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America's Climate Choices, Report in Brief

America's Climate Choices, Report in Brief

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Published by earthandlife
Climate change is occurring, is very likely caused primarily by the emission of greenhouse gases from human activities, and poses significant risks for a range of human and natural systems. Emissions continue to increase, which will result in further change and greater risks. In the judgment of this report’s authoring committee, the environmental, economic, and humanitarian risks posed by climate change indicate a pressing need for substantial action to limit the magnitude of climate change and to prepare for adapting to its impacts.

Although there is some uncertainty about future risk, there are many reasons why it is prudent to act now. The sooner that serious efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions proceed, the lower the risks posed by climate change, and the less pressure there will be to make larger, more rapid, and potentially more expensive reductions later. In addition, every day around the world, crucial investment decisions are made about equipment and infrastructure that can “lock in” commitments to greenhouse gas emissions for decades to come. Most actions taken to reduce vulnerability to climate change impacts are also common sense investments that will offer protection against natural climate variations and extreme events. Finally, while it may be possible to scale back or reverse many responses to climate change (if they somehow proved to be more stringent than actually needed), it is difficult or impossible to “undo” climate change, once manifested.

Current efforts of local, state, and private sector actors are important, but not likely to yield progress comparable to what could be achieved with the addition of strong federal policies that establish coherent national goals and incentives, and that promote strong U.S. engagement in international-level response efforts. The inherent complexities and uncertainties of climate change are best met by applying an iterative risk management framework and making efforts to: significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions; prepare for adapting to impacts; invest in scientific research, technology development, and information systems; and facilitate engagement between scientific and technical experts and the many types of stakeholders making America’s climate choices.
Climate change is occurring, is very likely caused primarily by the emission of greenhouse gases from human activities, and poses significant risks for a range of human and natural systems. Emissions continue to increase, which will result in further change and greater risks. In the judgment of this report’s authoring committee, the environmental, economic, and humanitarian risks posed by climate change indicate a pressing need for substantial action to limit the magnitude of climate change and to prepare for adapting to its impacts.

Although there is some uncertainty about future risk, there are many reasons why it is prudent to act now. The sooner that serious efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions proceed, the lower the risks posed by climate change, and the less pressure there will be to make larger, more rapid, and potentially more expensive reductions later. In addition, every day around the world, crucial investment decisions are made about equipment and infrastructure that can “lock in” commitments to greenhouse gas emissions for decades to come. Most actions taken to reduce vulnerability to climate change impacts are also common sense investments that will offer protection against natural climate variations and extreme events. Finally, while it may be possible to scale back or reverse many responses to climate change (if they somehow proved to be more stringent than actually needed), it is difficult or impossible to “undo” climate change, once manifested.

Current efforts of local, state, and private sector actors are important, but not likely to yield progress comparable to what could be achieved with the addition of strong federal policies that establish coherent national goals and incentives, and that promote strong U.S. engagement in international-level response efforts. The inherent complexities and uncertainties of climate change are best met by applying an iterative risk management framework and making efforts to: significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions; prepare for adapting to impacts; invest in scientific research, technology development, and information systems; and facilitate engagement between scientific and technical experts and the many types of stakeholders making America’s climate choices.

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Published by: earthandlife on May 12, 2011
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limate change is occurring, is very likelycaused primarily by the emission of green-house gases from human activities, and poses signicant risks for a range of human andnatural systems. Emissions continue to increase,which will result in further change and greater risks. Responding to these risks is a crucial chal-lenge facing the United States and the world todayand for many decades to come.
Rationale for Action
The estimate of risk of any given event istypically quantied along two dimensions—the probability the event will occur and the magnitudeor consequences of the event. The risks posed byclimate change are complex because they varywidely in terms of what populations, regions, andsectors are affected and at what point in time, andeven in terms of how risks are perceived based on personal values and judgments.Although there is some uncertainty aboutfuture risks, changes in climate and related factorshave already been observed in various parts of the United States; and the impacts of climatechange can generally be expected to intensifywith increasing greenhouse gas emissions (for example, see Figure 1). Some projected futureimpacts of most concern to the United Statesinclude more intense and frequent heat waves,risks to coastal communities from sea level rise,greater drying of the arid Southwest, andincreased public health risks. Impacts occurringelsewhere in the world can also deeply affect theUnited States, given the realities of shared naturalresources, linked economic and trade systems,
The signicant risks that climate change poses to human society and theenvironment provide a strong motivation to move ahead with substan-tial response efforts. Current efforts of local, state, and private sectoractors are important, but not likely to yield progress comparable towhat could be achieved with the addition of strong federal policies thatestablish coherent national goals and incentives, and that promotestrong U.S. engagement in international-level response efforts. The inherent complexities anduncertainties of climate change are best met by applying an iterative risk management frame-work and making efforts to: signicantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions; prepare foradapting to impacts; invest in scientic research, technology development, and informationsystems; and facilitate engagement between scientic and technical experts and the many typesof stakeholders making America’s climate choices.
America’s Climate Choices
Figure 1.
Higher emissions will result in more severeimpacts. Models compare the number of days per year  projected to exceed 100ºF by the end of the centuryunder a higher and lower emissions scenario.
Source: U.S. Global Change Research Program, 2009
 
signicantly reduce emissions from their opera-tions; more than 1,000 mayors have pledged toreduce the emissions of their cities; a majorityof states have adopted some form of renewable portfolio standard, energy efciency programrequirements or emissions reduction goal; andsome U.S. regions have adopted or are planningcap-and-trade systems. Likewise, adaptation plan-ning efforts are underway in a number of states,counties, and communities, and among severalnongovernmental organizations.The collective effect of these efforts is signi-cant but not likely to yield outcomes comparable towhat could be achieved with strong federal-levelefforts. Furthermore, many current initiatives maynot prove durable in the absence of a more compre-hensive national response.
Using Iterative Risk Management as aDecision Framework 
Given the inherent complexities of the climatesystem, and the many social, economic, and techno-logical factors that affect the climate system, we canexpect always to be learning more and to be facinguncertainties regarding future risks (see Box 1). Butuncertainty is a double-edged sword; it is possiblethat future climate-related risks will be less seriousthan current projections indicate, but it is also possible they will be even more serious.Uncertainty is not a reason for inaction.Rather, the challenge for society is to acknowledgethe uncertainties and respond accordingly, as isdone in so many other realms (for example, when people buy home insurance to protect againstunknown future losses and when businesses planfor a range of possible future economic conditions).migration of species and disease vectors, andmovement of human populations.In the judgment of this report’s authoringcommittee, the environmental, economic, andhumanitarian risks posed by climate changeindicate a pressing need for substantial action tolimit the magnitude of climate change and to prepare for adapting to its impacts. There are manyreasons why it is imprudent to delay such actions,for instance:
The sooner that serious efforts to reducegreenhouse gas emissions proceed, the lower the risks posed by climate change, and the less pressure there will be to make larger, morerapid, and potentially more expensive reduc-tions later.
Some climate change impacts, once manifested,will persist for hundreds or even thousands of years, and will be difcult or impossible to“undo.” In contrast, many actions taken torespond to climate change could be reversed or scaled back, if they some how prove to be morestringent than actually needed.
Every day around the world, major investmentsare being made in equipment and infrastructurethat can “lock in” commitments to more green-house gas emissions for decades to come.Getting the relevant incentives and policies in place now will provide crucial guidance for these investment decisions.
Many of the actions that could be taken toreduce vulnerability to climate change impactsare common sense investments that will offer  protection against natural climate variationsand extreme events.
Need for Federal Policies and Programs
As a signatory to the Copenhagen Accord in2009, the United States committed to reduce U.S.greenhouse gas emissions as part of an internationaleffort to limit global mean temperature rise,relative to pre-industrial conditions, to 2ºC (3.6ºF).Meeting such a commitment will require a signi-cant departure from “business-as-usual” in how we produce and use energy.The federal government has adopted some policies (e.g., subsidies, tax credits) and voluntary programs to promote the expanded use of climate-friendly technologies. Many non-federal actorsare taking important steps as well. For example,many corporations have made commitments to
 Box 1. Two Main Sources of Uncertainty in Projecting Climate Change Impacts
What will future emissions be?
This will be driven by a complex set of developments occurring around theworld in the coming decades—related to populationand economic growth, land use changes, technologicalinnovation, policy developments, and other factors thatare impossible to fully predict.
How will the climate system respond to increasedgreenhouse gases?
The exact value of “climatesensitivity”—that is, how much temperature rise willoccur for a given increase in atmospheric greenhousegas concentration—is uncertain due to incompleteunderstanding of some elements of the earth’sclimate system.
 
A valuable framework for making decisionsabout America’s climate choices is
iterative risk management 
. This refers to a process of systemati-cally identifying risks and possible responseoptions, advancing a portfolio of actions thatemphasize risk reduction and are robust across arange of possible futures, and revising responsesover time to take advantage of new knowledge,information, and technological capabilities.
Components of an Effective NationalResponse
The Americas Climate Choices committeeoutlines the following main components of aneffective national response to climate change.
Substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
In order to minimize the risks of climate changeand its most adverse impacts, the nation shouldreduce greenhouse gas emissions substantiallyover the coming decades. The exact magnitudeand speed of emissions reduction depends onsocietal judgments about how much risk is accept-able and at what cost. However, given the longlifetime associated with infrastructure for energy production and use (among other factors), the mosteffective strategy is to begin ramping downemissions as soon as possible.The most effective way to amplify and accel-erate current state, local, and private sector efforts,and to minimize overall costs of meeting a nationalemissions reduction target, is with a comprehen-sive, nationally-uniform price on CO
2
emissions,with a price trajectory sufcient to drive major investments in energy efciency and low-carbontechnologies. In addition, strategically-targetedcomplementary policies are needed to ensure progress in key areas of opportunity where marketfailures and institutional barriers can limit theeffectiveness of a carbon pricing system.
Begin mobilizing now for adaptation.
Prudentrisk management involves advanced planning todeal with possible adverse outcomes—known andunknown—by increasing the nations resilience to both gradual climate changes and abrupt disaster events. Effective adaptation will require the devel-opment of new tools and institutions to manageclimate-related risks across a broad range of sectorsand spatial scales. Adaptation decisions will bemade by state and local governments, the privatesector, and society at large, but those efforts will be much more effective with national-level coordi-nation, for instance, to share information andtechnical resources for evaluating vulnerabilityand adaptation options.
Invest in science, technology, and informationsystems.
Scientic research and technology devel-opment can expand the range, and improve theeffectiveness of, options to respond to climatechange. Systems for collecting and sharing informa-tion, including formal and informal education, canhelp ensure that climate-related decisions areinformed by the best available knowledge andanalyses, and can help us evaluate the effectivenessof actions taken.
.
Many actors are involved in suchefforts. For instance, technological innovation willdepend in large part on private sector efforts; whileinformation, education, and stakeholder engagementsystems can be advanced by non-governmentalorganizations and state/local governments, withsupport from the federal government.
Participate in international climate changeresponse efforts.
America’s climate choicesaffect and are affected by the choices madethroughout the world. U.S. emissions reductionsalone will not be adequate to avert dangerousclimate change risks, but strong U.S. efforts willenhance the nation’s ability to inuence other countries to do the same. Also, the United Statescan be greatly affected by impacts of climatechange occurring elsewhere in the world, so it isin the country’s interest to help enhance theadaptive capacity of other nations, particularlydeveloping countries that lack the needed resourcesand expertise. Effectively addressing climate
Climate models project that in the coming decades, NewYork City will experience more heavy rainfall events,which has signicant implications for key infrastructuresystems. On August 8, 2007, a major rainstorm caused asystem-wide outage of the subway during the morningrush hour. Such events may become more commonwithout innovative adaptation measures.

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