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Moving the Climate Change Debate From Models to Proposed Legislation: Lessons From State Experience

November 2000

Citation: ELR 10933

Author: John Dernbach

The United States is a party to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (Framework Convention),1 which requires parties to implement programs and measures to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions. Greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide (CO2), trap solar energy in the atmosphere in proportion to their concentration, rather like the way glass windows in a greenhouse or a parked car trap solar heat.2 Their increased atmospheric concentration from human emissions is believed to be affecting the earth's climate. In 1997, in Kyoto, Japan, the parties agreed to a protocol under which developed countries would reduce their net emissions by at least 5% below 1990 levels by 2008-2012, and the United States would reduce its emissions by 7% below 1990 levels.3 Since that time, there has been a vigorous debate in the United States about the Kyoto Protocol.

To a great degree, this public debate is a case study in asking the wrong questions:

John Dernbach is an Associate Professor at Widener University Law School. The students participating in the Seminar on Global Warming were Jennifer Cole, Valerie Faden, Susannah Lee, Chris Lovecchio, Sean Quinlan, Jessica Reenock. David Shumway, Kimberly Smith, Matthew Williams, David Wortman, and Brian Zulli. The seminar, which was led by Professor Dernbach, was held in the spring semester of 2000. Brenda Bishop, Valerie Faden, and Jason Schibinger provided additional research assistance. Don Brown, Alan Miller, Sonny Popowsky, Bob Power, John Rohrbach, and Kathy Yorkievitz provided helpful comments on an earlier draft. Duncan Austin and Andrew Kleit patiently answered questions on economic issues. Professor Dernbach is responsible for any errors. Please send any comments or questions to john.c.dernbach@law.widener.edu.

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