At the behest of Congress, the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering just completed a series of comprehensive reports on Climate Change. The science is compelling. The warnings are ominous. The need for action is urgent. The Los Angeles Times explains:
In a sharp change from its cautious approach in the past, the National Academy of Sciences on Wednesday called for taxes on carbon emissions, a cap-and-trade program for such emissions or some other strong action to curb runaway global warming.
Such actions, which would increase the cost of using coal and petroleum — at least in the immediate future — are necessary because "climate change is occurring, the Earth is warming ... concentrations of carbon dioxide are increasing, and there are very clear fingerprints that link [those effects] to humans," said Pamela A. Matson of Stanford University, who chaired one of five panels organized by the academy at the request of Congress to look at the science of climate change and how the nation should respond.
The three reports issued Wednesday, totaling more than 860 pages, provide the broad outlines for a U.S. response to the threat; two more reports are to come.
"This is the most comprehensive report ever on climate change," said atmospheric scientist Ralph J. Cicerone, the president of the academy. They outline "why the U.S. should act now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and why we should have a national strategy to adapt to the inevitable."
The reports stress an even greater urgency than was expressed by the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Five more years of research convinced the scientists that things are even worse than was believed. The National Research Council recommends that the U.S. cut its carbon emissions by up to 80%, from 2012 to 2050. Of course, NASA just separately reported the hottest April, the hottest January through April, and the hottest 12 months on record. The full NRC reports are available here. The public briefing can be viewed here.
From the news release:
The compelling case that climate change is occurring and is caused in large part by human activities is based on a strong, credible body of evidence, says Advancing the Science of Climate Change, one of the new reports. While noting that there is always more to learn and that the scientific process is never "closed," the report emphasizes that multiple lines of evidence support scientific understanding of climate change. The core phenomenon, scientific questions, and hypotheses have been examined thoroughly and have stood firm in the face of serious debate and careful evaluation of alternative explanations.
"Climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for — and in many cases is already affecting — a broad range of human and natural systems," the report concludes. It calls for a new era of climate change science where an emphasis is placed on "fundamental, use-inspired" research, which not only improves understanding of the causes and consequences of climate change but also is useful to decision makers at the local, regional, national, and international levels acting to limit and adapt to climate change. Seven cross-cutting research themes are identified to support this more comprehensive and integrative scientific enterprise.
And a breakdown of the recommendations:
The report recommends that a single federal entity or program be given the authority and resources to coordinate a national, multidisciplinary research effort aimed at improving both understanding and responses to climate change....
Substantially reducing greenhouse gas emissions will require prompt and sustained efforts to promote major technological and behavioral changes...
An inclusive national policy framework is needed to ensure that all levels of government, the private sector, and millions of households and individuals are contributing to shared national goals. Toward that end, the U.S. should establish a greenhouse gas emissions "budget" that sets a limit on total domestic emissions over a set period of time and provides a clear, directly measurable goal. However, the report warns, the longer the nation waits to begin reducing emissions, the harder and more expensive it will likely be to reach any given emissions target.
The report does not recommend a specific target for a domestic emissions budget, but suggests a range of emissions from 170 to 200 gigatons of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent for the period 2012 through 2050 as a reasonable goal, a goal that is roughly in line with the range of emission reduction targets proposed recently by the Obama administration and members of Congress. Even at the higher end of this range, meeting the target will require a major departure from "business-as-usual" emission trends. The report notes that with the exception of the recent economic downtown, domestic emissions have been rising for most of the past three decades. The U.S. emitted approximately 7 gigatons of CO2 equivalent in 2008 (the most current year for which such data were available). If emissions continue at that rate, the proposed budget range would be used up well before 2050, the report says.
A carbon-pricing system is the most cost-effective way to reduce emissions. Either cap-and-trade, a system of taxing emissions, or a combination of the two could provide the needed incentives. While the report does not specifically recommend a cap-and-trade system, it notes that cap-and-trade is generally more compatible with the concept of an emissions budget.
Carbon pricing alone, however, is not enough to sufficiently reduce domestic emissions, the report warns. Strategically chosen, complementary policies are necessary to assure rapid progress in key areas such as: increasing energy efficiency; accelerating the development of renewable energy sources; advancing full-scale development of new-generation nuclear power and carbon capture and storage systems; and retrofitting, retiring, or replacing existing emissions-intensive energy infrastructure. Research and development of new technologies that could help reduce emissions more cost effectively than current options also should be strongly supported.
Managing adaptation to a changing climate also is emphasized, and it must be coordinated nationally.
As part of this strategy, the federal government should provide technical and scientific resources that are lacking at the local or regional scale, incentives for local and state authorities to begin adaptation planning, guidance across jurisdictions, and support of scientific research to expand knowledge of impacts and adaptation.
Such a strategy should not be considered separate from efforts to mitigate climate change, rather it should be a partner in an overall comprehensive approach.
The science is in. Anyone claiming that policy should be based on the best available evidence cannot ignore the science. There are no excuses for not acting. There are no excuses for not using every possible political means to ensure that policies are based on the science. There is no time for compromise. There is no time for incrementalism. The science is in. The politics must follow.