Climate Change

Climate Change Policy


The international response to the problem of climate change took its first major step forward with the signing of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. The Convention sets an ultimate objective of stabilizing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions “at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic (human induced) interference with the climate system.” It states that “such a level should be achieved within a time frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened, and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner.” Among other provisions, the Convention requires industrialized countries to prepare and update inventories of greenhouse gas emissions. 

As its name implies, the UNFCCC was always intended to be a “framework” document — something to be amended over time so that efforts to deal with climate change can be strengthened. The first addition to the treaty, the Kyoto Protocol, was adopted in 1997. It set mandatory targets for greenhouse gas emissions for most industrialized nations, aiming for an overall 5% reduction from 1990 levels. The Clinton Administration signed the Protocol but the Bush Administration withdrew U.S. support. 


The Bush Administration has focused U.S. policy on climate research, development of new technologies, and on voluntary programs to reduce GHG emissions. 

State & Regional

There is growing interest in the United States in state-level actions to address the effects of climate change and greenhouse gas emissions. More than 20 states have prepared a state climate action plan. Many states have held stakeholder processes similar to what Florida has launched, and those processes have led to new policies being proposed or adopted. Typically, the policies serve multiple aims such as improving air quality, reducing traffic congestion, securing reliable energy supplies, preserving land, or improving waste management, in addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 


Climate Change – Impacts

If the magnitude of global warming is consistent with the mid- or upper-range of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) simulations, serious and damaging societal and ecological impacts are likely to result. Higher latitudes are predicted to see greater temperature increases than lower latitudes, especially during winter and spring.

The IPCC predicts rising sea levels, increased rainfall rates and heavy precipitation events (especially over the higher latitudes) and higher evaporation rates that would accelerate the drying of soils following rain events. With higher sea levels, coastal regions could face increased wind and flood damage, and some models predict an increase the intensity of tropical storms. 

Regional and state impacts are harder to predict than large regional or global impacts.  Regional models indicate these possible impacts in Florida:

  • Sea level rise could lead to flooding of low-lying areas, erosion of beaches, loss of coastal wetlands, intrusion of salt water into water supplies, and increased vulnerability of coastal areas to storms and hurricanes.         
  • As climate changes, this could cause some plants and animals to go extinct, some to decline or increase in population, and others migrate to areas with more favorable conditions.  For example, along the coast, fish that need colder temperatures to survive could migrate north, while more tropical varieties could move up the coast into Florida.         
  • Diseases and pests with current tropical ranges could invade Florida, as has West Nile virus and Africanized honey bees in Florida’s panhandle.   
  • Crops and trees that need cooler climates may not grow as well in Florida, while more tropical varieties might do better.             
  • More severe storms and droughts could affect crop production, pests and growth rates.

Even if global average temperature increases in the year 2100 are in the lower-range of the IPCC scenarios, the models project ongoing increases in temperatures and sea levels well beyond the end of this century. Thus the eventual impacts may be delayed but not avoided. 


Climate Change – Science

The sun’s energy drives the Earth’s weather and climate and heats its surface. Some of this energy radiates back into space, but some of it is trapped by greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, water vapor, and other gases). A natural “greenhouse effect” keeps the Earth warm enough for life to flourish, but if too much heat is trapped, the Earth’s climate could change in disruptive and dangerous ways. 

There is a growing scientific consensus that increasing emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) are affecting the Earth’s climate. That consensus is represented by the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a body established by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations to assess scientific, technical, and socioeconomic information relevant for the understanding of climate change, its potential impacts, and options for adaptation and mitigation. 

The IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report, released in November of 2007, states, “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observation of increases in average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level.”  The report notes that eleven of the last twelve years (1995-2006) rank among the twelve warmest years of recorded temperatures (since 1850). Of concern to Florida, the IPCC report notes, “There is observational evidence of an increase in intense tropical cyclone activity in the North Atlantic since about 1970, with limited evidence of increases elsewhere.”

A key finding of the Fourth Assessment’s 123-page “Summary for Policymakers” is: “Observational evidence from all continents and most oceans shows that many natural systems are being affected by regional climate changes, particularly temperature increases.” A change from the previous report was the increased confidence in findings.

“In terrestrial ecosystems, earlier timing of spring events and poleward and upward shifts in plant and animal ranges are with very high confidence linked to recent warming. In some marine and freshwater systems, shifts in ranges and changes in algal, plankton and fish abundance are with high confidence associated with rising water temperatures, as well as related changes in ice cover, salinity, oxygen levels and circulation.” 

Another finding on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is: “Global GHG emissions due to human activities have grown since pre-industrial times, with an increase of 70% between 1970 and 2004.” On a positive note, the Summary states: “Both bottom-up and top-down studies indicate that there is high agreement and much evidence of substantial economic potential for the mitigation of global GHG emissions over the coming decades that could offset the projected growth of global emissions or reduce emissions below current levels.” Charts and graphics in the report aid in understanding the complex scientific information presented.

In its Third Assessment Report published in 2001, the IPCC noted that the Earth’s surface temperature had increased by about 1 degree Fahrenheit in the past century due largely to increased GHGs from human activities that result in emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), halogenated fluorocarbons (HCFCs), ozone (O3), per-fluorinated carbons (PFCs), and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). Aerosols, including sulfate particles and black carbon (soot), are also believed to contribute to global warming.  Uncertainty remains in our understanding of how the climate system varies naturally and reacts to emissions of greenhouse gases and aerosols.