Obama admin report touts economic benefits of U.S. action

Source: Jean Chemnick, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The United States’ future with global climate change action looks a lot brighter than its future without it, U.S. EPA argues in a peer-reviewed scientific report unveiled today at the White House.

The report examines two scenarios — one that keeps warming to 2 degrees Celsius compared with preindustrial levels and another that doesn’t — in an effort to refute critics of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan who say it will hurt the economy.

The analysis looks ahead to 2050 and 2100 to show dueling snapshots of a United States where warming is contained and others in which it is not.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy told reporters the report is aimed at showing Congress and the public what’s at stake for climate action, especially during these final months before the start of negotiations on a United Nations climate pact on post-2020 emissions and finance in Paris this December.

“The motivation for this is to try to use science to tell people what the future looks like, and what the future looks like both in not taking action and in taking action, so that they can make choices for themselves about whether or not they feel they want to weigh in on what their future looks like,” she said.

The report arrived as Republicans on Capitol Hill renew their push this week to scuttle EPA’s flagship climate change rule, as the House votes on a measure that would allow states to opt out of the Clean Power Plan and the Senate holds a hearing on a similar measure. Republicans maintain U.S. action on global warming will hurt the economy (E&E Daily, June 22).

This week marks the second anniversary of Obama’s Climate Action Plan. The White House plans to celebrate with events all this week, including tomorrow’s White House summit on health and climate change hosted by the surgeon general.

Speaking to reporters in an Executive Office Building room with Dan Utech, deputy assistant to the president for energy and climate change, and White House climate adviser Brian Deese, McCarthy said the report showed the 2-degree target is within reach if Obama’s climate policies are fully implemented and can spur action by other countries.

The report aims “to let people know that there is still considerable hope that the impacts both physical and economic are not just real but that they can change, and as long as we can incentivize global action the way that the president wants us to, that will change,” she said.

World leaders are taking the Climate Action Plan seriously, McCarthy said, despite saber rattling from GOP lawmakers who aim to use the annual appropriations process and other means to roll back those policies.

“The president has made it pretty clear that he’s not going to accept efforts to undermine this critically important work by Congress,” Deese said. “And secondly, this report demonstrates pretty clearly to Congress and to others how much upside there is” to climate mitigation.

The 94-page report — “Climate Change Impacts and Risk Analysis” — uses data from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and other sources to provide a cost-benefit analysis of keeping emissions below the 2-degree threshold. It doesn’t examine the impact of individual policies but shows what a business-as-usual scenario or a carbon-controlled scenario would mean for various regions of the country and sectors of the U.S. economy.

The report shows not only that allowing climate change to run its course would be dangerous but that investment in adaptation and lower-carbon alternatives would place the United States at an advantage.

“What is hopeful about this report is that it once again shows not just that we need to act now, but that there are real economic dividends to acting early and acting aggressively, particularly for our economy,” Deese said.

The focus is on the health, economic, infrastructure and other costs of warming in the United States, although McCarthy notes that keeping warming below that threshold would demand international cooperation.

Republicans have argued that such cooperation is unlikely, especially as major developing emitters like China and India continue to increase their emissions for years or decades to come. And meanwhile, the cost of climate action will fall on the United States, they say, and make its industries less competitive globally.