GAO: Government's climate data inadequate

By SHIHOKO GOTO  |  April 26, 2005 at 1:55 PM
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WASHINGTON, April 26 (UPI) -- A federal government report suggests the Bush administration is not providing adequate or timely data on the subject of global climate change as required by Congress.

The report, "Climate Change Assessment," which was prepared by the Government Accountability Office and submitted to two members of Congress last Friday, said the administration "did not submit an assessment in 2004, as required."

John Stephenson, the GAO's director of natural resources and environment, said in his cover letter to Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and John Kerry, D-Mass., "it is unclear" how the administration will "explicitly address all required assessment topics."

The Global Change Research Act requires the White House to prepare a summary of federal climate-change research at least every four years. The first of these summaries, "Climate Change Impacts on the United States," was released in November 2000.

In 2002, President George W. Bush established the Climate Change Science Program to produce the report, but the group failed to meet last November's deadline. Instead, the White House has said the CCSP would issue 21 shorter reports between 2005 and 2007.

"Thus, by the time the last of these reports is published, about seven years will have elapsed since the publication of the 2000 report -- nearly twice the interval specified in the act," Stephenson said.

The CCSP is tasked with assessing the effects of global change in eight key areas: the natural environment, agriculture, energy production and use, land and water resources, transportation, human health and welfare, human social systems, and biological diversity. The GAO report said the group's approach to reporting the impact of climate change on society "contrasts with its more structured approach for addressing scientific uncertainties and trends" that question whether there is any link between climate change and human activity.

"This White House bases its policies on selective science, not the 'sound science' President Bush so often postures about," said Philip Clapp, head of the non-profit National Environment Trust in a statement following the release of the report. "The Bush administration's climate science program is so distorted that it belongs in the same file drawer as the tobacco industry's studies denying the link between smoking and cancer."

Those who have been working with the CCSP, however, have defended their research efforts to date.

James Mahoney, the Commerce Department official in charge of climate research at his agency, told the GAO, in a statement included in the report, the delay in reporting was not deliberate nor misguided, but rather the result of the complexity of the issue.

"The effort envisioned by Congress cannot be reasonably accomplished within four years," Mahoney said, and added the revised plan to produce the 21 reports until 2007 was "an essential and prudent balance of quality and timeliness."

Meanwhile, efforts are underway elsewhere to study the global effects of pollution and climate change.

Earlier this month, the United Nations, along with a number of other international institutions from both the public and private sectors, unveiled a report, "Millennium Ecosystem Assessment," which is the product of 1,360 experts from 95 countries working together during the past five years. The report found humans are damaging the planet at an unprecedented rate and causing irreversible changes to the world's ecosystems. It also warned the global economy would suffer should environmental destruction continue at its current pace.

"Any progress achieved in addressing the goals of poverty ... and environmental protection is unlikely to be sustained if most of the ecosystem services on which humanity relies continue to be degraded," the report said.

Robert Watson, chief scientist at the World Bank who was environmental adviser to President Bill Clinton and a former chief environmental scientist at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, said climate change "may become the most dominant threat to ecological systems over the next hundred years."

Speaking at a news briefing on the U.N. report, Watson said: "We've clearly got to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, change our energy policies, use our energy more wisely. We can develop technologies for much more sustainable agriculture, sustainable energy, and we can use technology also to restore our ecosystem."


Shihoko Goto is UPI's Senior Business Correspondent. E-mail:

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