Climate Research Faulted Over Missing Components
The New York Times, April 22, 2005
The Bush administration's program to study climate change lacks a major component required by law, according to Congressional investigators. The program fails to include periodic assessments of how rising temperatures may affect people and the environment.
The investigators, from the Government Accountability Office, conclude in a report to be released today that none of the 21 studies of climate change that the administration plans to publish by September 2007 explicitly address the potential effects in eight areas specified by a 1990 law, the Global Change Research Act. The areas include agriculture, energy, water resources and biological diversity.
Without such an assessment, the accountability office said, "it may be difficult for the Congress and others to use this information effectively as the basis for making decisions on climate policy."
The investigators also said the program was behind schedule, with just one report on track out of nine that are to be published by next September. The 1990 law requires a report to Congress every four years on the consequences of climate change.
The report was given to The New York Times by Congressional staff members.
Dr. James R. Mahoney, the Commerce Department official in charge of climate research, said yesterday that he would not comment on the report because he had not seen the final version.
In written comments to the Congressional investigators, however, Dr. Mahoney defended the program, saying government climate reports would include information on the potential effects on humans and nature. He added that the National Academy of Sciences would be consulted to ensure that the reports were adequate.
"We may commission additional reports, if needed, to cover specific topics found to be insufficiently addressed," Dr. Mahoney told the accountability office.
Addressing the delays, he noted that it took 10 years from enactment of the law in the first Bush administration for the Clinton administration to complete the first assessment. It was published in 2000.
"This is a sure indication the complexity of the effort envisioned by Congress cannot be reasonably accomplished within four years," he wrote, adding that the schedule of the coming series of reports represented "an essential and prudent balance of quality and timeliness."
The G.A.O. report was requested by Senators John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, and John McCain, Republican of Arizona. Mr. McCain, who supported President Bush's re-election, has criticized his policies on climate change.
Mr. Bush opposes mandatory restrictions on smokestack and tailpipe gases, which many climate scientists link to global warming, saying the science pointing to the risks remains uncertain.
Other Republicans have broken ranks with Mr. Bush on the climate since his re-election. In remarks at the Brookings Institution in February, Senator Chuck Hagel, Republican of Nebraska, said although the administration had been right to reject the Kyoto Protocol, the climate
treaty embraced by almost all other industrial powers, it had never offered a coherent alternative.
"We have been out of the game for four years," Mr. Hagel said. "That's dangerous. It's irresponsible."
Mr. Bush began reorganizing climate research in 2001, focusing on the uncertainties about the relationship between rising global temperatures and rising concentrations of heat-trapping emissions. His critics, including some scientists and former senior officials in the climate program, say the shift in focus was meant to distract attention from the broad scientific consensus that humans have caused most of the new global warming.
Rick S. Piltz, who resigned last month after 10 years in the Global Change Research Program, which coordinates climate work, said that Dr. Mahoney had good intentions, but that the program had been changed so that worrisome findings did not emerge that could increase pressure to curb emissions.
The first national assessment of potential impacts of climate change under the global change law projected a host of potential problems in the United States if emissions and climate trends persisted.