Greenpeace calls on President Obama to review the latest climate science

by Steven Biel

March 17, 2009

This week, Greenpeace Legislative Director Rick Hind and interim Executive Director Mike Clark delivered a letter to the Obama administration urging them to review the most recent climate science and bring his proposals in line with what the increasingly urgent findings show.

We thought you’d be interested in what the letter says. Here it is.

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March 11, 2009

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Obama:

We are inspired and moved by your efforts as President to engage every American in the process of governing as well as your commitment, as stated in your inaugural address, to “roll back the specter of a warming planet.”

Indeed, throughout your campaign you identified solving global warming among the defining goals of your administration. In a taped message to the Global Climate Summit hosted by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on November 18, you stated that “Few challenges facing America—and the world—are more urgent than combating climate change.” You pledged specifically to “set us on a course to reduce emissions to their 1990 levels by 2020 and reduce them an additional 80% by 2050.”

Your commitment to action on global warming is truly wonderful. Also, your commitment to cutting emissions by 80% from 1990 levels by 2050 is closely in line with what the best global warming science says is needed to prevent catastrophic warming.

We believe your short-term goal of reducing U.S. domestic emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 should be strengthened to meet the goals that current science show are needed.

Numerous studies ,  have concluded that to prevent catastrophic global warming worldwide average temperatures cannot rise by more than 2 degrees C (3.6ºF) above pre-industrial levels.

Further research shows that to have an approximately 50% chance of keeping warming below 2 degrees Celsius, atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations must stabilize below 450 parts per million.

The Nobel Prize-winning U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)   projected that to keep greenhouse gas concentrations below 450 ppm developed countries as a whole would need to reduce emissions by 25-40% below 1990 levels by 2020 and by 80-95% by 2050.

More recent findings since the publication of the IPCC Fourth Assessment suggest that even more urgent action may be needed.  In 2008, for example, the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center announced that summer Arctic sea ice had reached the second-lowest level ever recorded.   This observed rapid arctic melting is already far outpacing IPCC worst-case scenario predictions.  Two years ago, IPCC projected Arctic sea ice could disappear almost entirely by the later part of this century.   Now, some scientists including NASA’s Jay Zwally predict Arctic summers could be nearly ice-free within the next five years.

Given this body of science, any course of action that permits emissions above a 25-40% cut from 1990 levels will fail to meet the needed goal.

The good news is that the U.S. can achieve needed pollution reductions by committing to sharp domestic pollution cuts combined with a robust program of international global warming assistance for developing nations. Furthermore these emissions reductions can be achieved by investing in existing energy technologies that will also enhance economic prosperity.

A new, soon-to-be-released energy blueprint commissioned from the Department of Systems Analysis and Technology Assessment at the German Aerospace Center (Germany’s NASA) by Greenpeace and the European Renewable Energy Council finds that the U.S. can achieve domestic cuts of 12% from 1990 levels by 2020 using off-the-shelf technology and simultaneously promote strong economic growth.   These domestic cuts are not only possible but absolutely necessary.

International climate assistance to developing nations is another critical part of the solution to global warming. For instance, tropical deforestation is responsible for 20% of worldwide global warming emissions.  Without financial assistance from wealthy nations like the U.S., the destruction of tropical forests that trap huge amounts of carbon will continue. We can achieve even greater emissions reductions by helping developing nations adopt clean technologies like renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Importantly, to ensure the integrity of the domestic cuts demanded by the science, international reductions must be funded through a separate fund, not via so-called “pollution off-sets” which would allow domestic emissions to continue to rise. We must help achieve emissions reductions in the developing world while also, not instead of, cutting domestic emissions.

To avoid catastrophic global warming impacts, Greenpeace urges you to commit to total emissions reductions of no less than 25-40% below 1990 levels by 2020. These reductions can be achieved through a combination of domestic cuts of at least 8-12% from 1990 levels, with the remaining cuts achieved by measurable, reportable, and verifiable international reductions funded by international global warming assistance for developing nations.

Greenpeace operates offices in more than 30 countries around the world, with a global membership of over 2.5 million.  This international network keeps us in touch with communities already experiencing adverse affects of climate change, as well as numerous scientists, including Greenpeace International Science Advisor Dr. William Hare.  Dr. Hare was a Lead Author for the IPCC’s Climate Change 2007: Mitigation of Climate Change component of its Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) and in the Synthesis Report of the AR4.

To further discuss why these recommendations are critical, we respectfully request a meeting with Carol Browner, your chief advisor on energy and climate policy.  I can be reached at (202) 319-2456.


Mike Clark
Executive Director

Carol Browner, Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change
Lisa Jackson, EPA Administrator
Representative Nancy Pelosi
Senator Harry Reid
Senator Barbara Boxer
Representative Henry Waxman
Representative Edward Markey

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