WASHINGTON The White House on Thursday will issue a revised 10-year global warming research plan that sets five goals, chief among them identifying "natural variability" in climate change, an effort that environmentalists say diverts the focus away from man-made pollution.
The second goal listed by the Bush administration is to find better ways of measuring climate effects from burning fossil fuels, industrial production of warming gases and changes in land use. The 364-page plan emphasizes the difficulties but also the importance of reaching that goal.
Most climate scientists around the world will see this as fiddling while Rome burns. ... This would have been a great research program if it had been announced by the first President Bush 10 years ago.
"These changes have several important climate effects, some of which can be quantified only poorly at present," say summaries obtained by The Associated Press. Managing the potential human contributions to global warming is described as "a capstone issue for our generation and those to follow."
Other goals are to reduce uncertainty in climate forecasting; to better understand how changes in climate affect human, wildlife and plant communities; and to find more exact ways of calculating the risks of global warming.
The administration also will ask Congress for a new $103 million, two-year initiative to speed up "high priority" research on carbon pollution, aerosols and oceans and determine the best ways to compile and disseminate information about them, Assistant Commerce Secretary James Mahoney told the AP. He said that effort would be included in President Bush's budget proposals for 2005 and 2006 and would draw some of its funds from the existing $1.75 billion Climate Change Science Program.
The new plan and funding initiative are being presented by Commerce Secretary Don Evans and Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham.
An earlier version was roundly criticized by a panel of top climate experts at the National Academy of Sciences, who said it didn't set hard priorities and lacked a clear, guiding vision and a specific timetable of goals.
"We've tried to take all of the academy's recommendations into account," Mahoney said. "The greatest focus is on what we can deliver in the shortest period."
He said more than 250 people worked on the plan, which envisions no fewer than 21 separate reports on varying aspects of climate change being produced over the next four years.
Carbon dioxide from burning oil and coal is blamed by many scientists for contributing to a "greenhouse" or warming effect on global climates.
The Bush administration is the first to comply with Congress' 1990 mandate that a 10-year climate change research plan be created. Lawmakers also said such a plan should be updated every three years.
The new plan revises a draft released late last year which focused on making better economic projections of possible climate policy changes and tighter coordination of more than a dozen federal agencies' efforts.
Lester Brown, founder of the Earth Policy Institute, and Philip Clapp, president of National Environmental Trust, criticized the administration for focusing on natural causes of global warming and reopening scientific issues already adequately addressed by the academy and the United Nations' scientific panel.
"It seems to me that it's an effort to postpone doing anything meaningful on the climate issue," said Brown, who called for more research on climate warming effects on crop production and water shortages.
Clapp predicted that "most climate scientists around the world will see this as fiddling while Rome burns. ... This would have been a great research program if it had been announced by the first President Bush 10 years ago."
Annie Petsonk, an Environmental Defense lawyer who helped craft the first Bush's policy while working in his administration's Justice Department, said there is enough scientific certainty to begin taking action now to reduce warming.
"Where the administration has thought to take any action at all has been to delete climate references from reports and to try to repudiate the science that says global warming is happening now," she said.
Copyright 2003 The Associated Press