EPA Bolsters Argument for Global Action on Climate Change in Report on Costs, Benefits

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By Anthony Adragna and Andrew Childers

June 22 — The Environmental Protection Agency bolstered its case for global action to address climate change in a June 22 report that details the benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The report, “Climate Change in the United States: Benefits of Global Action,” looks at the benefits of global greenhouse gas mitigation across water resources, electricity, infrastructure, public health, agriculture and forestry and ecosystems and details the risks of failure to act. The data were collected as part of the EPA's ongoing Climate Change Impacts and Risk Analysis project.

“Left unchecked, climate change threatens our health, our infrastructure and the outdoors we love, but more importantly the report shows that global climate action to cut carbon pollution will save lives, it will reduce the damages and it will avoid costs,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy told reporters at a White House briefing. “It’s really not too late to avoid the worst impacts of climate—which is a very hopeful sign—but it really relies on us taking action soon and making that action significant.”

Both the report methodology and the scientific underpinnings were peer-reviewed, officials said. The EPA developed the report in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Pacific Northwest National Lab, National Renewable Energy Laboratory and other organizations.

Taking action to keep global temperature increases below 2 degrees Celsius would prevent 57,000 deaths from poor air quality in 2100, the report said. Taking action on climate change could also avoid $110 billion in lost labor due to rising temperatures in 2100.

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions could also benefit the power sector, the report said, saving the industry between $10 billion and $34 billion in costs by 2050. Climate mitigation could also reduce coastal property damage from sea level rise from $5 trillion through 2100 to $810 billion.

The report comes on the second anniversary of President Barack Obama's climate action plan, which directed federal agencies to take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As the centerpiece of that plan, the EPA in August will finalize carbon dioxide emissions standards for both new (RIN 2060–AQ91) and existing (RIN 2060-AR33) power plants. 

The report does not evaluate the benefits and costs of any specific greenhouse gas mitigation strategy or adaptation policies.

Administration Focuses on Paris 

Brian Deese, senior adviser to the president, said the White House would host a summit June 23 and events throughout this week on the impact of climate change on public health.

The Obama administration has been ratcheting up its calls for international action ahead of formal high-level negotiations in Paris from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11 where countries are expected to reach an international agreement to address climate change. The product of those talks is not expected to be a treaty, which would be subject to Senate ratification, and Deese defended the administration’s approach.

“We feel comfortable and confident that we have the authority that we need to get this done,” Deese said.

The U.S. has pledged to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by between 26 percent to 28 percent by 2025 from 2005 levels. 

Deese said those types of reductions were possible through the executive actions already announced under Obama’s climate action plan.

“The 26 to 28 percent [goal] is predicated on implementing the president’s climate action plan and we believe that is achievable with the existing authorities and the existing tools that we have,” Deese said. “So there is a not an assumption of some future action beyond those actions that we’ve identified but it assumes that we execute the slate of actions that we’ve laid out.”

Critics of the Obama administration’s plan for tackling climate change have said the 26 percent to 28 percent reduction goal is not realistic and doubt the U.S. can achieve such reductions within such a short time period.

To contact the reporters on this story: Anthony Adragna in Washington at aadragna@bna.com and Andrew Childers in Washington at achilders@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com