Advancing public and private policymakers’ understanding of the complex interactions between climate change and the economy is critical to taking the most cost-effective action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Read More
February 15, 2011
By Eileen Claussen
This op-ed first appeared in Politico
A vocal contingent in the House is now attacking the current Environmental Protection Agency administrator for the very thing her predecessor in the Bush administration wanted to do.
EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson wrote a letter to President George W. Bush laying out the legal and scientific rationale for regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. Johnson explained steps that the EPA would take to begin to do so.
Johnson’s letter surfaced last week at the House Energy and Power subcommittee hearing on proposed legislation to strip EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
Remarkably, it proved that Bush’s EPA administrator had reached the same conclusions and planned almost identical actions to what the current EPA administrator, Lisa Jackson, has begun implementing.
What exactly does Johnson tell Bush? He insists that the EPA must respond to the Supreme Court’s 2007 decision in Massachusetts v. EPA with a finding that greenhouse gases represent a risk to public health or welfare. This is EPA’s “endangerment finding,” which would be overturned by legislation now being proposed in the House.
Johnson also noted, “the latest climate change science does not permit a negative finding, nor does it permit a credible finding that we need to wait for more research.”
What is most telling is that Johnson states that a positive endangerment finding was “agreed to at the Cabinet-level meeting.” Apparently senior Bush administration officials agreed that climate change poses a risk to our nation’s public health and welfare.
Johnson describes his plan as “prudent and cautious yet forward thinking,” and says it “creates a framework for responsible, cost-effective and practical actions.” Sound familiar?
Jackson, in her statement at the hearing last week, called EPA’s actions a “reasonable approach,” one that “will reflect careful consideration of costs and will incorporate compliance flexibility.”
Indeed, the step-by-step plan of action spelled out by Johnson could be a checklist for the EPA’s recent actions — largely the same actions being aggressively attacked today by some in Congress.
These actions include the endangerment finding; a joint rule-making with the Transportation Department to require more fuel-efficient cars; rules to modify the agency’s requirements for new sources to reduce the number of facilities that would be covered (EPA’s tailoring rule), and proposals to respond to specific petitions (EPA has acted on ones for the utility and oil refinery sectors).
Given these striking similarities, attacks on current EPA actions — that the agency is “an instrument of job destruction” and would “put the American economy in a straitjacket” — now resonate as particularly empty political rhetoric.
How could the right thing to do in the Bush administration suddenly become the wrong thing to do in the Obama administration?
Eileen Claussen served as assistant secretary of state for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs. She is now president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.
This white paper is a follow up to the report Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions from U.S. Transportation
About the Authors:
Cynthia Burbank is Vice President of Parson Brinckerhoff (PB). She joined PB in 2007 as National Environment and Planning Practice Leader. She provides strategic and tactical advice to PB’s clients on planning and environmental issues, including the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), air quality, and global climate change (GCC).This includes advising transportation clients on climate change strategies, analyzing greenhouse gas (GHG)-reduction potential of alternative transportation strategies, reviewing state climate action plans, and developing GHG reduction scenarios for transportation.
Cindy joined PB after a 32-year span with the U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) that encompassed key roles in highway, transit, aviation, and national transportation policy and legislation. Cindy served as Associate Administrator for Planning, Environment, and Realty for the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). She also served as FHWA’s senior executive with responsibility for FHWA’s implementation of the Clean Air Act (CAA) for transportation, NEPA policy, environmental streamlining, metropolitan transportation planning, statewide transportation planning, and international transportation planning. Prior to joining the FHWA in 1991, Cindy held positions in the Federal Aviation Administration, Federal Transit Administration, the Office of the Secretary of Transportation, and the U.S. Navy. A member of the FHWA Senior Executive Service since 1991, she was designated in October 1998 as one of five core business unit leaders for FHWA.
Nick Nigro is a Solutions Fellow at the Pew Center.
Last week the British Government published a report on The Future of Food and Farming in which the role of a changing climate is appropriately highlighted as a major impediment to maintaining consistent and predictable food supplies for the world’s growing population. The timing of this report is excellent; food prices have been rising recently (see chart) and have caused significant hardship for some of the most globally vulnerable populations. These vulnerable populations live in some of the most politically unstable regions, and continued food inflation could exacerbate existing social and economic issues with potentially unpredictable consequences.
Unfortunately as the global climate changes and agricultural productivity shifts, these sort of price rises in basic foods are likely to become more commonplace for the economically sensitive populations in these politically unstable regions – like Southeast Asia, Northern Africa, and the Middle East. This is not to imply that recent increases in food prices were caused by climate change; it is not possible to attribute a single event such as this latest spike in food prices to the long-term trends we expect to experience from our changing climate. It is, however, instructive to identify that the sort of impacts that we expect from climate change can have serious social and political implications.
Recent work shows that several of the world's most important crops could be near climactic thresholds that will seriously impair agricultural yields.Several of these crops (like corn, rice, soybeans and wheat - the source of 75% of global calorie consumption) appear to be sensitive to increases in temperature variation, especially to the occurrence of a particularly hot day in the middle of the growing season. Increases in temperature variation and the prevalence of what are historically unusually hot days is exactly what our best models of the future climate predict. Even if global yields are able to remain fairly constant due to human adaptation to the shifting regions of agricultural productivity (e.g., northward from the U.S. Plains to Canada and Siberia), the temporary economic dislocation will certainly be difficult for today's farmers and for the people who are dependent on the food that they produce.
Other research suggests that increasing temperatures could cause major difficulties for farmers in Southeast Asia who produce a large fraction of global rice output, an important staple in the region. This research recognizes that the human body simply cannot perform the hard manual labor (like that needed to tend to rice paddies) at the temperatures climate models predict. By 2050, these temperatures are expected to be commonplace for the region – potentially resulting in a huge loss of agricultural output.
While agricultural contributions to overall GDP in the rich world may seem relatively minor, it is important to remember that GDP is only a measure of economic activity and not a measure of well-being. The well-being that food provides is not necessarily proportionate to its market price. A common example used to illustrate this point is a comparison of the price of diamonds to the price of water. Water is much less expensive but is an absolute necessity. Staple foods are similar. If the price of diamonds increases, people (in aggregate) can choose to purchase less. If the price of water or food increases however, there is little flexibility (elasticity, in economic terms) in terms of how much less people can choose to buy.
If food prices rise in the rich world, consumers will spend more of their income on food and forgo other consumption options. In developing nations this trade-off may not be possible – creating a situation where political unrest could become more likely. According to World Bank data, over 50% of the world’s population lives on less than $2 a day. Obviously for these populations, even small increases in the prices of staples can cause real difficulties since a large fraction of their income is already spent on food. Some of the regions that have the highest concentrations of the global poor are also the regions that tend to be among the most politically volatile. Though it is unlikely that food prices would directly cause conflict or instability in these regions, it is more likely that the stress caused by higher (or more volatile) food prices will worsen existing socio-economic pressures.
The resulting consequences will be difficult to predict; and by their nature will create difficulties in creating an effective adaptive response. Though it will likely never be clear which future conflicts could have been avoided in the absence of climate change, we do know that proactive policy effort taken now can reduce the eventual impact of future food price pressures.
Russell Meyer is the Senior Fellow for Economics and Policy
Economic models are an important tool for evaluating the potential impact of proposed legislation on our economy. C2ES’s economics program has analyzed several commonly used models to determine how they work, what inputs and assumptions influence their results, and what important elements are missing. Differences among economic modeling results are often explained by the way the following factors are represented in each model:
- The economy’s and environment’s assumed baselines (i.e., how the economy will perform in the absence of climate policies);
- The precise climate policies employed (e.g., emissions trading, inclusion of non-CO2 gases, etc.);
- Whether estimates of damage resulting from climate change are included;
- The economy’s flexibility when subject to sudden price shocks or government regulation; and
- How technological change is characterized.
Effectively understanding the potential costs and benefits of mitigating climate change allows policymakers to develop policies that achieve the greatest emissions abatement for the resources expended, secure greater participation and compliance, and maximize the environmental effectiveness of the mitigation effort.
Because climate change is an interdisciplinary issue by its nature, much of the modeling work that is done to analyze the issue incorporates both economics and science. Integrated Assessment Models (IAMs) aim to pull these complex interactions together. An IAM incorporates a model of the global climate system, along with the response of natural systems to increases in greenhouse gas emissions, with a model of economic systems in order to assess the impact that a changing climate will have on the future economy.
To read more about IAMs, click here.
For a review of modeling analyses for a piece of proposed climate legislation, click here.
Climate change is happening and it is caused largely by human activity. Its impacts are beginning to be felt and will worsen in the decades ahead unless we take action. The solution to climate change will involve a broad array of technologies and policies—many tried and true, and many new and innovative.
This overview summarizes the eight-part series Climate Change 101: Understanding and Responding to Global Climate Change.
Science and Impacts discusses the scientific evidence for climate change and explains its causes and current and projected impacts.
Adaptation discusses these impacts in greater depth, explaining how planning can limit (though not eliminate) the damage caused by unavoidable climate change, as well as the long-term costs of responding to climate-related impacts.
As explored in greater depth in Technological Solutions, a number of technological options exist to avert dangerous climatic change by dramatically reducing greenhouse gas emissions both now and into the future.
Business Solutions, International Action, Federal Action, State Action, and Local Action describe how business and government leaders at all levels have recognized both the challenge and the vast opportunity dealing with climate change presents. These leaders are responding with a broad spectrum of innovative solutions. To address the enormous challenge of climate change successfully, new approaches are needed at the federal and international levels, and the United States must stay engaged in the global effort while adopting strong and effective national policies.
For more information, be sure to listen to our Climate Change 101 podcast series
There are a variety of policy tools to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions responsible for climate change. This installment of the Climate Change 101 series explains how a cap-and-trade program sets a clear limit on greenhouse gas emissions and minimizes the costs of achieving this target. By creating a market and a price for emission reductions, cap and trade offers an environmentally effective and economically efficient response to climate change.
By: David L. Greene and Steven E. Plotkin
Download this paper (pdf)
Project Director: Judi Greenwald
Project Manager: Nick Nigro
This report examines the prospects for substantially reducing the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the U.S. transportation sector, which accounts for 27 percent of the GHG emissions of the entire U.S. economy and 30 percent of the world’s transportation GHG emissions. Without shifts in existing policies, the U.S. transportation sector’s GHG emissions are expected to grow by about 10 percent by 2035, and will still account for a quarter of global transportation emissions at that time. If there is to be any hope that damages from climate change can be held to moderate levels, these trends must change.
This report shows that through a combination of policies and improved technologies, these trends can be changed. It is possible to cut GHG emissions from the transportation sector cost-effectively by up to 65 percent below 2010 levels by 2050 by improving vehicle efficiency, shifting to less carbon intensive fuels, changing travel behavior, and operating more efficiently. A major co-benefit of reducing transportation’s GHG emissions is the resulting reductions in oil use and improvements in energy security.
It develops three scenarios that diverge from “business as usual,” based on the assumption that the United States is willing to change the incentives and regulations that affect the design of vehicles, the types of fuels that are used, the choices made by individuals and businesses in purchasing and using vehicles, and how communities and their transportation infrastructure are built and used.
This report is an update of the Center's 2003 report on Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions From U.S. Transportation
Related white papers on Transportation Reauthorization:
About the Authors:
David L. Greene is a Corporate Fellow of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Senior Fellow of the Howard H. Baker, Jr. Center for Public Policy and a Research Professor of Economics at the University of Tennessee. He is an author of more than 200 publications on transportation and energy issues. Mr. Greene is an emeritus member of both the Energy and Alternative Fuels Committees of the Transportation Research Board and a lifetime National Associate of the National Academies. He received the Society of Automotive Engineers’ Barry D. McNutt Award for Excellence in Automotive Policy Analysis, the Department of Energy’s 2007 Hydrogen R&D Award, and was recognized by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for contributions to the IPCC’s receipt of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. He holds a B.A. from Columbia University, an M.A. from the University of Oregon, and a Ph.D. in Geography and Environmental Engineering from The Johns Hopkins University.
Steven Plotkin is a staff scientist with Argonne National Laboratory’s Center for Transportation Research, specializing in analysis of transportation energy efficiency. He has worked extensively on automobile fuel economy technology and policy as a consultant to the Department of Energy, and was a co-principal investigator on ANL’s Multi-Path Transportation Futures Study. Mr. Plotkin was a lead author on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report Climate Change 2007: Mitigation of Climate Change and has been selected to participate on the Fifth Assessment Report. He was for 17 years a Senior Analyst and Senior Associate with the Energy Program of the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) and prior to that he was an environmental engineer with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Mr. Plotkin has a B.S. degree in Civil Engineering from Columbia University and a Master of Engineering (Aerospace) degree from Cornell University. He is the 2005 recipient of the Society of Automotive Engineers’ Barry D. McNutt Award for Excellence in Automotive Policy Analysis.