America's Climate Choices report calls for immediate action

May 13, 2011 | 12:29
America's Climate Choices report calls for immediate action
America's Climate Choices report calls for immediate action
A United States National Research Council Committee has released the final report of America's Climate Choices. The most extensive report on climate change to date was prepared at the request of the United States Congress. The authors of the report are a long list of eminent scientists, engineers, business leaders and policy experts.

The contents of the report are severe. It does not linger on the question whether climate change exists –it does. Nor if it is caused by human activities –it is. After pointing out that greenhouse gas emissions are probably the primary cause for climate change it goes straight to the necessary actions that need to be taken in light of the inevitable.

The final report presents conclusions based upon four previous America’s Climate Choices panel studies. Addressing questions about adaptation, mitigation, distributing information to enable people to make informed decisions and the role of science.

The study Limiting the Magnitude of Future Climate Change offers strategies, technology and policy options for limiting future climate change. It proposes to implement a greenhouse gas emissions budget. Using a budget system enables policy makers to set a fixed volume of gas emissions and measure budget excess over time. It recommends setting the budget at emitting 200 billion tons of greenhouse gases between 2012 and 2050. At a current rate of emitting 7 billion tons a year, a number which is steadily climbing, America will have run through the budget well before 2050. Therefore measures for cutting back emissions are needed. A way to do this is using the pricing system. By putting a price tag on gas emission, people will be enticed to use less of it and look for ways to reduce emissions.

The study Adapting to the Impacts of Climate Change is a harsh reminder that it is already to late to completely avoid the risks of climate change. In some parts of the world effects are already manifesting. Communities have to deal with draught or excess water which floods their land. This study examines the possibilities of how to deal with these impacts. Such as looking for ways for collecting water in arid areas or how to transport water from wet to dry lands. The Committee stresses that adaptation is about partnerships. There is no single decision-making authority that can function as the be-all end-all. Instead, it is about working together in national, federal, local and international partnerships.

The study Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change looks into the question what type of climate decisions people are making and what information they need to make those decisions well-informed. Currently there is a lack of location-specific information that can help local decision making. There is also a need for a centralized point where all information is collected and made available. Without it there can be no coordination between different levels of government. State government may implement policies that undo initiatives on a local level. Also non-governmental organizations and businesses should be involved.

Dr. Thomas Dietz, Vice Chair of the panel Advancing the Science of Climate Change notes that “Policy makers enter a new era where they not just ask: ‘What is happening?’ But also: ‘What should we do about it?’ This calls for a new era of climate change research. Not only should scientists focus on the fundamental understanding of climate change and how the ecosystem works but they should be able to inform America’s Climate Choices.” This calls for an inventory of future decisions and the kind of science that is needed to support them. To collect that knowledge an integrated research program must be set up that cuts across the disciplines.

Although the Committee acknowledges that the threat of climate change is a problem that needs to be addressed globally, it advises the United States Congress to assume world leadership and to lead by example. Taking firm measures to reduce carbon emissions will give the US leverage in negotiating joined actions with other nations.

Instead of the world nations competing in the hunt for the last of the fossil fuels, it is time  to start sharing knowledge about renewable energy technology, reducing energy consumption and measurements against the risks of the impact of climate change.

You can download the full report in .pdf here.

Each study has its accompanying video. The America’s Climate Choices website links to all of them. Below is the one on Advancing the Science of Climate Change.

Photo by Paul R. Harper


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