WASHINGTON - Three top U.S. climate scientists
stressed on a telephone press conference today the United States must
rapidly reduce its global warming emissions to avoid the worst
consequences of climate change. The scientists, all of whom have been
involved in U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
reports, were speaking during a telephone press briefing organized by
the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).
The prospects for federal action on climate are uncertain. Some
senators have suggested the Senate may not consider a climate bill this
year. Meanwhile Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) has introduced a resolution
that would undermine the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA)
authority to regulate heat-trapping emissions under the Clean Air Act.
"Policymakers must understand that unlike a steel tariff, action on
climate change is not something that can be postponed a year," said
Richard Somerville, a research professor at Scripps Institution of
Oceanography and co-author of the Copenhagen Diagnosis,
a synthesis of the most policy-relevant climate science since the 2007
IPCC report. "The longer we delay in reducing our emissions, the higher
the global temperature increase we lock in."
Reporters on the call asked the scientists for their perspective on the controversy surrounding stolen emails from the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit and an error about Himalayan glaciers in an IPCC report.
"It's time for policymakers to pay attention to the atmosphere and
not the blogosphere," said Peter Frumhoff, UCS's director of science
and policy. "While climate naysayers spout all sorts of excuses for not
taking action, heat-trapping emissions continue to accumulate in the
atmosphere, making the problem worse."
Robert Corell, a scientist with the Arctic Governance Project and
the Global Environment and Technology Foundation, reminded reporters
that the science is solid. "The vast body of peer-reviewed literature
speaks for itself," Corell said. "Claims that say otherwise are
Some climate legislation opponents now are calling for a stand-alone
energy bill that includes renewable energy and energy efficiency
standards without a cap on carbon emissions. This approach would fail
to deliver the necessary emissions reductions, said Frumhoff.
Scientists have indicated that cuts of at least 80 percent below 2005
levels by 2050 are required. To reach that goal, the government must
ensure reductions of at least 20 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.
The energy bill
passed by the Senate Energy Committee in July, which could go to the
Senate floor, would not reduce emissions enough and therefore should
not be seen as a substitute for a comprehensive climate bill, according
to UCS. Because of its various loopholes and exemptions, the bill would
do less to promote renewable energy sources than state policies already
Conversely, a cap like the one in the House's "American Clean Energy
and Security Act," which it passed last June, would put a price on
carbon emissions, providing a market incentive for polluters to reduce
their emissions and rewarding clean technology innovations.
"Economists agree that a carbon price is a critical, cost-effective
way for the United States to reduce its emissions and transition to a
clean energy economy," said Rachel Cleetus, an economist at UCS. "A strong cap
would encourage investments in clean energy sources and energy
efficiency and help ensure that U.S. companies capture a share of the
growing global market in clean technologies. Green is the new red,
white and blue."
The clean tech industry is the growth industry of the future, she
said. The United States must act quickly to secure a leadership role in
this industry, rather than ceding it to China and other nations that
are rapidly expanding their renewable energy industries.
A cap would not interfere with economic growth, Cleetus added.
According to the EPA, Energy Information Administration and
Congressional Budget Office, the U.S. economy would continue to grow
robustly under the cap in the House "American Clean Energy and Security
Act." Costs to households, meanwhile, would be marginal. By contrast,
the costs of inaction could be immense, according to a report
UCS issued last year. Unchecked climate change will likely impose
massive social, environmental and economic losses from rising sea
levels, intense coastal storms, erratic weather patterns, drought and
flooding, crippled infrastructure, and collapsed ecosystems.
"A bill that creates a cap would generate significant revenues to
help in the transition to a clean energy economy," said Cleetus.
"Revenues could be used to subsidize weatherization and other
improvements in energy efficiency that would save money for low- and
middle-income households, as well as to train workers for new clean
Finally, if Congress does not enact an emissions reductions plan
sometime in the next few months, it will lower worldwide confidence in
the United States' ability to live up to its pledge, to reduce
emissions "in the range" of 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, in
the Copenhagen Accord, said UCS Director of Policy and Strategy Alden
Meyer, who has been involved in international climate negotiations for
20 years. "Much would depend on President Obama's ability to lay out a
clear path forward for the United States to meet its commitment in the
absence of Senate action."