Limiting the Magnitude of Future Climate Change
NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL
OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS
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NOTICE: The project that is the subject of this report was approved by the Governing Board of the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The members of the committee responsible for the report were chosen for their special competences and with regard for appropriate balance.
This study was supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration under contract number DG133R08CQ0062, TO# 4. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the sponsoring agency or any of its subagencies.
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THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES
Advisers to the Nation on Science, Engineering, and Medicine
The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit, self-perpetuating society of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific and engineering research, dedicated to the furtherance of science and technology and to their use for the general welfare. Upon the authority of the charter granted to it by the Congress in 1863, the Academy has a mandate that requires it to advise the federal government on scientific and technical matters. Dr. Ralph J. Cicerone is president of the National Academy of Sciences.
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AMERICA’S CLIMATE CHOICES: PANEL ON LIMITING THE MAGNITUDE OF FUTURE CLIMATE CHANGE
ROBERT W. FRI (Chair),
Resources for the Future, Washington, D.C.
MARILYN A. BROWN (Vice Chair),
Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta
National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Golden, Colorado
University of California, Los Angeles
Majora Carter Group, LLC, Bronx, New York
Joint Global Change Research Institute (Pacific Northwest National Laboratory/University of Maryland), College Park, Maryland
FRANCISCO DE LA CHESNAYE,
Electric Power Research Institute, Washington, D.C.
GEORGE C. EADS,
Charles River Associates, Washington, D.C.
University of Southern California, Los Angeles
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
ROBERT O. KEOHANE,
Princeton University, New Jersey
Portland State University, Oregon
Texas A&M University, College Station
DuPont, Wilmington, Delaware
MARY D. NICHOLS,
California Air Resources Board, Sacramento
EDWARD S. RUBIN,
Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
THOMAS H. TIETENBERG,
Colby College (retired), Waterville, Maine
JAMES A. TRAINHAM,
RTI International, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina
LAURIE GELLER, Study Director
ALAN CRANE, Senior Program Officer
TOM MENZIES, Senior Program Officer
KATIE WELLER, Research Associate
SHELLY FREELAND, Senior Program Assistant
Foreword: About America’s Climate Choices
Convened by the National Research Council in response to a request from Congress (P.L. 110-161), America’s Climate Choices is a suite of five coordinated activities designed to study the serious and sweeping issues associated with global climate change, including the science and technology challenges involved, and to provide advice on the most effective steps and most promising strategies that can be taken to respond.
The Committee on America’s Climate Choices is responsible for providing overall direction, coordination, and integration of the America’s Climate Choices suite of activities and ensuring that these activities provide well-supported, action-oriented, and useful advice to the nation. The committee convened a Summit on America’s Climate Choices on March 30–31, 2009, to help frame the study and provide an opportunity for high-level input on key issues. The committee is also charged with writing a final report that builds on four panel reports and other sources to answer the following four overarching questions:
What short-term actions can be taken to respond effectively to climate change?
What promising long-term strategies, investments, and opportunities could be pursued to respond to climate change?
What are the major scientific and technological advances needed to better understand and respond to climate change?
What are the major impediments (e.g., practical, institutional, economic, ethical, intergenerational, etc.) to responding effectively to climate change, and what can be done to overcome these impediments?
The Panel on Limiting the Magnitude of Future Climate Change was charged to describe, analyze, and assess strategies for reducing the net future human influence on climate. This report focuses on actions to reduce domestic greenhouse gas emissions and other human drivers of climate change, such as changes in land use, but also considers the international dimensions of climate stabilization.
The Panel on Adapting to the Impacts of Climate Change was charged to describe, analyze, and assess actions and strategies to reduce vulnerability, increase adaptive
capacity, improve resiliency, and promote successful adaptation to climate change in different regions, sectors, systems, and populations. The panel’s report draws on a wide range of sources and case studies to identify lessons learned from past experiences, promising current approaches, and potential new directions.
The Panel on Advancing the Science of Climate Change was charged to provide a concise overview of past, present, and future climate change, including its causes and its impacts, and to recommend steps to advance our current understanding, including new observations, research programs, next-generation models, and the physical and human assets needed to support these and other activities. The panel’s report focuses on the scientific advances needed both to improve our understanding of the integrated human-climate system and to devise more effective responses to climate change.
The Panel on Informing Effective Decisions and Actions Related to Climate Change was charged to describe and assess different activities, products, strategies, and tools for informing decision makers about climate change and helping them plan and execute effective, integrated responses. The panel’s report describes the different types of climate change-related decisions and actions being taken at various levels and in different sectors and regions; it develops a framework, tools, and practical advice for ensuring that the best available technical knowledge about climate change is used to inform these decisions and actions.
America’s Climate Choices builds on an extensive foundation of previous and ongoing work, including National Research Council reports, assessments from other national and international organizations, the current scientific literature, climate action plans by various entities, and other sources. More than a dozen boards and standing committees of the National Research Council were involved in developing the study, and many additional groups and individuals provided additional input during the study process. Outside viewpoints were also obtained via public events and workshops (including the Summit), invited presentations at committee and panel meetings, and comments received through the study website, http://americasclimatechoices.org.
Collectively, the America’s Climate Choices suite of activities involves more than 90 volunteers from a range of communities including academia, various levels of government, business and industry, other nongovernmental organizations, and the international community. Responsibility for the final content of each report rests solely with the authoring panel and the National Research Council. However, the development of each report included input from and interactions with members of all five study groups; the membership of each group is listed in Appendix A.
Tackling climate change promises to be one of the most significant social and technological challenges of the 21st century. Since the industrial revolution, the atmosphere has been one of the world’s principal waste repositories because it has offered an easy and inexpensive means of managing unwanted by-products. It is currently absorbing a net gain of two parts per million of CO2 per year as the result of global emissions, and the world’s leading scientists believe that this change in atmospheric composition is changing the global climate.
This report focuses on actions available to the United States to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The goal of actually limiting1 global climate change requires international cooperation, since most of this century’s emissions will come from developing countries, with U.S. emissions representing a shrinking portion of the total. Thus, our national strategy must promote domestic actions while at the same time influencing the rest of the world to control their emissions.
The United States has successfully reduced emissions of several key atmospheric pollutants—including SO2, NOX, and particulates—through the Clean Air Act. The creation of a market for SO2 allowances, in conjunction with performance standards and a cap on emissions, provided strong incentives for entrepreneurs to develop lower-cost SO2 abatement technologies and approaches, and is one of the past century’s greatest environmental policy successes. Emissions of most GHGs, however, remain largely unregulated and continue to be discharged without penalty, through smokestacks, tailpipes, and chimneys, and by the destruction of forests. With no price on carbon, or regulatory pressure, there exist few incentives to mitigate emissions. Thus, we continue to “lock in” incumbent technologies and systems that are typically carbon-intensive. Changing these practices will require scientific and engineering genius to create new energy systems that avoid emitting all but a small fraction of today’s GHGs while simultaneously powering global economic growth. Success will also necessitate institutional, economic, social, and policy innovations to foster the widespread and rapid deployment of transformational technologies.
In this study, the panel was charged with describing, analyzing, and assessing strategies for reducing the future human influence on climate (see full Statement of Task in Appendix B). We considered both existing and emerging technologies, as well as existing and innovative new policies. Technologies and policies were assessed according to their scale of impact, cost, feasibility, and other critical factors, with the assistance of a set of guiding principles. Based on these factors and principles, the panel was able to recommend a short list of options that appear to be most important for significantly reducing GHG emissions.
There are numerous important issues closely related to the topic of limiting climate change that are not addressed here. This report does not, for instance,
describe the scientific evidence for why climate change is real and being driven largely by human influences and why this poses a serious threat to humans and ecosystems;
identify the impacts that may result from not taking sufficient action to limit climate change and the vulnerability of different populations and regions to those impacts;
analyze the economic impacts of acting versus not acting to limit climate change (i.e., cost-benefit analyses);
discuss “solar radiation management” geoengineering strategies;
explore (in any considerable depth) the scientific research needed for improving our understanding of climate change and the specific types of technological research and development needed for reducing emissions; or
examine strategies for improving education and communication about climate change with the general public and the media.
Many of these issues are addressed in the other America’s Climate Choices panel reports (Advancing the Science of Climate Change, Adapting to the Impacts of Climate Change, Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change), and/or will be addressed in the final report of the ACC main committee.
This study began at a time when the United States and countries around the world were actively debating options for addressing global climate change. It is particularly timely, therefore, that the National Research Council has taken on this task; in doing so, we were fortunate to engage a panel of experts with a diversity of backgrounds—including, for instance, physical scientists, social scientists, economists, engineers, community organizers, lawyers, and executives of nongovernmental organizations. This broad-based group of experts proved capable of resolving many opposing viewpoints that at first blush might have seemed irreconcilable. Their active involvement and commitment to producing a useful report is greatly appreciated.
The panel approached its task by conducting its own review of the literature and by supplementing the panel members’ expertise with informational briefings on key topics from outside authorities. In particular, we wish to thank Jonathan Black, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee; Rachel Cleetus and Steve Clemmer, Union of Concerned Scientists; Ana Unruh Cohen, House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming; Robert Marlay, Climate Change Technology Program, U.S. Department of Energy; W. David Montgomery, CRA International; Bill Parton, Colorado State University; Robert Pollin, University of Massachusetts, Amherst; and Michael Ryan, USDA Forest Service.
We are particularly grateful for the assistance provided by Laurie Geller, who managed this panel study for the National Research Council. Her unflagging persistence, upbeat attitude, regular communications, and writing and editing assistance helped keep the panel on schedule. She received considerable assistance from Tom Menzies, Alan Crane, and Paul Stern, who were important sounding boards as the panel’s ideas were being formulated. We also thank Shelly Freeland, who managed the logistics of our meetings, and Katie Weller, who supported the preparation of the final manuscript.
Bob Fri (Chair) and Marilyn Brown (Vice Chair)
America’s Climate Choices: Panel on Limiting the Magnitude of Future Climate Change
This report has been reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for their diverse perspectives and technical expertise, in accordance with procedures approved by the National Research Council’s (NRC’s) Report Review Committee. The purpose of this independent review is to provide candid and critical comments that will assist the institution in making its published report as sound as possible and to ensure that the report meets institutional standards for objectivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the study charge. The review comments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the deliberative process. We wish to thank the following individuals for their review of this report:
PAUL DECOTIS, Long Island Power Authority
PETER FRUMHOFF, Union of Concerned Scientists
ARNULF GRUBLER, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis
HENRY JACOBY, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
ROGER KASPERSON, Clark University
FRANZ LITZ, World Resources Institute
WILLIAM NORDHAUS, Yale University
MICHAEL OPPENHEIMER, Princeton University
ROBERT POLLIN, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
MAXINE SAVITZ, Honeywell, Inc. (retired)
RICHARD SCHMALENSEE, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
ROBERT SOCOLOW, Princeton University
BJORN STIGSON, World Business Council for Sustainable Development
MICHAEL VANDENBERGH, Vanderbilt University
DAVID VICTOR, Stanford University
Although the reviewers listed above have provided many constructive comments and suggestions, they were not asked to endorse the conclusions or recommendations nor did they see the final draft of the report before its release. The review of this report was overseen by Robert Frosch (Harvard University) and Tom Graedel (Yale University). Appointed by the NRC, they were responsible for making certain that an independent examination of this report was carried out in accordance with institutional procedures and that all review comments were carefully considered. Responsibility for the final content of this report rests entirely with the authoring panel and the institution.
Institutional oversight for this project was provided by:
BOARD ON ATMOSPHERIC SCIENCES AND CLIMATE
ANTONIO J. BUSALACCHI, JR. (Chair), University of Maryland, College Park
ROSINA M. BIERBAUM, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
RICHARD CARBONE, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado
WALTER F. DABBERDT, Vaisala, Inc., Boulder, Colorado
KIRSTIN DOW, University of South Carolina, Columbia
GREG S. FORBES, The Weather Channel, Inc., Atlanta, Georgia
ISAAC HELD, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Princeton, New Jersey
ARTHUR LEE, Chevron Corporation, San Ramon, California
RAYMOND T. PIERREHUMBERT, University of Chicago, Illinois
KIMBERLY PRATHER, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, California
KIRK R. SMITH, University of California, Berkeley
JOHN T. SNOW, University of Oklahoma, Norman
THOMAS H. VONDER HAAR, Colorado State University/CIRA, Fort Collins
XUBIN ZENG, University of Arizona, Tucson
Ex Officio Members
GERALD A. MEEHL, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado
CHRIS ELFRING, Director
LAURIE GELLER, Senior Program Officer
IAN KRAUCUNAS, Senior Program Officer
EDWARD DUNLEA, Senior Program Officer
TOBY WARDEN, Program Officer
MARTHA MCCONNELL, Program Officer
MAGGIE WALSER, Associate Program Officer
JOSEPH CASOLA, Postdoctoral Fellow
RITA GASKINS, Administrative Coordinator
KATIE WELLER, Research Associate
LAUREN M. BROWN, Research Assistant
ROB GREENWAY, Program Associate