Sir Nicholas Stern Warns Congress To Act; Dingell: "How Many People Will Lose Homes And Farms To Flooding?"

Posted by Brad Johnson Fri, 27 Jun 2008 11:23:00 GMT

In yesterday’s House Energy and Air Quality Subcommittee hearing on the costs of climate change inaction, economist Sir Nicholas Stern, author of the famous Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, warned the United States Congress that the challenge of reining in greenhouse emissions is critical and doable. Stern advised that there is “a 50-50 chance that worldwide temperatures would increase by an average of 9 degrees Fahrenheit over the pre-industrial level era by 2100.”

Energy Committee chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.) noted that global warming will bring more floods like those that have devastated Iowa and other Midwestern states:
I would prefer to legislate with more certainty from the scientists about the dangers we face in the future, but we do not have that luxury. Scientists are already observing effects now from climate change.

In contrast, Republican lawmakers emphasized energy costs and the problem of China and India, arguing against federal mandates to limit emissions.

Stern also met with a group of senators, and later spoke at the Center for Global Development, saying:
I remain impressed by the degree of understanding of many people of responsibility in the United States. At the same time, I was impressed by the extraordinary scientific denial of some of them.

From E&E News:

An appearance by a prominent British economist yesterday once again split the House Energy and Commerce Committee along partisan lines, as lawmakers battled over the potential economic and political consequences of taking action to address global climate change.

The Energy and Air Quality Subcommittee heard from Lord Nicholas Stern—a former World Bank chief economist whose recent projections about the costs of addressing climate change has sparked a wave of headlines and debate.

Stern yesterday also met with senators involved with the cap-and-trade legislation from Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), John Warner (R-Va.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). “I remain impressed by the degree of understanding of many people of responsibility in the United States,” Stern said at a speech at the Center for Global Development yesterday. “At the same time, I was impressed by the extraordinary scientific denial of some of them.”

At the House hearing, Stern repeated his call for world economies to spend 1 percent to 2 percent of their gross domestic product to stop greenhouse gases from rising to dangerous levels. Though Stern openly admitted that addressing climate change could have a significant economic impact, he repeatedly emphasized that taking no action would eventually lead to much higher costs.

In particular, Stern said that scientific analysis showed that without some kind of action there was a 50-50 chance that worldwide temperatures would increase by an average of 9 degrees Fahrenheit over the pre-industrial level era by 2100 – a change that would lead to massive changes in human living conditions and major economic costs.

“It radically redraws where species, including humans, are able to live,” Stern said of the potential temperature change. “Changes of this kind can mean very big movements in population.”

Stern projected that the associated costs of inaction could lead to somewhere between 5 percent and 20 percent loss in GDP but said the possibility of such a significant temperature change could be cut substantially by stabilizing C02 emissions.

That message was seemingly embraced yesterday by prominent Democrats, who saw such warnings as a signal that the federal government and private sector must act fairly quickly on efforts to stem the effects of climate change.

“I would prefer to legislate with more certainty from the scientists about the dangers we face in the future, but we do not have that luxury,” said Energy and Commerce Chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.). “Scientists are already observing effects now from climate change.”

Dingell also argued that no projection can estimate the price costs of addressing – or not addressing – climate change, but argued that Congress can still take action to substantially reduce the potential associated risks.

“Scientists cannot tell us precisely what will happen at different greenhouse gas levels, such as how many more people will lose homes and farms to flooding,” Dingell said. “Instead, we need to understand that the best they can do is tell us what the risks are – the probabilities that certain physical changes will occur and the costs we will incur to address those changes.”

Several top Republicans, meanwhile, acknowledged that there could be potential economic impacts stemming from global warming but also argued that poorly designed efforts to deal with the issue could have even more severe economic consequences.

“Energy costs have already reached alarming levels – we’re all paying the costs,” said Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), ranking member of the Energy and Air Quality Subcommittee. “We can pursue options that won’t make matters worse.”

Upton again urged lawmakers to act on climate change legislation that would avoid federal mandates but instead invest in a slew of incentives for clean coal, nuclear and renewable energy.

Additionally, Republicans questioned some of the conclusions of the Stern analysis, saying that the analysis underestimated the potential cost of mitigation strategies.

China and India question

One issue that surfaced several times is the oft-debated question of whether U.S. action on climate change would prompt other world powers – particularly China and India – toward taking action.

Stern admitted that there continues to be some hostility in those nations toward the idea they should take actions that could potentially slow economic development, though he added that they are somewhat more open to international cooperation in part because they are starting to recognize the potential consequences to their own nations.

“That resentment is still there – it’s a political reality that we all have to recognize,” Stern said. But he added, “They realize that you can’t take action for a world of 9 billion just through the action of the 1 billion in the rich world.

“They recognize very quickly just how vulnerable they are,” he said.

Lauren Morello contributed to this story.

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