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US Should Lead The Way On Climate Change

May 20, 2010

Scientists said Wednesday that the U.S. has to lead the global fight on climate change by breaking with business-as-usual and setting tough standards for the amount of greenhouse gases it emits into the atmosphere.

The National Research Council scientists said the U.S. should set a budget that would limit greenhouse gas emissions to a total of between 170 and 200 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent between 2012 and 2050.

The report said that limit would correspond to a reduction of U.S. emissions from 1990 levels by 80 to 50 percent, and would require a “major departure from business-as-usual emission trends.”

U.S. emissions have been rising at a rate of one percent each year for the past three decades.  In 2008, the emission levels reached about seven gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent.

Even if emissions stuck around the 2008 rate and the higher budget target of 200 gigatons were chosen, the U.S. would exceed its emissions budget by 2041.

The NRC report asked the U.S. to lead the way in the fight against climate change so that other nations would follow.

“Although limiting emissions must be a global effort to be effective, strong US actions to reduce emissions will help encourage other countries to do the same,” they said.

The report said the cap-and-trade system was one of the most effective ways of reducing emissions.

Two months ago, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said that cap-and-trade was dead.  However, a climate bill proposed this month by Democratic Senator John Kerry and Independent Joe Lieberman proposed setting up such a system.

The senators’ plan would require the U.S. carbon emissions to be cut by 17 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels.

However, the scientists warned that putting a price on carbon would only work if the U.S. also improves energy efficiency, speeds up the devilment of renewable energy sources, develops new-generation nuclear power, and retrofits, decommissions or replaces facilities that belch greenhouse gases into the air.

Other reports by the NRC reaffirm that U.S. scientists’ strong belief that climate change is occurring and is caused mostly by human activities.

Last year, climate change skeptics seized on a leak of thousands of emails and other documents from researchers at the University of East Anglia in Britain, which showed that the scientists believed that global warming was not as serious as they had originally thought.

Another scandal came out months later when the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) we accused of basing a report about ice disappearing from the Himalayas on a student essay and an article in mountaineering magazine.

Wednesday’s report urges U.S. policymakers to take steps towards reducing the country’s vulnerability to climate change impacts that cannot be avoided, while stressing that adapting to climate change was not an alternative to limiting it.

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