Split Congress Slows Policy, But Environment Can’t Wait Says UN Report

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Congress has had a number of serious items frozen in the chill of inter-party conflict leading up to the midterm elections, and unfortunately environmental legislation is no exception. The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its 2014 summary for policymakers of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report, and emphasized the need for collective action across the globe, highlighting the need for congressional action in the United States.

The lack of movement on climate change policy is due in part to a discrepancy of opinion in the far right, especially within the Tea Party, on the reality of the environmental effects of climate change. The report highlights other issues of concern, including food and water shortages, flooding and other issues from a rising sea level, and increasing natural disasters.

Climate change has the characteristics of a collection action problem at the global scale,” reads the report, which goes on to emphasize the need for emission controls and action to mitigate the effects of greenhouse gases. “What would be required is a nationwide carbon pricing policy. And that would not be possible without action from Congress,” said Robert Stavins, Harvard’s director of the Environmental Economics Program who authored the report, to The New York Times.

Delays in Congress may translate to an increase in costs eventually, with the report’s authors noting that expenses from climate change and environmental issues are only worsening. “Many different pathways lead to a future within the boundaries set by the two degrees Celsius goal,” said Ottmar Edenhofer, co-chair of the report, in a press release. “All of these require substantial investments. Avoiding further delays in mitigation and making use of a broad variety of technologies can limit the associated costs.”

“We need to increase the slope and the pace of the change. Accelerating what we’re doing in the U.S. will be very important for the next administration,” said another author, David Victor from San Diego, California, to The New York Times.

The issue is not a new one. In February Secretary of State John Kerry and President Barack Obama both emphasized the importance of climate change policy in light of droughts in California, announcing the Climate Data Initiative, which will be “focused on how all these changes in weather patterns are going to have an impact up and down the United States.”

Dr. John P. Holdren, assistant to the president for science and technology and director of the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy, gave a statement on the report’s release, citing the Climate Data Initiative and other programs in evidence of the Obama administration’s commitment to curtailing effects of climate change. He emphasized that the report showed “even more compellingly than previous studies, that the longer society waits to implement strong measures to cut greenhouse gas emissions, the more costly and difficult it will become to limit climate change to less than catastrophic levels.

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