WASHINGTON, July 30, 2014 – The White House Council of Economic Advisors released a report Tuesday detailing potential consequences of inaction on climate change and called for action to curb global warming.
In the report – The Cost of Delaying Action to Stem Climate Change – the administration said the financial costs of hitting a specific climate target would increase “approximately 40 percent for each decade of delay.”
“Taking meaningful steps now sends a signal to the market that reduces long-run costs of meeting the target,” the report said. “The longer the delay, the more difficult it becomes to hit a climate target.”
The report said that since climate change is expected to accelerate, mitigation costs associated with the phenomenon will also increase proportionately. And delays in dealing with the factors that cause global warming will only make the problem harder to solve.
In concert with the report, several companies announced steps they will take under the White House Climate Data Initiative, using open government data to make U.S. and global food systems “more resilient against the impacts of climate change.” In all, 27 private sector companies or groups pledged to use the data, albeit in different ways.
Monsanto, for example, promised to create a program that will make it possible for scientists to understand how climate and water-availability challenges will impact crop productivity, and the Michigan Agri-Business Association said it will create a state mapping system to aggregate soil, water, meteorological, and infrastructure data to help producers plan future agricultural activities in response to climate change.
In May, the Obama administration released the National Climate Assessment (NCA), which it said confirmed that climate disruptions to agriculture have been increasing and are projected to increase in severity over the course of the current century. The administration also expressed concerns for the consequences climate change might have on global and national food security.
“While some U.S. regions and some types of agricultural production will be relatively resilient to climate change over the next 25 years or so, others will increasingly suffer from stresses due to extreme heat, drought, disease, and heavy downpours,” the NCA says.
On Tuesday, it seemed like the topic of climate change was surfacing everywhere. The Senate Budget Committee focused on the fiscal consequences of climate change, a Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee examined threats posed by climate change and the Environmental Protection Agency held its first hearing on its proposed climate rule for existing power plants.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., the chair of the Agriculture Committee, said weather-induced hardships are not new for producers, but climate data is showing something different.
“(The weather is) more intense, it’s more volatile, it’s longer term,” Stabenow said, referencing testimony heard in her committee. “It’s not that we’ve never had storms, but the storms are different now and more intense and causing more damage.”
Mindy Lubber, the president of Ceres, a non-profit group that advocates for sustainability leadership, pointed to statistics that show the impact of climate change on agriculture. Lubber said the multi-year drought in the Southwest has decimated the nation’s cattle herd, increasing beef costs and hurting many involved in the industry.
“When agriculture dies and cattle die, it’s not only increased costs to all of us at our homes, grocery stores, and restaurants, it’s lost jobs,” Lubber said.
Bjorn Lomborg, director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center, acknowledged the impact of climate change, but cautioned the committee not to enact environmental policy that would prove more costly than the problem itself.
“We need to get very careful legislation. In some ways, we can use the European Union as a good example of how not to do that,” Lomborg, a native of Denmark, said, pointing to the EU’s 29 different carbon taxes in effect. “They have managed to make an incredibly inefficient climate program.”
Lomborg said he had “good estimates” that said EU costs were at least twice what they needed to be. He advised members of the committee to think about whether it was best to act now or wait and allow better technologies to develop that would make climate change easier to solve.
“There’s not just costs from inaction, there’s also costs from action, and we need to make sure that we make smart decisions . . . that will actually make us better off,” Lomborg said.
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