Early Action & Global Climate Change: An Analysis of Early Action Crediting Proposals

The challenge of our generation will be addressing climate change while sustaining a growing economy. We need to take concrete actions to reduce emissions, both here and abroad. The sooner we begin, the more likely we are to succeed in stabilizing atmospheric concentrations at a level that will prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate.

This report, which analyzes proposals to credit early, voluntary actions to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, is the first in a series to be published by the Center. The Pew Center was established in 1998 by the Pew Charitable Trusts to bring a new cooperative approach and critical scientific, economic, and technological expertise to the global climate change debate. Some U.S. companies have indicated support for early action programs in keeping with their desire to take immediate action to reduce greenhouse gases and their need for assurance that such actions will be rewarded and not punished.

This report addresses the issues that policy makers will face in designing a domestic early action program, analyzes current proposals, and suggests a set of principles to guide an effective program. It suggests that, regardless of any eventual international framework, the U.S. can take steps to credit reductions in gases now, and therefore encourage and reward companies that act to minimize their emissions. The longer we wait to address climate change, the more it is likely to cost—both environmentally and economically. The Pew Center concludes:

  • The cost of delay is significant. Steps taken now represent an investment that will pay environmental and economic dividends into the future. Conversely, continued inaction will result in greater environmental challenges and increased costs down the line.
  • U.S. Leadership is imperative. Since the U.S. has both the highest greenhouse gas emissions and per capita income, implementing a voluntary early action program demonstrates to the world our commitment to address the problem of climate change.
  • Leadership must start with Congress. Congress must provide the legislative framework to encourage early action.