Friday, March 15, 2013

Climate Change Must Factor In Smart Policy

America is blessed with abundant energy sources, from an array of traditional fuels and natural gas to solar, wind, and other renewable resources.

But as the pressure on these resources grows, the United States must have a plan to ensure a stronger and more sustainable future. In today’s world, any smart and effective energy strategy must take into account the risks of climate change.

Climate change impacts are already here. They do not have a political affiliation, nor are they constrained by state boundaries. Moreover, climate impacts are taking a serious toll on America’s infrastructure and economy.

Let’s look at some examples:

America’s coastal areas are particularly vulnerable, as rising sea levels and heavier precipitation are increasing the impacts of hurricanes and other storms. More than 58 percent of U.S. gross domestic product, some $8.3 trillion, is generated in coastal areas (including the Great Lakes). This accounts for some 66 million jobs. Florida, in particular, faces significant threats due to rising seas.

Inland areas are also at risk of severe weather and climatic conditions. The current drought, which is still spread across 50 percent of the country, may cost 1 percent of U.S. GDP, taking a toll on agriculture, crops, and cattle. For example, corn yields are down, which is driving up food prices. In turn, higher feed stocks and poor growing conditions are affecting the U.S. cattle supply, which last year was at its lowest level since 1952.

Drought has also disrupted transportation and supply chains along the Mississippi River. Last year, the Army Corps of Engineers conducted emergency operations to deepen the channel in response to low water levels. While the Corps was able to keep the river open, one recent report estimated that a major supply chain disruption on the Mississippi could have affected 8,000 jobs and commodities worth $2.8 billion.

America’s energy infrastructure itself is also at risk. Rising seas, for example, will bring more salinization and increased energy consumption for drainage and fresh water supplies. Some power plants are particularly vulnerable, with more than 280U.S.-based electric plants and oil and gas refineries located in low-lying areas.

Consumers, too, are at risk from power outages. Following Hurricane Sandy and the nor’easter that followed, more than 8 million people were without power. Last summer’s derecho storm knocked out power for 4.2 million customers across 11 states. And, hurricanes in the Gulf Coast, like Katrina, can cause price spikes as they disrupt oil and gas supplies.

The question remains: What can be done?

Clearly, the United States should be taking action to both reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prepare for the impacts of a changing world. Many local governments and groups are already acting, but the breadth of the impacts calls for action at all levels.

There are several steps that the Obama administration can take to shift the country to a lower emissions trajectory:

The United States should be investing in more renewable energy and greater energy efficiency measures. The renewable energy market is expected to reach $2 trillion in the coming years. Yet last year, China outpaced the United States in investment in renewables by $67.8 billion to $44.2 billion. The United States needs strong and predictable policies to expand its share of the renewable energy market.

Energy efficiency measures can also save money and cut emissions. A recent analysis found that there are at least 34 efficiency standards that could save consumers a combined $26 billion annually by 2025 and save approximately 200 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions — the equivalent of 49 coal-fired power plants. More