open new areas for settlement. For example, in Brazil much forest land has been cleared because government subsidies encourage cattle ranching, even though ranching erodes pasture land and, consequently, the projects are abandoned within a few years. Other obstacles to reforestation include the extensive area required for planting and the question of who will pay for the reforestation. For example, a DOE researcher estimated that the United States would need to plant trees on an area 50 percent larger than its total land area to offset its contribution to carbon dioxide emissions.15 He concluded that the United States cannot absorb all its carbon dioxide with a reforesta- tion program alone and that reforestation should be viewed as a short- term measure that allows time to find alternatives to fossil fuels. Nuclear Energy Nuclear energy is a controversial solution to global warming. Proponents of nuclear energy point out that nuclear power plants can decrease the greenhouse effect by substituting nuclear power for fossil fuels to gen- erate electricity. According to one report, nuclear power plants reduced the United States’ emissions from burning fossil fuels in 1987 by almost 9 percent and global emissions by over 7 percent.“’ Opponents of nuclear energy cite costs, problems in disposing of radioac- tive waste, and the lack of acceptance by the public as the main obsta- cles to the increased use of nuclear energy. Advocates of nuclear energy, on the other hand, believe these problems will be dealt with by the next generation of nuclear technology, which is now under research and development. This new technology, however, is not expected to be in production before the year 2010. Therefore, advocates view nuclear energy as a longer-term strategy for responding to global warming.17 ““The Role of U.S. Forestry in Addresing the CO, Greenhouse Problem,” remarks by Gregg Marland before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Sept. 19, 1988, pp. l-2. “U.S. Council for Energy Awareness, Greenhouse Fact Sheet, undated. 17DOEhas noted that nuclear power is currently considered a viable option in many countries. In the United States, DOE anticipates that new reactor options may be available as early as 1995 to resolve many technological and operational concerns. Page 64 GAO/RCED-90-58 Global Warming Chapter 4 Policy Framework to Address Global ClimateChange Strategies to Control Although they are currently responsible for about half the potential for temperature increase, greenhouse gases other than carbon dioxide, GreenhouseGasesOthe when taken together, may surpass carbon dioxide as the primary con- Than Carbon Dioxide tributors to potential warming within the next decade (see ch. 2). Strate- gies to reduce energy consumption and production will also reduce the emission of other greenhouse gases, such as methane and nitrous oxide, in addition to carbon dioxide. Other policies can be targeted to specific gases. For example, landfills are a small but potentially controllable source of methane. Waste disposal in landfills and open dumps generates methane when organic material decomposes. These emissions can be reduced by methane recovery systems and by the minimization of wastes. EPA commented that reducing methane from landfills can have a rela- tively large impact, since only a lo- to 20-percent reduction in methane emissions is required to stabilize atmospheric concentrations. Other areas EPA mentioned for reducing emissions include coal mining activi- ties, animal wastes, and livestock. Several agricultural activities are sources of methane and nitrous oxide emissions: digestive processes in domestic animaIs such as sheep and cattle, rice cultivation, and the use of nitrogenous fertilizer. Several techniques-such as feed additives for cattle, changes in water manage- ment in rice production, and fertilizer coatings-have been identified for reducing methane and nitrous oxide emissions from these sources. According to EPA, however, these techniques require further research and demonstration before they can be implemented. The production and use of CFCS will be limited by the Montreal Protocol, signed in 1987 by 24 dozen nations. I8 The United States ratified the pro- tocol in April 1988. Under the protocol, the world’s industrial nations agreed to halve production and consumption of CFCS in a decade, to peri- odically assess the protocol’s control measures, and to make changes in IsThe purpose of the Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer is to reduce WCs because they destroy ozone in the upper atmosphere. In the Iower atmosphere, however, CFCs act as a greenhouse gas, and the protocol, therefore, has the additional benefit of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Page 55 GAO/RCED-90-68 Global Warming Chapter 4 Policy Framework to Address Global Climate Change the controls if necessary. In 1989, the United States and several Euro- pean countries agreed to completely eliminate CFCS by 2000.19United States legislators have added such language to the proposed reauthorization of the Clean Air Act. The federal government can use several methods to encourage activities U.S. Options to Reduce that reduce the emission of greenhouse gases. As mentioned earlier, Greenhouse Gas energy pricing to promote conservation, further research and develop- Emissions ment of energy-efficient technologies, and information programs for energy consumers would help to overcome some of the obstacles that hinder limiting the emission of greenhouse gases. In addition, the federal government already has several regulations and programs that affect greenhouse gas emissions, such as air pollution control laws, restrictions on the use of WCS,regulation of investments and rates charged by utili- ties, and energy efficiency standards for automobiles and appliances. These programs were adopted for reasons unrelated to climate change, but could be modified to reduce greenhouse gas emissions even further. Similarly, DOE has been tasked with developing a national energy strategy that could be specifically targeted to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This strategy is to be completed by December 1990 for the President’s consideration. The strategy will address global climate change within a comprehensive set of energy and other national goals. According to DOE,this plan is expected to serve as a blueprint for energy decisions, providing a choice of competitively priced, clean-energy sup- plies. The strategy will generate several energy policy options, illustrate how each option will be implemented at the program level, and indicate the program’s funding requirements. Furthermore, the strategy is expected to contain specific recommendations on how to best balance concerns for energy, economic, and environmental requirements. DOE is developing models for the strategy that will project the impacts of various energy options on such issues as global warming. In addition, the federal government needs to examine policies and pro- grams that may inadvertently exacerbate the threat of global warming. For example, “scrubbers” may be used on electric power plants to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions and thereby limit acid rain. IIowever, “‘According to EPA, the protocol’s impact on global climate is difficult to determine because (1) WCs that are already in the atmosphere will remain there for about 100 years and (2) the effect on climate of substitutes for WCs remains unknown. However, according to NOAA, these substitutes have much shorter lifespans, although their greenhouse potential is roughly the same as CEYZson a molecule-per- molecule basis. Pagr 56 GAO/RCED-90-58 Global Warming Chapter 4 Policy Framework to Address Global Climate Change scrubbers will increase carbon dioxide emissions by reducing the effi- ciency of power plants. Another policy, to reduce the production and use of CFCS as part of the Montreal Protocol agreement, could unintention- ally increase the emissions of other greenhouse gases Some substitutes for CFCS are less energy-efficient and, therefore, could result in increased carbon dioxide emissions. Responses to global warming require a combination of immediate and Timing of Responses long-term policies. For example, pricing and regulatory strategies may to Global Warming be effective in the short term, while government-supported research, development, and information programs may reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the long run. Actions now may be desirable for several rea- sons: Some actions cannot be implemented immediately for political and economic reasons once it is agreed they are needed, and concentrations of greenhouse gases will decline only gradually even after actions are implemented. Many organization officials that we spoke with support taking actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, rather than waiting until the earth is committed to potentially harmful warming. Furthermore, some organizations believe that actions in the near future should emphasize activities that have benefits in addition to reducing the emission of greenhouse gases. If policymakers wait until the scientific uncertainties are reduced to respond to global warming, they risk committing the earth to even more warming. Once greenhouse gases have entered the atmosphere, they continue to affect the climate for decades. If all man-made emissions of carbon dioxide were eliminated now, it could take more than a century for the oceans to absorb enough carbon to reduce the atmospheric con- centration of carbon dioxide even halfway toward its preindustrial value. With continued emissions, the time required to reduce excess con- centrations by the same percentage increases even more. In addition, the climate’s response to increases in greenhouse gases will be delayed because the ocean has a limited capacity for absorbing heat. Similarly, in response to decreases in greenhouse gases, temperatures will also cool more slowly because of the ocean’s effect on climate, Furthermore, policy development and implementation can be a lengthy process, particularly at the international level. For example, it took roughly a decade to develop and ratify the Montreal Protocol, and it may take even longer to reach agreement on other greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, because the emission sources are more diverse Page 57 GAO/RCEDSO-58 Global Warming Chapter 4 Policy Framework to Address Global Climate Change and more countries are involved. In addition, implementing new technol- ogies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions may take many years. For example, the next generation of nuclear energy technology, which is now under research and development, is not expected to be in produc- tion before the year 2010. While ongoing and planned research is expected to help reduce some of GAO’s Observations the scientific uncertainties surrounding global climate change, quick fixes or easy answers are unlikely to emerge. Rather, research results are anticipated to continue pointing to the need for developing a com- prehensive multinational, multidecade response strategy requiring a mix of near-term and long-term actions. In the near term, there is a growing recognition that certain actions can be justified because they have bene- fits in addition to reducing greenhouse gases. Reducing CFCS is an example of such an action already underway. Other actions, such as national efficiency standards for new appliances and similar improve- ments in energy efficiency, can have a near-term impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and, while progress has been made, more can be done. Also, the current situation in the Persian Gulf highlights the need to lessen dependence on foreign oil, and such measures as increasing the domestic use of renewable energy and energy-efficient technologies would help to achieve this goal. Other actions that make sense for other reasons and would help to reduce the effects of global warming include: promoting investments in energy-efficient technology to reduce energy costs and to meet the need for new generating capacity; and promoting waste reduction and recycling as alternatives to land dis- posal to address the high cost and environmental risks associated with traditional disposal methods. Long-term solutions, however, raise broad issues that need to be consid- ered on national and international levels in developing a comprehensive strategy to deal with global warming. For example, what acceptable alternatives to fossil fuel use are available to mitigate the projected global warming? How does the relatively low price of fossil fuel energy hinder increased energy efficiency and the use of alternative energy sources, such as solar energy? Will the public accept changes in lifestyle that may be necessary to decrease the emission of greenhouse gases? What is the potential, among so many nations, for achieving cooperation and coordinated action in a timely, effective manner? Will the industri- alized world be able to work with and understand the special needs of developing countries in decreasing their fossil fuel emissions? Who can and will pay for policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions? What Page 58 GAO/RCED-90-58 Global Wnrming Chapter 4 Policy Framework to Address Global Climate Change actions, if any, need to be taken to adapt to’s changing climate? What are the estimated costs of actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt tg climate change? Despite such unresolved issues, our work suggests that actions such as increasing energy efficiency make sense for other reasons as well and should be implemented on both the national and the international level. More importantly, the threat of enhanced global warming in and of itself should serve as a catalyst to take action now. EPA agrees that there are many opportunities for reducing the emission Agencies’ Comments of greenhouse gases at low costs, including opportunities to improve energy efficiency and to increase the use of renewable energy. However, EPA believed that this chapter omitted any reference to the international consensus on the urgent need for a framework convention on climate change and the United States’ active role in that process. We agree that this is an important issue but excluded it from this report because the llnited States’ international efforts concerning global warming were addressed in a recently issued GAO report, Global Warming: Administra- tion Approach Cautious Pending Validation of Threat (GAO/NSIAD-90-63). In addition, EPA felt that several issues had not been addressed in this chapter or needed further elaboration. Where appropriate, we have included additional information provided by EPA on (1) renewable energy sources and (2) strategies for reducing methane emissions. KOAAstated that the report should include a chapter surveying estimates of the net economic costs associated with global warming and the eco- nomic costs of mitigation and adaptation strategies. Similarly, QOE believed that the report should discuss the costs and benefits of reducing emissions. We recognize that there are economic trade-offs that must be considered in any emissions reductions strategy, However, we found that certain actions, such as improvements in energy efficiency, have benefits in addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and could be implemented now. DOE also said that our discussion of the potential for nuclear energy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions should be made more factual and con- sistent with the discussion of other technologies. We know of no infor- mation in the section that is not factual; however, we have expanded that. discussion by adding DOE'S specific comments. KASA did not comment on this chapter. Page 59 GAO/RCED-90-68 Global Warming Appendix I DOE’s Comments The Under Secretary of Energy Washington,DC 20585 Iaarch 29, 1990 Mr. Richard L. Hembra Director Environmental Protection Issues United States General Accounting Office Washington, DC 20548 Dear Mr. Hembra: Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the draft General Accounting Office (GAO) Report: llGlobal Warming: Emission Reductions Possible While Scientific Uncertainties Being Resolved." Department of Energy comments are detailed in the two enclosures to this letter: Enclosure 1 - General Comments, and Enclosure 2 - Specific Comments. Among the Department's primary concerns detailed in the enclosures are: 0 a discussion of costs and benefits of emissions reductions should be included in this report to provide a more comprehensive analytical framework for a government strategy on climate change: 0 the report would be strengthened if historical and more recent climate data were considered in the discussion of the effects of increased greenhouse gas concentrations on potential climate change: 0 the results of models providing estimated changes to global average temperature in Table 3.1 and the accompanying discussion should be more complete, especially reflecting recent model results where cloud and ocean effects are more realistically simulated; 0 the discussion of appropriate criteria for near-term actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions should emphasize actions that also serve other policy objectives; 0 the report should discuss the potential for beneficial impacts of climate change: and Page60 GAO/RCRD9@68GlobalWarming Appendix I DOE’s Comments 2 0 discussion of the potential for nuclear energy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions should be made more factual and consistent with the discussion of other technologies. Your report indicated that it relies on data available through last October. Yet, as our comments note, some of the information contained in the report is already out of date because of recently-announced scientific discoveries. Over the next six months, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will report on our scientific understanding of global climate change, the potential impacts of global climate change, and the economics of various response strategies to potential climate change. Given the IPCC activities, and other ongoing global climate change-related activity, it will be virtually impossible for this report to remain current. Publishing the report now, however, will convey the impression that it represents the best and most recent information that is available, an impressions that will not be correct. We suggest that holding the report in draft over the next several months will allow GAO to incorporate more current scientific and economic research results. The Department of Energy would be pleased to work with you in such an endeavor, which we believe would result in a better, more useful report. Also, enclosed is the Executive Summary of the Department's Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) Program Plan. The ARM Program should improve the treatment of cloud radiative forcing and feedbacks on the General Circulation Models. We would be happy to discuss any of our comments with you. Sincerely, John C. Tuck Enclosures Page61 GAO,‘RCEIHO-68 Global Warming Appendix II EPA’s Comments \,wSF,? g* * Fs5 UNITED STATES ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY p&; WASHINGTON. D.C. 20460 8, ..&” OFFICE OF POLICY, PLANNlNG AND EVALUATtON Mr. Richard L. Hembra Director, Environmental Protection Issues Resources, Community, and Economic Development Division General Accounting Office Washington, D.C. 20548 Dear Mr. Hembra: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has reviewed the General Accounting Office (GAO) draft report entitled "Global Warming: Emission Reductions Possible While Scientific Uncertainties Being Resolved" (GAO/RCED-90-58). In accordance with Public Law 96-226, I am hereby providing the formal Agency response to the draft report. The GAO draft report represents a substantial compilaticn of ongoing work, and achieves a well balanced view of the issues. In particular, it notes the current limitations in atmospheric modeling and the uncertainties about global climate change which follow from those limitations, while recognizing that actions can be taken now to begin reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The report also notes that many of the key policy questions are yet to be answered, such as whether individuals will be willing to change their lifestyles and how policies to reduce emissions will be funded. While the report examines many of the current issues surrounding global warming, its usefulness could be strengthened by expanding it beyond a description of the current state of knowledge to describe the range of activities and progress being made to answer many of the questions it poses. Our understanding of the issues continues to improve rapidly, and a better sense of where the basic research and policy analysis is heading would improve key decision makers' abilities to provide proper guidance and support. Some general comments on the content of the report follow; page-by-page comments are enclosed. In addition, the draft copies being returned to you under separate cover contain editorial comments in the margins. Page 62 GAO/RCED-90-68 Global Warming Appendix II EPA's Comments 2 Scope of the Report A major limitation of the draft report is that it is limited to surveying what is known about the physical climate system. An equally important and challenging task is to survey what is known about the response of living systems to climate change. Biogenic feedbacks can be triggered as the earth's temperature warms. An example of such a feedback is methane release from tundra areas. With these feedbacks, some scientists estimate that average global temperatures could increase by 14 degrees Fahrenheit or more. While estimates are uncertain, such information is valuable because, as the draft acknowledges, climate will probably change to some degree. Policy makers require such Information to balance costs and benefits of mitigation actions. In addition, this information will assist in developing adaptation strategies for environmental changes induced by a changing climate. The nearly complete omission of this important area of environmental xesponse limits the overall usefulness of the report. Modelinq The draft report emphasizes the use of general circulation models ( "yy r but does not recognize the usefulness of other modeling analytical techniques, for example, radiative- convective models and chemistry models. Like GCMs, each analytical tool has its strengths, weaknesses and general domain of usefulness. Their omission from this draft creates the misleading impression that the only scientific means of studying the influence of increasing greenhouse gas concentrations is through the use of GCMs. Chapter 2 and the Executive Summary should be expanded to cover non-GCM analytical tools. One limitation of the GCMs is that they do not include the possible effects of biogenic feedbacks, as discussed above. Another is their lack of credibility in predicting regional climate change. However, this does not mean that they should be abandoned for regional scale predictions. The results of modeled global climate change must make qualitative sense on smaller spatial scales. Some recent satellite radiation budget experiments have shown that there is an encouraging consistency between model and observed climate sensitivity. It is clear that progress in understanding climate change can come only from observations complementing modeling studies. Page63 GACJ,'RCED-!3@SSGlobalWarmIng Appendixt EPA’s Comments Estimates of Greenhouse Gas Emissions The report correctly notes that estimates of future growth of greenhouse gas emissions are uncertain. However, it is important to note that projections are being made by the U.S. and other countries based on a number of assumptions about energy use, population growth, and economic productivity. These are the same type of projections (with the same uncertainties) that are made every day in planning processes, and this is being performed as part of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change) process. These projections are reasonable scenarios for the future, and based on these scenarios, the U.S. and other countries can begin to plan and determine the types of reductions that will be necessary to limit emissions of greenhouse gases. A range of estimates is available for the IPCC report and may be cited in the GAO report. Further, it should be emphasized that there is strong scientific consensus that there will be an increase Fn concentrations of greenhouse gases resulting in increased temperatures. While model limitations do not allow us to accurately predict the extent and timing of the temperature increase, evidence of warming above natural variability will probably become apparent early in the next century. Emissions Reductions The Agency agrees with the GAO that there are many opportunities for reducing emissions of greenhouse gases at low costs. As indicated in the draft report, these include energy efficiency and increased use of renewable energies. They also include reducing methane from landfills. The GAO report states that this is a relatively small source. However, reducing methane from landfills can have a relatively large impact since only a 10 to 20 percent reduction in methane emissions is required to stabilize atmospheric concentrations. Other areas for reducing emissions include coal mining activities, animal wastes, and livestock. In addition, measures to increase sinks for atmospheric carbon through sequestration or other biological means should be mentioned. The report should observe that these opportunities exist and that in some cases additional research, particularly for renewable energy, would lead to greater implementation of these techniques. Page 64 GAO/RCED-9&5BGlobalWansing Appendix II EPA’s Comments 4 While there are disadvantages to different types of renewable energies, these limitations may have solutions or may not exist in all regions of the country. For example, there is abundant land in the southwest United States for solar energy installations, and the geothermal industry has developed methods of extracting geothermal energy to limit geothermal stress. Thus, renewable energies may play a large role in regional strategies to limit Now on p 52 emissions of greenhouse gases. Further, on page 57, the draft report states that renewable energy is "perceived" to be environmentally benign. This is not simply a perception. While the use of renewable energy sources does have environmental impacts, they tend to be far less serious, more localized, and often easier to address than those caused by fossil fuel u8e. International Policy Framework Finally, the report's discussion in Chapter 4 of a "policy framework to address global climate change" omits any reference of the international consensus on the urgent need for a framework convention on climate change and the United States' active role in that process. Further, the discussion of the timing of responses Now on p.57 to global warming (on page 64 of the draft report) also appears to ignore a significant commitment by industrialized nations as stated in paragraph 16 of the Noordwijk Declarationr "Industrialized nations agree that... stabilization [of greenhouse gas emissions, 'while ensuring stable development of the world economy,'] should be achieved by them as soon as possible, at levels to be considered by the IPCC and the second World Climate Conference of November 1990." Similarly, in paragraph 29, the Declaration "urges all involved or to be involved in the [framework convention] negotiations to do their utmost to conclude these negotiations to ensure adoption of the convention as early as 1991 if possible and no later than at the Conference of the United Nations on Environment and Development in 1992." The Administration has offered to host the first negotiating session for a global climate convention and continues to support an acceleration in analysis of targets and options as identified at the Noordwijk Conference. Thank you for the opportunity to respond to the draft report. /z;54,*r, Assistant Administrator Enclosure Page 65 GAO/RCED-9048 Global Warming i Appendix III NASA’s Comments Nat!onalAeronautlcsand SpaceAdminvstratlon Washington, D.C. 20546 April 21, 1990 Mr. Richard L. Hembra Director, Environmental Protection Issues United States General Accounting Office Washington, DC 20548 Dear Mr. Hembra: The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) appreciates the opportunity to review and cormnent on the General Accounting Office (GAO) draft report entitled, u Warm'n 1 : Uncertainties Being Resolved (GAO/RCED-90-58). NASA applauds the efforts by the GAO to address the very complex and important issues related to global warming. There is a compelling need to help policy makers understand the complexities and uncertainties surrounding these issues so that governments can make informed decisions and take actions that are soundly based. The report has the potential to help meet this need. Unfortunately, the depth and timeliness of the report are handicapped in two ways. First, page limitations prescribed for GAO reports lead to a treatment of the issues in the Executive Summary in a manner that risks presenting the diverse and complex problems related to understanding and forecasting global warming in an oversimplified manner. Consequently, a careful reading of the main body of the report will be essential for anyone who wishes to begin to understand, for example, the distinctions between deforestation and fossil fuel burning as sources of carbon dioxide at different times in history, the uncertainties regarding the loss mechanisms for carbon dioxide, the uncertainties regarding the sources of methane and nitrous oxide, and the meaning of the use of an 'equivalent" doubling of carbon dioxide by modellers. Even in the main text, report length constraints have apparently forced the GAO authors to neglect important considerations such as the relative roles of additional radiative forcing agents other than greenhouse gases (e.g. aerosols, albedo, solar variability) and the relatively poor state of development of global ocean circulation models compared to global atmospheric circulation models. Page66 GAO/RCED-9048GlohalWam1@ APpendixIll NASA'sComments 2 Second, the report is limited by having to treat a rapidly evolving body of scientific knowledge while being constrained to rely on material already available in the published literature. A major new report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is now undergoing review for release later this year. That report is likely to present important new findings and improved assesements of key questions such as the range of temperature increases predicted by high resolution models, estimates of the atmospheric lifetime of carbon dioxide, and the use of coupled ocean-atmosphere models. Consequently, we must remember to encourage interested readers to study also the IPCC report when it becomes available. Finally, I want to express my appreciation for the opportunity for members of NASA's technical staff and your audit staff to have a number of very positive and constructive discussions during our review of the draft report. Sincerely, Assistant Deputy Administrator Page67 Atmendix IV NOAA’s Comments u#mnc ETATEE DmPARTMmrr OF GOMMIRCE VW--for -Ud*romorphm wuhlngton O.C. 20230 Mr. Richard L. Hembra Director, Environmental Protection Issues Resources, Community, and Economic Development Division United States General Accounting Office Washington, D.C. 20548 Dear Mr. Hembra: Thank you for your letter requesting the Department's comments on the draft General Accounting Office report entitled Global Warminu: Emission Rsduc! Possible while Scientific Uncertainties Beina &g~&& (GAOjRCED-90-58). Due to the time constraints, we have only been able to give this draft GAO report a cursory review. We do have some difficulty with the report in that it does not represent a true scientific consensus of global warming phenomena; rather, it is a summary of recent, but not current, findings of individual groups. As such, the report, written by non-scientists, tends to over-simplify a real and very complex scientific issue, thereby potentially distorting policy deliberation. For example, the report cites a much higher temperature range (5-8 degrees F) than the current best estimates (3-8 degrees F) and does not address the recent model findings of hemispheric temperature differences. The report makes an assumption that the effects will occur and that they will be negative, even though there is, as yet, uncertainty in many areas. The new findings suggest that future changes may not be as severe as indicated. Indeed, the United States is only just embarking on a major research program to attain a better understanding of the entire climate system. It is also very important to note that an internationally- acknowledged assessment of the science, response strategies, and impacts of global change will be forthcoming this summer from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. These assessments have been made by experts in relevant fields and will be a more up-to-date evaluation of global change than this GAO report. 75 Years Slimulallng America’s Progress * 1913-1988 Page68 GAO/RCED9@68GlobalWarming AppendixlV NOAA's Chnments -2- We agree with the issue formulation offered by GAO--that policy makers must "weigh the risk of more adverse impactsl' against taking *'costly actions I' that may prove unwarranted. Unfortunately, the report does not follow through by analyzing information on the economic costs of global warming essential in calculating the costs of mitigation or adaptation strategies, though some estimates have been developed by private sector and government analysts. Nor does the report offer any analytic framework for evaluating these issues. As the need for policy makers to consider economic effects is critical, we recommend that GAO add a chapter to the report surveying estimates of the net economic costs associated with global warming and the economic costs of mitigation and adaptation strategies. At a minimum, we feel that GAO should explicitly indicate that economic information is required before policy makers can judge whether proposed actions are warranted. The specific view offered by GAO that its work "shows that" actions such as increasing energy efficiency "makes sense for other reasons" is not supported by the discussion or evidence in the draft report. Though noting that lVsome environmental groups" believe that the price of energy 18does not reflect its true social cOst*l, no further evidence is offered to indicate that the true social cost of energy is higher than current prices. We recommend that this concJ.usion either be deleted or that the supporting work be included in the report. Additional, specific comments follow: Comment 3 . ..half of the expected temperature (l'potential temperature" has a precise scientific meaning; its use as a phrase should be avoided in this context). 4 This is inconsistent with the body of the text. What is really said is the ensemble of greenhouse gases are expected to increase such that their net effect is radiativelv eauivalent to a doubling of CO* itself. Now on 0.16 13 Greater mention of the central role of CES on the interagency is warranted. Rather than simple coordination, CES has put together an overall program together with joint agency budget submissions. Overall research priorities have been developed with the concurrence of the NAS Committee on Global Chanqe. Page69 GAO/RCED90-SSGlobalWarn&q Appendix IV NOAA’s Comments -3 Nowonp 17. 14 .f. Geophysical Fluid Dynamics... Nowonp 17. 14 "Joint Oceans Institute" should be Joint oceanographic Institutions, Inc. Now on p. 18 15 . . . objective, we obtained... Now on p. 23 21 Despite the DOE reference, the statement that "all of the increase [in atmospheric carbon dioxide] is due to human activities" is a bit strong in light of our present understanding of natural sources and sinks in the global carbon cycle. A major debate is currently underway as to whether a major Northern Hemisphere terrestrial sink exists. Now on p, 30. 29, footnote This is not right (see pg.4,Par.2,lns.3-4 comments above). you might try: (lns.2-4, . ..that the effect of a suite of trace gases acts to change the infrared radiative forcing by an amount equivalent to that which would be produced by a doubling of COz only. Modelers usually...) 30 . ..according to most scientists,... Deleted 30, footnote . ..Sulfur dioxide could cause clouds to... 31 The model results cited in Table 3.1 are, I believe, equilibrium calculations. Therefore they cannot give information on timing of projected warming. Other model calculations cited in the text are indeed time-dependent; the difference should be spelled out. Now on p. 31 32 . . . scientists at GISS... Now on p. 34. 36 . ..phenomena... Now on pp. 40-41 44 If the discussion of current and future climate- related satellite plans is needed, mention of only ERRE and TPMM is quite a short list. What about EOS? This is by far the largest single item in the U.S. Global Change Research Program. Now on pp, 44-60. 47-66 It is beyond NOAA's scope to comment directly on policy recommendations. However, a few points of detail are noted below. Page 70 GAO/RCEIMO-58 Global Wuming Appendix ISJ NOAA’s Comments -4- Now on p, 55 61 This statement is only partially correct. It is only the combustion-related pieces of the methane (natural gas losses) and nitrous oxide that are directly related to carbon dioxide controls. The agricultural, fertilizer, and animal sources probably dominate. Now or- p. 56 62,footnote The climate and ozone effects anticipated from HCFC's and related compounds are already rather well characterized. Roughly, their greenhouse potential is the same as CFC’s on a molecule- per-molecule basis. Their appeal is because they have much shorter lifetimes. This reduces their concentrations for a given source strength and allows less reactive chlorine to be liberated in the active ozone layer. We appreciate this opportunity to comment on the draft report. Sincerely, Page 71 GAO,‘RCED-9&68 Global Warming Appendix Major Contributors to This Report Peter F. Guerrero, Associate Director Resources, William F. McGee, Assistant Director Community, and Teresa F. Spisak, Evaluator-in-Charge Angela R. Crump, Evaluator Economic Cynthia L. Jorgenson, Evaluator Development Division, Philip G. Farah, Economist Washington, DC. (089443) Page 72 GAO/RCED-90-68 Global Warming .:-’ . . ( ,, ,I’ ‘. , ;,’ ,‘,,‘,* J ‘: ,: .’ \ .” ,” , ‘_ I : .I. :. ,, . . - . ,. .,_, :. . . ‘. .‘.; .,,, :. ‘” : ., ,” ; -: ; : 1 .:, ; ,. .,. :. ‘. _. : ,: ,. ’ i . . .,. , .
Global Warming: Emission Reductions Possible as Scientific Uncertainties Are Resolved
Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1990-09-28.
Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)