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Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change CHAPTER TWO Many Different Decision Makers Are Making Choices to Respond to Climate Change Our companion America’s Climate Choices (ACC) panel reports have made a number of recommendations regarding climate-related decisions that might be taken, including actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, to adapt to the impacts of climate change, and to implement adaptable response strategies and policies. Specific actions to implement these recommendations will require new information, mechanisms, and institutions for providing that information for decision makers. This report describes what types of information will be required and how it might best be delivered. One can get an initial sense of these information requirements by examining actions decision makers are already taking. Many different people and organizations—from individuals and small companies to communities, state governments, federal agencies, and multinational corporations—have already made decisions and taken actions to respond to climate change (see Table 2.1). Some have decided to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions or to plan for adapting to the impacts of climate change; some have decided not to act; and others have decided to inform themselves and others about the science, costs, and benefits of climate change and potential responses. Understanding the nature, effectiveness, and interactions of all these decisions is an important step in maximizing the effectiveness of America’s response to climate change. This chapter identifies major groups of decision makers, their motivations, and the kind of actions they take, and identifies what information is missing that may prevent a sustained response. Emphasis is placed on non-federal decision makers, many of whom have acted in advance of federal policy and whose decisions, actions, and successes may be affected by any new choices made at the federal level. The reach of some of these non-federal responses has been considerable. For example, decisions on automobile emissions standards made by the state of California have rippled throughout the U.S. economy. When groups of states set up carbon trading markets, or when major corporations (such as Dupont or Walmart) decide to reduce emissions in their operations and supply chains, the effects can reverberate nationwide or even globally.
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Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change TABLE 2.1 A Typology of Decision Makers Responding to Climate Change International National Regional Local Government Intergovernmental organizations (e.g., World Bank, UNFCCC), international networks of local governments (e.g., ICLEI, WCI) Federal agencies, Executive, Congress, Judiciary Tribal and state governments (agencies, executives, legislatures and judiciaries), regional offices of federal agencies, interstate networks and agencies (e.g., RGGI) City, county, and other local government Private sector Multinational corporations, international business networks (e.g., WBCSD) Corporate HQs, national business networks Regional corporate offices, companies and business associations Local businesses and associations Non-profit organizations International environmental and humanitarian organizations and networks (e.g., CAN, Oxfam) Environmental and other NGOs Regional offices of NGOs, regional organizations Local NGOs Citizens International citizens networks Voters, citizen and consumer networks Voters, citizen networks Individual as voters, consumers, agents NOTE: CAN, Climate Action Network; ICLEI, Local Governments for Sustainability; NGO, non-governmental organization; RGGI, Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative; UNFCCC, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change; WBCSD, World Business Council for Sustainable Development; WCI, Western Climate Initiative.
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Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change The non-federal actors making climate related decisions often have a variety of goals they are trying to achieve. For instance, a state, city, tribe, or business might be pursuing goals such as Reducing their greenhouse gas emissions; Reducing vulnerability to climate change now and in the future; Reducing energy costs and exposure to the volatility of energy costs; Making it easier to respond to future federal or other regulations that would significantly reduce greenhouse gases (or we might phrase this as responding more easily to a future low-carbon economy); Establishing economic leadership, promoting economic development in green technology sectors; Fostering a reputation as an environmental leader; and Aiming to use a leadership role to catalyze Emission reduction efforts by others, Regional, national, and global investments in low-carbon technologies, and Diffusion of best practice measures to adapt to climate change. Ideally, states, cities, and businesses would have information available that would help them evaluate and improve their progress in pursuing each of these goals. Some decisions and actions related to climate change are being informed by a loose confederation of networks and other institutions created to help guide climate choices (Figure 2.1). In general, however, little information is currently available to plan and track any of these actions. STATES, CITIES, AND LOCAL GOVERNMENTS State and local governments have unique advantages for implementing policies that are intimately linked with the economy and society because of the familiarity with local circumstances and stakeholders. This section illustrates some of the climate actions being taken at the state and local levels. Climate Change Actions by U.S. States Actions by U.S. states to respond to climate change can be significant on the global scale. If the 50 states were treated as nations and compared to other national jurisdictions, they would represent 35 of the world’s top emitters (Marland et al., 2003; Peterson and Rose 2006; see Appendix C). Many states have taken a lead on climate
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Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change FIGURE 2.1 Example networks supporting action on climate change. change by passing statewide greenhouse gas emission reduction targets and developing climate action plans guided by advisory boards and commissions (Pew Center, 2009; Rabe, 2008; Table 2.2). Twenty-one states have set emissions targets, albeit with varying stringencies and timelines and using different actions to achieve reduction goals (Pew Center, 2009; Appendix D). California was the first state to set enforceable statewide greenhouse gas emissions targets (WCI, 2008; Box 2.1). Many other states, however, have coordinated their actions in regional initiatives that include cap–and-trade systems with overall emission reduction targets (Figure 2.2). The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) in the northeastern states, for example, capped CO2 emissions for large fossil fuel electric generation plants starting in 2009 with the goal of stabilizing emissions by 2014 and then reducing them by 10 percent by 2018. The Western Climate Initiative (WCI) calls for reducing 90 percent of the region’s greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. The Midwestern Greenhouse Gas Reduction Accord proposes an economy-wide program to reduce emissions 20 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. These trading schemes have encouraged the inclusion of Canadian and Mexican provincial and state-level governments, as well as allowing some use of international
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Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change TABLE 2.2 Summary of State Climate Plans and Greenhouse Gas Reduction Commitments (as of May 2010) Completed Climate Change Action Plan Climate Change Commissions and Advisory Board Emission Reduction Targets Actively Participates in Regional Initiatives State Adaptation Plan Number of states 36 (4 of which are in progress) 23 20 32 (including observers) 15 Examples Climate action plan to assist state decision makers identify cost-effective GHG reductions appropriate to their state Advisory boards to implement climate action plans Targets and timelines range includes: CA: 1990 levels by 2020 (mandatory) VA: 30% below BAU by 2025 VT: 25% below 1990 by 2012 MGGRA: 6 (plus one Canadian Province) WCI: 7 (plus 4 Canadian provinces; and 6 U.S., 2 Canadian, and 6 Mexican observers) RGGI: 10 Adaptation plans may form part of the Climate Action Plan, although adaptation is not as well developed as mitigation at state level NOTE: MGGRA, Midwest Greenhouse Gas Reduction Accord; WCI, Western Climate Initiative; RGGI, Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. SOURCES: Pew Center (2009a); EPA (2008).
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Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change BOX 2.1 California and Climate Change In 2006, California passed the California Global Warming Solutions Act (AB-32), committing the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, and capping emissions at 1990 levels by 2020—an overall reduction of 30 percent from “business as usual” emissions projections. The act is unusually prescriptive in setting out specific policy goals and benchmarks within the legislation. In addition to the emission reduction goals, the act mandates reporting of emissions from large industrial sources; allows a cap-and-trade system; allows adoption of regulations to control greenhouse gases associated with landfills, fuels, ports, and consumer products; creation of a process to credit voluntary reductions; and requirements to evaluate environmental justice and technology options. Meeting the 2020 emissions target will require changes in the energy, transportation, agriculture, and waste sectors. Other climate-related legislation under development in California ranges from promoting alternative fuels to banning incandescent light bulbs. Explanations for California’s extensive actions on climate change include (Corfee-Morlot, 2009; Franco et al., 2008; Mazmanian et al., 2008) Relatively high awareness and support for climate change policy among California residents compared to the rest of the nation; A significant perception of risks to the state from the impacts of climate change due largely to the results of impact studies showing, among other things, disappearance of California snowpack, threats to water resources, and increased fire risks (see figure below); Political ambition and ethical commitment of leaders who see climate as a high-profile issue and California as a major influence on national policy; The economic and technological advantages of being an “early mover” in a green economy; Willingness to reach out and learn from international experiences; and A long history of efforts to manage air pollution and promote energy efficiency. Information critical to the state’s decisions to act on climate change included research on climate change impacts in the state, economic cost-benefit analyses, and documented successes in other countries. Although it is too soon to assess the success of AB-32 in reducing greenhouse gas emissions (and there is some opposition to repeal AB-32), California has already limited emissions growth through earlier regulations and investments. For example, per capita electricity consumption has leveled off to less than 8,000 kWh/person since 1980, while the U.S. average has risen to more than 12,000 kWh/person (Kammen and Pacca, 2004).
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Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change Residents evacuate due to wildfires in Southern California. SOURCE: Dan Steinberg, AP Photo.
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Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change FIGURE 2.2 Regional cap-and-trade initiatives in the United States. SOURCE: Pew Center (2009). offsets (Blakes, 2009). In addition, California is collaborating with the United Kingdom on emission reductions (California State, 2006). States have also taken a lead in promoting legislation for other climate-oriented initiatives, such as mandating increases in the percentage of renewables in the energy supply mix, promoting energy efficiency, instituting net-metering and green energy pricing, and setting energy efficiency standards for resources and appliances. Other actions include setting new vehicle emissions standards, promoting alternative fuels such as biodiesel or ethanol, providing incentives to buy low-carbon fuels and vehicles, and creating agricultural plans to promote biomass storage. In addition, some states are funding research and development on clean coal technology and on carbon capture and storage (Pew Center, 2009). Many states are also collecting information and are concerned about changes beyond their boundaries because of the impacts on their own economies and livelihoods. For example, Arizona and Washington pay attention to what may be happening in Mexico and Canada, respectively, and information providers such as the regional assessment centers in the Pacific Northwest (e.g., Climate Impacts Group) and the Southwest (e.g., Climate Assessment of the Southwest) both have important non-U.S. and border components. The reasons for state action on climate change include perceptions of vulnerability, judgments that the costs of inaction are greater than the costs of response, and opportunities for long-term economic advantage (Box 2.1). Decision makers have also responded to climate change for
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Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change short-term leadership advantages and because they feel a strong ethical obligation to act on climate change. Through these actions, U.S. states have acknowledged their decision-making responsibilities for responding to climate change as well as their financial responsibilities for the cost of future climate change impacts. Their steps to limit the magnitude of climate change may accelerate or guide national policy (Peterson and Rose, 2006). Some argue that effective greenhouse gas emission reductions in the United States will only succeed with bottom-up approaches, which can then be complemented by top-down rule (Victor et al., 2005; Wiener et al., 2006). States (and other jurisdictions such as cities and counties) that have taken action on climate change are concerned that federal actions may undermine or overlook their investments and policies relating to climate change. National policies can be designed to avoid undermining state action. For example, if state emissions reductions are greater than those established under a national cap-and-trade system, the federal emission allowances for state reductions could be retired rather than freed up to be used in other states. State decision makers have information needs that include detailed data on greenhouse gas emissions down to the local level, regional projections of how climate change may affect their jurisdiction, and information on the distribution of costs and benefits of climate impacts, emission reductions, and adaptation options. They must also understand how climate change and policy will affect other states and countries, especially where they are part of regional carbon markets, where they share vulnerable resources, such as water, or where state economies are closely tied to national and international markets. Climate Change Actions by City and Local Governments As locations with a dense amount of buildings, cities are significant producers of greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for as much as 70 percent of global fossil fuel emissions. Cities across North America began to adopt targets and timetables for reducing their greenhouse gas emissions in early 1990s, in large part because of the emergence of transnational municipal networks1 that focused specifically on greenhouse gas reduction (Rabe, 2009; Schroeder and Bulkeley, 2009). For example, 1 Such as ICLEI–Local Governments for Sustainability, formerly known as the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) Cities for Climate Protection and the International Solar Cities Initiative.
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Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change Los Angeles has committed to reduce emissions 35 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 and New York has a major program for both emission reductions, 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, and adaptation (see ACC: Adapting to the Impacts of Climate Change, NRC, 2010b). The World Mayors Council on Climate Change also galvanized political action, committing to reduce greenhouse gases by 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 in industrialized countries through further collaboration with transnational initiatives (ICLEI, 2007). Domestically, the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement is a large network of local governments working on climate change with 1,017 mayors. City-level action on climate change has been driven by opportunities to save money through energy efficiency, creating jobs and generating tax revenues through the development of green technologies, demonstrating leadership, and reducing vulnerability, especially to sea level rise and water shortages. A recent report looked at a sample of U.S. cities and found an extensive array of actions to address climate change, including retrofitting government-owned buildings to become more energy efficient, converting fleets to hybrids, and planning for the long-term impacts of climate change (Figure 2.3; CDP, 2008).2 These cities are moving quickly to adopt the emissions reporting standard developed by ICLEI–Local Governments for Sustainability, the Climate Registry, the California Climate Action Registry, and the California Air Resources Board, illustrating the potential for rapid diffusion of useful information and decision tools. However, considerable opportunities remain for cities to take further action on climate change, but their reach is often limited by what they are actually able to control; emissions (from transport, for example) and adaptation (of water systems, for example) are often influenced by other federal, state, and local jurisdictions. Counties are also taking action on climate change and may become increasingly important should the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) choose to regulate carbon emissions as air pollutants. Among counties taking early action on climate change are King County, Washington (see Box 2.2); Fairfax and Arlington counties, Virginia; Nassau County, New York; Miami-Dade, Florida; and Cook County, Illinois; with most pledging to reduce emissions 80 percent by 2050 and with a request to the federal government to raise fuel economy standards to 35 mpg. As with many cities, county action has been based on information about potential 2 The 18 cities examined were Annapolis, MD; Arlington, VA; Atlanta, GA; Burlington, VT; Chicago, IL; Denver, CO; Edina, MN; Fairfield, IA; Haverford, PA; Las Vegas, NV; New Orleans, LA; New York, NY; North Little Rock, AR; Park City, UT; Portland, OR; Rohnert Park, CA; Washougal, WA; and West Palm Beach, FL. Information here based on press releases until final report is released.
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Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change FIGURE 2.3 Green roofs such as this one on Chicago City Hall are aimed at conserving energy. SOURCE: CCAP (2008). regional vulnerabilities to climate change and relies on detailed inventories of both county government greenhouse gas emissions as well as those across the county. The Impact of State and Local Government Action Many states, cities, and local governments have taken both political and practical action to limit the magnitude of and adapt to climate change, showing leadership nationwide. As a result of these actions, 53 percent of Americans now live in a jurisdiction that has enacted a greenhouse gas emissions cap (Lutsey and Sperling, 2008). Few data exist on the aggregated impacts of city or state action on climate change, but it appears that actual emissions reductions are likely to be influenced most strongly by key competencies, governance structures, and legal frameworks at the local and national levels (Bulkeley and Betsill, 2003; Schroeder and Bulkeley, 2009). There is also some evidence that municipalities seem to give a higher priority to limiting climate change than adapting to its impacts (Granberg and Elander, 2007; Hanak et al., 2008).
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Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change BOX 2.6 A Sampling of Positions Advocated by State and Local Governments to Strengthen the American Clean Energy and Security Acta Increasing Energy Efficiency Increase the ability of local governments to effectively implement GHG emission reductions through improvements in building codes by altering the state–local share of funding for municipalities responsible for 100 percent of code enforcement in their jurisdictions; Authorize state bonding authorities to support local funds to enable property owners to take out loans for energy efficient upgrades; and Expand the building efficiency labeling requirement to include existing buildings as well as new buildings. Critical Planning Increase funding for transportation planning; Require climate adaptation plans for coastal cities with populations over 500,000 people, which accounts for 15 percent of the U.S. population; Consolidate multiple planning requirements to increase effective implementation; and Require, promote, and fund strategic adaptation measures at the federal, state, and local levels of government. Although lobbying organizations are known as advocacy groups and their information may not be impartial or objective, they nevertheless constitute a considerable body of topical experts who provide information to Congress. The panel judges that poor coordination between the federal agencies is limiting the effectiveness of the national response to climate change. Future synergies between the Executive branch and Congress may help establish clear agency responsibilities as well as ensure regular evaluation and assessment of federal climate change policies. The report Limiting the Magnitude of Climate Change (NRC, 2010a) suggests a “Climate Report of the President,” analogous to the Economic Report of the President, as one such mechanism to inform Congress. The Informing panel judges that this type of mechanism may help in evaluating the effectiveness of our actions.
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Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change Carbon Reduction Goals Establish reduction targets of 20 percent by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050 from 2005 GHG emission levels, and periodically review and adjust, as necessary, the level and timing of reductions required under the cap in light of new science; and Support a renewable energy supply standard of at least 20 percent by 2020. Implementing Cap and Trade Any needed moratoriums on regional cap-and-trade programs should be consistent with compliance periods in existing programs and should not begin until a federal program is operational. Increase the effectiveness of carbon markets through flexibility and transparency and maintaining standards for eligibility for past emissions reductions and credit future reductions. Increase the effectiveness of carbon markets by allocating 15 percent of total allowances from “excess” free allowances to the State Energy and Environment Development Fund. a State Voice Group Recommendations to the Senate Concerning Climate Legislation. H.R.2454 American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 sets forth provisions concerning clean energy, energy efficiency, reducing global warming pollution, transitioning to a clean energy economy, and providing for agriculture and forestry related offsets. This passed the U.S. House of Representatives on June 26, 2009. Federal Role in Responding to Climate Change Many decision makers and stakeholders have urged the federal government to act more aggressively in responding to climate change. Box 2.6 summarizes suggestions from state and local governments regarding possible federal decisions and investments. The federal government has the authority and resources to act in a wide range of policy areas relating to climate change, including pollution control, energy supply, energy efficiency, transportation, agriculture and forestry, and waste prevention. Federal investment in energy research and development and standards and regulations for energy efficiency (e.g., Corporate Average Fuel Economy [CAFE] standards) have played an indirect role in reducing the carbon intensity of some sectors of the U.S. economy, although it has not stopped increases in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. The federal government has also played a significant role in the control of other environmentally significant emissions through regulation (e.g., lead and chlorofluorocarbons) and establishment of environmental markets for sulfur dioxide (SO2).
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Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change In 2002, the stated U.S. goal was to reduce the greenhouse gas intensity of the U.S. economy by 18 percent from 2002 to 2012 (U.S. Office of Global Change, 2007) through the following programs: Voluntary Greenhouse Gas reporting program. This Department of Energy (DOE) registry for voluntary reporting of emissions and reductions was established in 1994. In 2005, 221 organizations reported to DOE. Climate Leaders. This is an EPA partnership with industry to develop comprehensive climate change strategies. Industries that reduce greenhouse gas emissions receive government recognition. Climate VISION. This DOE, EPA, Department of Transportation, and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) program was established in 2003 to work with key industrial sectors to voluntarily reduce emissions intensity. In 2007 the program reported an almost 10 percent improvement in intensity and a 1.4 percent reduction in emissions from 2002 to 2006 in 13 power- and energy-intensive sectors. ENERGY STAR®. This EPA voluntary labeling program was created in 1996 to identify and promote energy-efficient products to reduce greenhouse emissions in products, businesses, and public buildings. Save Energy Now. This DOE program created by the Energy Policy Act of 2005 aims to reduce U.S. industrial energy intensity 25 percent by 2017. Voluntary Programs to Reduce High Global Warming Potential Gases. This EPA program aims to reduce emissions of perfluorocarbons (PFCs), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6). HCFC-22 production dropped from 36 to 17 tons CO2-eq from 1990 to 2007. Methane voluntary programs. These are EPA partnerships to reduce emissions in the fossil fuel, waste, and agriculture sectors. Methane emissions dropped by 10 percent between 1990 and 2003. Targeted incentives for agricultural greenhouse gas sequestration. This is a 2003 USDA program to reduce greenhouse emissions by 12.4 million metric tons of CO2e by 2012. Tax incentives for greenhouse reductions. These tax incentives help implement the Energy Policy Act of 2005 by providing energy tax incentives for alternative fuel vehicles, residential solar, and alternative energy. The success of these programs is difficult to quantify because most are voluntary and not comprehensively monitored. However, new mandatory programs are being implemented. For example, EPA recently issued rules that require mandatory annual reporting of greenhouse gases for facilities that emit more than 25,000 tons CO2e per year or entities that supply fossil fuels (EPA, 2009b). A new set of federal initiatives was
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Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change launched in 2009, including a commitment to long-term reductions in greenhouse emissions, tighter automobile mileage standards, and incentives for renewable energy and energy efficiency. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 20098 implements several new policies that address, in part, efforts to reduce GHG emissions. Current legislative proposals to introduce a federal cap-and-trade system, a national climate service, and other responses would greatly increase the need for information and the reach of federal policy and actions. Federal actions responding to climate change include research and monitoring, investments in infrastructure and disaster relief, and the establishment of laws, regulations, and international agreements. All of these decisions require information and decision tools. A GAO survey of agency officials that included questions about information needs for adaptation found that the majority of respondents would find information on state and local climate impacts and vulnerability, regional climate impacts and vulnerability, and best practices very or extremely useful, and many were interested in better tools for accessing and interpreting information and interacting with stakeholders as well as the establishment of the federal climate information service (GAO-10-133, Table 12). At least two-thirds of the 185 respondents said that finding information on local climate impacts, costs and benefits, thresholds, baselines, and certainty was moderately to extremely challenging (GAO-10-133, Table 9). Perhaps the greatest gap in assessing the federal response to climate change is a comprehensive framework of measures for evaluating the effectiveness of federal choices and actions—whether they be investment in research, efforts to reduce disaster vulnerability, or the costs and benefits of emission reduction and regulations. Evaluating the effectiveness of federal choices and action relies on robust and up-to-date information systems such as monitoring climate impacts and greenhouse gases further addressed in Chapters 5 and 6. For example, there is very little information on the impacts of voluntary energy and emission reduction programs or on the effectiveness of adaptation measures taken to date. The wide range of agencies involved in research, monitoring, and policy formulation on climate change means that coordination is essential in order to avoid duplication, ensure comprehensive and complementary policy, and provide clear contact points for those beyond the federal government. The USGCRP has provided an important coordination role for research and observa- 8 For example, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 provides $61.3 billion for renewable energy programs including $11.3 billion for smart grid investments, $6.3 billion for state and local governments to modernize buildings, $5 billion for low-income weatherization programs, $3.4 billion for clean coal pilot programs exploring carbon capture and sequestration, $500 million to train workers for green jobs, $2 billion for tax credits to consumers buying plug-in hybrid cars, and $400 million for establishing Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy within the DOE.
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Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change tions but does not implement practical responses to climate change that involve a much broader range of agencies and may need coordination at a higher level. THE LAW AND CLIMATE CHANGE One often overlooked actor in climate change is the legal system. U.S. courts are also decision makers on climate change. In 2003, for instance, EPA determined that it did not have the authority to regulate CO2 emissions, a decision that was challenged in court by Massachusetts and 11 other states. In 2005, the U.S. Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia Circuit supported EPA’s contention. However, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case in 2006, and on April 2, 2007, the court ruled in favor of the state plaintiffs by a 5-to-4 margin. The courts are also involved in class action litigation for liability concerning climate change–related damages. For example, in February 2008 a suit was filed on behalf of the Alaskan village of Kivalina (Figure 2.4),9 alleging that Exxon Mobil and other energy companies have contributed to global warming, which will require an Inupiat village to incur hundreds of millions of dollars in expenses to relocate. Some state attorneys general have filed public nuisance lawsuits against power companies and automobile manufacturers, alleging that greenhouse gas emissions from their activities and products contribute to global warming and harm the states’ environment, economies, and citizens.10 After Hurricane Katrina, Mississippi property owners sued oil, coal, and chemical companies, alleging that their activities contributed to climate change and magnified the effects of the hurricane.11 Enterprising attorneys and interest groups are focusing on securities law as a basis to identify an entity’s greenhouse gas emissions and its actions to limit its potential exposure. Other court cases seek to challenge the regulation of emissions on the basis of cost or jurisdiction. The courts have specific information needs as they evaluate cases involving climate change. Administrative challenges based on the failure of federal agencies to act on climate change may require careful documentation of the impacts of not acting and detailed understanding of agency responsibilities and actions. Litigation for climate change damages engages highly complex questions of attributing climate change and climate impacts to human caused emissions, and then allocating responsibility for those emissions to potential private emitters (or public agencies that control emissions) who can be sued for damages. 9 U.S. Court of Appeals Ninth Circuit, docket number 09-17490. 10 Case 1:06-cv-00020, filed January 30, 2006. 11 U.S. Court of Appeals Fifth Circuit, No. 07-60756, October 16, 2009.
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Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change FIGURE 2.4 Alaskan Village of Kivalina. SOURCE: Alaska Army National Guard. According to an American Bar Association paper (Keteltas et al., 2008): Even if plaintiffs are able to overcome the political question doctrine that, for the time being, has ended early tort cases, would-be tort plaintiffs must overcome other hurdles, the most significant of which is causation. The plaintiff’s challenge in proving specific harms were caused by climate change—measured against traditional standards of admissibility of scientific evidence in a courtroom—is daunting. To comprehend the scope of this challenge, it is worth considering the types of current and prospective injuries alleged in the tort cases filed to date. These injuries range from heat-related deaths and respiratory illness, to erosion, crop damage, inundation of coastal properties, harm to water supplies from salt water, damage to commercial shipping from reduction in water levels, and prospective harm from impacts of more severe weather events. Given that climate change may involve the cumulative effects of more than a century of emissions, tying one defendant’s emissions (or even an entire industry’s) to a localized climate event that caused any one of these individual harms—or, in other words, establishing specific causation—could well be impossible. Even as national and international bodies improve their cli-
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Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change mate change models, none are focused on tying the emissions of an individual corporation, or even an industry, to a specific local event. Although climate scientists are working on questions of attribution, the ability to link emissions to impacts is an active area of research. There could potentially be opposition to the collection and analysis of climate information by defendants in such cases brought before the courts that could pose a potential barrier to informing effecting decisions in responding to climate change. But as human caused climate change and impacts become clearer, there will be increasing demand for scientific information and scientists as expert witness in the legal system. Avoiding such litigation may be one reason for potential defendants, such as fossil fuel producers, to take action to reduce emissions. CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS A major finding of this chapter is that many different U.S. organizations are making decisions and taking actions in response to the risks of climate change, including a wide range of non-federal actors. Although the federal government shoulders much of the responsibility for making decisions on responding to climate change, state and local governments, business, NGOs, and the courts are all playing an increasingly important role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, informing citizens, planning for adaptation, and even carrying out scientific research. Their aggregated commitment to greenhouse emission reductions is considerable, with a large number of states responsible for the bulk of U.S. emissions committing to reductions of up to 80 percent by 2050 and many corporations cutting emissions by more than 10 percent over even shorter periods. However, these commitments have not been fully implemented; inconsistent and incomplete reporting makes it difficult to compare the different targets and baselines for emission reductions and to monitor the effectiveness of the response in terms of both emissions and adaptation. Non-federal groups use and demand a wide range of information in deciding to act on climate change, including climate observations and models, impact assessments, cost-benefit analysis, emissions inventories, and simulation of policy options. Access to up-to-date reliable information remains a challenge for a range of decision makers. The non-federal actors are also a source of innovation and experimentation in the response to climate change. As Gustavsson et al. note: “[t]he sheer magnitude of policy initiatives at the local level, their diversity, and the experimental and practical nature of many local projects, are bound to bring forward genuinely new ideas and solutions that in the end can have an impact on a larger scale” (2009).
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Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change In addition to the organizational decision makers from government, business, and NGOs discussed in this chapter, the U.S. public constitutes an important set of individual decisions and choices about how to respond to climate change. People can choose to reduce their own emissions, to begin adapting their lives to climate change, or to influence policy and businesses through their political activities, consumption, and investment choices. Individuals can benefit from the type of information provided to organizations and decision makers but may also have questions and require answers tailored to the ordinary citizen. Government climate policy can benefit from understanding the motivations and barriers to corporate actions. Private companies in several sectors have taken significant steps to reduce their carbon footprints in pursuit of future business goals, and some business sectors, such as the insurance industry, are planning for the impacts of climate change. The finance sector is also starting to consider the risks of climate change and options to reduce those risks through investment strategies and ratings. Accurate accounting of business response to climate change can legitimize the actions of responsible firms and expose the lack of action by others. However, emission reduction commitments have not necessarily been fully implemented; few data exist on aggregated impacts or on the possibility for scaling up local and state action. Inconsistent and incomplete reporting makes it difficult to compare different targets and baselines for emission reductions to monitor the effectiveness of the response. The federal government can take advantage of such innovation while also providing leadership to accelerate responses in the face of growing risks, to encourage those who have not acted, to provide consistency, to link to international efforts, and to prevent a patchwork of regulations. The panel finds that evaluating the effectiveness of federal choices and action relies on robust and up-to-date information systems such as monitoring climate impacts and greenhouse gases further addressed in Chapters 5 and 6. Future actions by the federal government can take advantage of the best of existing decisions and structures at the sub-national level, include representatives of these groups in governance arrangements, and evaluate the impact of federal policy on actions of state and local governments, businesses, and civil society. The federal government can also facilitate “knowledge to action” by providing coordination, information, and guidance about climate change impacts (Chapter 5) and greenhouse gas management (Chapter 6). An appropriate federal action can spur greater overall emissions reductions while preserving room for states to continue to act as policy innovators, drivers, and implementers. Although this report is targeted primarily at government, many of our findings and recommendations are relevant to individual information needs and behavior, includ-
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Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change ing, for example, our discussion in Chapter 5 of the need for accessible federal information portals with information on climate impacts, or our discussion in Chapter 6 of consumer information about greenhouse gas emissions and energy use. As we argue in Chapter 6, the increased use of standardized methodologies for emissions inventories could improve estimates of emissions reductions. To the extent that these actions prove successful, they should ease the task and lower the costs of the federal government. Recommendation 1: To improve the response to climate change, the federal government should Improve federal coordination and policy evaluation by establishing clear clear leadership, responsibilities, and coordination at the federal level for climate-related decisions, information systems, and services. information systems, and services. The roadmap for federal coordination might include leadership and action through executive orders, the Office of Science and Technology Policy, an expanded USGCRP, a new Council on Climate Change, the reorganization of existing agencies, or even the establishment of new organizations, regional centers, or departments within the government. Establish information and reporting systems that allow for regular evaluation and assessment of the effectiveness of both government and non-governmental responses to climate change, including a regular report to Congress or the President as suggested in our companion reports. This could include aggregating and disseminating “best practices” with a web-based clearinghouse, creating ongoing assessments to enable regular exchange of information, and plans among relevant federal agencies, regional researchers, decision makers, NGOs, and concerned citizens. Recommendation 2: To maximize the effectiveness of responses to climate change across the nation, the federal government should Assess, evaluate, and learn from the different approaches to climate related decision making used by non-federal levels of government and the private sector;
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Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change Enhance non-federal activities that have proven effective in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to the projected impacts of climate change through incentives, policy frameworks, and information systems; and Ensure that proposed federal policies do not unnecessarily preempt effective measures that have already been taken by states, regions, and the private sector.
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