Climate Change

Senator Leahy understands that human caused climate change is accelerating with each passing year, and is now taking an increasingly severe toll on our natural resources as well as nearly every aspect of our economy.  Senator Leahy is working at every opportunity to mitigate the worst potential impacts of climate change by pushing for reduced emissions of greenhouse gases, while also helping Vermont, the United States, and vulnerable areas around the world respond to the immediate problems caused by climate change.   

Senator Leahy’s work to support energy conservation and renewable energy are described in the Energy section of this site.  He has also strongly supported the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulation of greenhouse gases as pollutants under the Clean Air Act.

In responding to the most immediate impacts of climate change, Senator Leahy has pushed the Federal Emergency Management Agency to pay for the reconstruction of storm damaged infrastructure to a level that will accommodate future, more severe, storms, rather than simply replacing existing, often inadequate, structures.  He has also worked with the International Joint Commission to better understand and plan for Lake Champlain flooding, which has recently surpassed all historical records and is predicted to increase in future years as a result of climate change.

Health Impacts

When many people talk about the climate change debate, they conjure images of melting ice caps and stranded polar bears.  While extreme weather does degrade the environment, it also has negative impacts on human health.  Greenhouse gases, including methane, nitrous oxide, hydroflurocarbons, and particulate matter, reduce air, water, and food quality.  Smog, particulate matter, and ground-level ozone damage the respiratory system, while exposure to nitrous oxide can aggravate heart disease.  Senator Leahy is a strong advocate of environmental laws, such as the Clean Air Act, which have saved millions of lives by preventing premature deaths, heart attacks, cancer, asthma, and other life threatening illnesses.  He will continue to fight against efforts to undermine our environmental legislation.

Wildlife and Climate Change

As a lifelong Vermonter, Senator Leahy has a strong appreciation for the natural world and recognizes the value of observing changes in the behavior of wildlife as a barometer of environmental health.  Recognizing this, Senator Leahy has long supported legislation that seeks to address threats posed by a changing climate to fragile ecosystems, migration patterns, natural water flow, and population growth and stabilization.  He understands that funding for natural resource adaptation is essential for vital ecosystems.

International Issues and Climate Change

Senator Leahy believes that the climate change crisis requires an international solution.  Addressing the economic, human health, and environmental impacts of a volatile climate necessitates sacrifice on the part of both developing and industrialized nations.  Senator Leahy strongly supports international agreements that establish binding commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was a treaty that preceded the Kyoto Protocol and outlined the intentions and interests of numerous international parties in reducing global emissions and addressing changes in temperature.  Intergovernmental meetings take place on a regular basis with regard to the UNFCCC, the Kyoto Protocol, the Copenhagen Accord, and most recently, the Cancun Agreements.  The Copenhagen Accord may have marked a turning point, by addressing all countries’ commitments in one instrument and laying out essential compromises.  In December 2010, many elements of the Copenhagen Accord were adopted in the Cancun Agreements.  These embody greenhouse gas pledges made by all major emitting parties to the agreement; enhancements to reporting and review systems to ensure transparency of implementation; and pledges for financial assistance.  These agreements are the building blocks of international cooperation that will hopefully resolve the issue of climate change in the decades to come.

Agriculture and Climate Change

Agriculture represents a significant economic sector in the United States, drawing upon our natural resources, skilled workforce, and ingenuity.  As the nation looks to combat the effects of climate change, there is little question that agriculture will play a substantial role.  Modern agriculture practices both produce greenhouse gases and serve as an essential carbon sink to deplete the overall amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.  The use of certain fertilizers and the natural digestive processes of livestock are two principle sources of greenhouse gases from agriculture.  Land conservation, soil management, and manure management are practices that consistently serve to capture and sequester carbon.  It is important that the dual nature of this sector be taken into consideration in the development of climate change legislation.

Climate Change FAQ

What constitutes a greenhouse gas?

The International Panel on Climate Change defines greenhouse gases as those gaseous entities, both natural and human-made, that exist in our atmosphere and absorb and emit radiation at a specific wavelength.  The physical and chemical properties of these gases are conducive to the greenhouse effect – commonly understood as the trapping of the sun’s radiation in the upper levels of the earth’s atmosphere.

Is it possible that climate change is a naturally occurring phenomenon that will correct itself over time?

It is now recognized as a fact that climate change, while possibly grounded in a series of natural weather patterns and global shifts in temperature, is largely an anthropogenic phenomenon.  Human activity, since the Industrial Revolution, has contributed, in large part, to the changes in climate that are now upon us.  Contrary to what many believe, global warming and climate change are distinct.  Global warming refers solely to increases in temperature worldwide, whereas climate change refers to observable changes in temperature, precipitation, and wind patterns.

While it is possible that the natural tendency of the earth’s climate to shift will bring about changes in the near future that will seemingly reverse the effects of harmful human activities; it is more likely that, left unabated, human activities will lead to even greater swings in weather conditions.

What's the difference between a carbon tax and a cap and trade program?

A carbon tax and a cap and trade program represent different methods of regulating greenhouse gas emissions.  In theory, both systems impose a cost on businesses and industries that generate harmful greenhouse gases, making it less desirable for them to continue producing greenhouse gases at the same volume.  A carbon tax imposes a fine on carbon emissions over a period of time, making it more expensive to produce harmful pollutants.  In contrast, a cap and trade program sets limits on quantities of emissions, and would provide producers with more financial flexibility.

What role would domestic and international offsets play in a cap and trade program?

Depending on the nature of the cap and trade program, offsets could play a small or large role in the allowance scheme.  Offsets are commonly understood as measures that are taken, apart from reducing the amount of greenhouse gas emissions, which work to combat the impact of the greenhouse effect on the environment.  Examples of these measures include investments in reforestation efforts and renewable energy projects.

In some proposals for a cap and trade policy, offsets are able to be traded in a manner similar to the allowances that are allocated at the outset of the program.  Both international and domestic offsets are being considered as possible sources of emission credits for businesses and companies under a national cap and trade policy.