US Congress Urged to Act Fast on Climate Change
WASHINGTON - US legislators should quickly tackle climate change in an effort to push other major polluters to cut greenhouse gas emissions, former World Bank chief economist Sir Nicholas Stern said on Tuesday.
Stern, who authored an influential report on climate change last year, pressed Congress to consider adopting new regulations, funding new technologies and establishing a system of trading carbon dioxide emission credits to try to limit gases that spur global warming.
"Leadership in the world's largest markets sets the pace elsewhere," he told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. "Now is the time to act, urgently, strongly and internationally."
Stern's report in October said failing to tackle climate changes could push up world temperatures by 9 degrees Fahrenheit (5 degrees Celsius) over the next century. A Feb. 2 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said with 90 percent certainty that humans are responsible for global warming.
"The impacts in the US are likely to be substantial: an increase in the intensity of hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico, still greater water stress in California, sea level rise in Florida and an increased risk of storm surges in New York," Stern said.
The United States is responsible for one-quarter of the world's emissions of carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas.
DIFFERENCES IN CONGRESS
Despite Stern's pleas, lawmakers acknowledged their differences, which could make it hard to pass legislation this year in the closely divided Senate, where Democrats hold a 51-49 majority.
Sen. Jeff Bingaman, the chairman of the Senate panel and a New Mexico Democrat, has offered a measure aimed at cutting emissions intensity, the output per unit of US economic growth, which has drawn some Republican support.
"I believe there's an opportunity for us to move forward with legislation on global warming this year," Bingaman said. "The challenge now will be to get a majority of the Congress to agree on specific proposals."
Sen. Pete Domenici, the top Republican on the panel and also from New Mexico, said he could not support any of the legislative proposals offered so far, though Bingaman's plan was the closest to what he could support.
"I grow more and more fearful ... on what's going to happen to this world, to our country, if we try to settle this issue here and nothing is done with reference to China and India," Domenici said, referring to two other large carbon producers.
Stern said China and India have taken some steps to curb emissions, pointing to replanting forests and limiting exports of energy-intensive goods in China. They "will go further and faster with international support," he said.
Gary Yohe, professor of economics at Wesleyan University in Connecticut suggested taxing products that are large producers of carbon but acknowledged the political unpopularity of such a move.
"It would be nice if taxes weren't so taboo," he said.
Story by Jeremy Pelofsky