Global Climate Change Negotiations: A Lead Weight on Our Nation’s Future Economic Growth

Published August 1, 1997

On July 15, 1997, Senator Chuck Hagel (R-Nebraska) addressed the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Conference on Global Climate Issues, held in Washington, D.C. What follows is an abbreviated version of his remarks.

I have yet to meet one American, or one Member of Congress, who wants dirty air, dirty water, a dirty environment, or declining standards of living for their children and grandchildren. We all agree on the need for a clean environment. We all want to leave our children a better, cleaner, more prosperous world.

This debate is not about who is for or against a clean environment. It never has been. Nor is the debate about motives, personalties, or politics. It is about finding the truth. I believe–above all else–that we need to base our decisions on sound science and common sense. We should not rush headlong into a so-called solution until we are sure of the problem and fully aware of the consequences of acting.

Over the last few months, the United States Senate has sought the truth with respect to the global climate change issue. What we have heard has very troubling implications for the U.S. economy, jobs, competitiveness, trade, growth, energy costs, energy use, national defense, and national sovereignty.

Why are members of the U.S. Senate taking such a proactive approach to this issue? No treaty can be ratified without a two-thirds vote of the Senate. For that reason alone, it makes sense for Congress to do its part to affect the negotiations. The credibility of the United States is not enhanced when the Administration negotiates a treaty that has no hope of ratification in the Senate. Moreover, the Senate has an obligation under the U.S. Constitution to provide its advice during the negotiation of treaties.

What Is the Problem?

If anything has become clear during congressional hearings on this issue, it is that the scientific community has not definitively concluded that we have a problem with global warming. The science is inconclusive. The implications are unclear. And predictions for the future range from no significant problem to global catastrophe.

The subcommittee I chair, International Economic Policy, Export and Trade Promotion, has held two hearings on this issue. In the first we heard testimony from Dr. Patrick Michaels, professor of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia, who noted that conditions in the real world simply have not matched computer model projections. Most of the warming this century occurred in the first half of the century–before significant man-made emissions of greenhouse gases began. And 18 years of satellite data actually show a slight cooling trend.

Just last week, before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Dr. Richard S. Lindzen, professor of meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, testified that “a decade of focus on global warming and billions of dollars of research funds have still failed to establish that global warming is a significant problem.” Dr. John Christy, an associate professor in the Department of Atmospheric Science at the University of Alabama, testified that “The satellite and balloon data show that catastrophic warming is not now occurring. The detection of human effects on climate has not been convincingly proven because the variations we have now observed are not outside of the natural variations of the climate system.”

So there remains great uncertainty with the science. In fact, as computer modeling has improved, more questions arise. It is clear that the global climate is incredibly complex. It is influenced by far more factors than originally thought when some early, crude computer models first raised alarms about the possible threat of imminent, catastrophic global warming. Whether we are experiencing global warming is very unclear.

What Is the Best Solution?

Common sense dictates that you don’t come up with a solution until you have a problem. Unfortunately, the Clinton Administration has proceeded to negotiate a solution before we have confirmation that there is a problem. The administration has proposed that the U.S. and other developed nations submit to legally binding controls of greenhouse gas emissions. Administration officials are now negotiating the language of a U.N. Global Climate Treaty that would be signed this December in Kyoto. If that’s not putting the cart before the horse, I don’t know what is.

The proposed treaty will not make emissions standards legally binding on more than 130 “developing nations,” including China, Mexico, South Korea, India, and Singapore. This makes no sense at all, given that these nations include some of the most rapidly developing economies in the world and are quickly increasing their use of fossil fuels. For example, by the year 2015, China will surpass the United States as the largest producer of greenhouse gases.

The U.S. and the other developed nations are the ones who are currently doing the most to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It’s the developing nations that will be the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases during the next 25 years. It is complete folly to exclude them from legally binding emissions mandates. No treaty aimed at reducing global emissions of greenhouse gases can be effective if it excludes these 130 nations.

What Are the Costs?

One of the notable aspects of this issue is that it has united American business, labor, and agriculture. In my hearings, we heard testimony from the AFL-CIO, the American Farm Bureau, the National Association of Manufacturers, and noted economists. They all agreed on one thing: The draft treaty now under consideration would have a devastating effect on American consumers, workers, farmers, and businesses.

Estimates of the proposed treaty’s damage to our economy vary, mainly because the administration has not released its own economic assumptions. The administration promised to provide its economic model more than a year ago. Congressman John Dingell stated before my subcommittee, “We were supposed to have the vaunted analysis and assessment of the impact of climate change policies on the U.S. economy by the end of last year. It has not been completed yet, despite repeated promises to Congress and industry that it would be available before important policy decisions are made.”

But the bottom line is clear. It has been estimated that stabilizing emissions at 1990 levels would double electricity prices and would require a tax equal to 40 cents/gallon on gasoline. The AFL-CIO has estimated that the treaty would mean the loss of 1.25 to 1.5 million American jobs.

Jerry Jasinowski, president of the National Association of Manufacturers testified that the proposed treaty “would hurt America’s manufacturers, workers and families, with little or no environmental benefit, since new restrictive policies in the U.S. simply would force the flight of U.S. investment to developing countries. Millions of Americans would lose their jobs, and American manufacturers could take a severe hit in the marketplace.”

What about the effects on American agriculture? It is little known that American agriculture produces 25 percent of our nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, which would make this critical sector of our economy vulnerable to the kind of major reductions envisioned by the U.N. global climate treaty.

The American Farm Bureau has stated that the treaty would be a “backdoor BTU tax” that would drive up fuel and overall energy costs by as much as 50 percent. Farming is a very energy-intensive industry–fuel increases of 50 percent would drive many American farmers into bankruptcy.

Undersecretary Wirth has put this country in the unenviable position of supporting a negotiating position that will place new international, legally binding, mandatory regulations on our domestic companies while imposing only voluntary standards on our competitors in 130 other countries So while the consequences for the United States would be severe economic harm, the consequences for 130 other countries would be economic advantage over the United States.

Finally, one of the most disturbing aspects of this treaty is the threat to U.S. sovereignty. Who will administer a global climate treaty? Who will police it? Will we have an international agency capable of inspecting, fining, and possibly shutting down American companies? No one has addressed those serious questions or the implications they have for our national security interests. One of the biggest users of fossil fuels is the U.S. military. How would this treaty affect our military operations and our national defense capabilities?

What Should We Do Now?

So what should we do now? The answer to that question is very simple–slow down. There is absolutely no reason for the United States to rush headlong into signing a treaty in Kyoto this December.

It would be foolhardy for America to submit up to “legally binding obligations” to be policed by some multilateral, international organization . . . especially in light of the scientific uncertainties surrounding the global warming issue and the serious economic harm that acting quickly would impose on our citizens. Acting quickly would also be counterproductive, because any such treaty would have virtually no chance of being ratified by the United States Senate.

I have been working with a number of my colleagues to put together a strong, bipartisan coalition on this issue. There are now 65 cosponsors of the Byrd-Hagel resolution, which voices strong objection to the administration’s position in the current U.N. negotiations and lays down a bottom-line for any climate change treaty that might come before the Senate. The resolution states that the administration should not sign any treaty that does not include the 130 developing nations or that would cause serious economic harm to the United States. Any treaty that does not fit those parameters would face the likelihood of a crushing defeat in the U.S. Senate.

I said at the outset that I believe any action should be based on sound science and common sense. The current track of the negotiations for the U.N. Global Climate Treaty does neither.

Why is the administration rushing headlong into signing a treaty in December? The scientific data is inconclusive, at times even contradictory. The economic costs are clear, and devastating. This treaty would be a lead weight on our nation’s future economic growth, killing jobs and opportunities for generations of Americans.

We need to take global climate issues seriously. We, in the United States, have made tremendous strides in cleaning up our environment, and we will continue to make progress in the future. We are all concerned about the state of the environment that we leave to our children and grandchildren. But when we take actions that will reduce their economic opportunities, we must ensure that the benefits would be real, and that they would justify the economic hardship that we would be passing on to future generations.