TO: President Barack Obama
DATE: April 12, 2012
RE: Recommendations for Executive Action on Climate Change
Introduction and Summary
Chapter One of the National Research Council’s report, entitled America’s Climate Choices, begins with the following: “The United States lacks an overarching national strategy to respond to climate change.”1 The report recommends that the U.S. address this policy problem (in essence, a problem of omission) in part through a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.2 The U.S. is theoretically already moving toward this goal. In the wake of the 2009 Copenhagen Accord, the administration set the target of a 17 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions below 2005 levels by 2020.3 Yet Congressional action (e.g., a cap-and-trade system, carbon tax) is just as unlikely in the future 113th Congress as in the current incarnation. Given this Congressional recalcitrance, this memo will serve to outline options that the administration can enact via its executive authority to meet the nation’s reduction commitments.
Possible executive actions include encouraging the Environmental Protection Agency to enact further regulations regarding greenhouse gas emitters, the use of the General
National Research Council. America's Climate Choices . Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2011: p. 7. http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=12781 2
America’s Climate Choices. Summary p. 2
America’s Climate Choices. p. 11-12
Services Administration to purchase a “green” vehicle fleet, and using existing climate treaties and laws to diminish greenhouse gas emissions. The administration will ideally begin to implement these recommendations during the first six months of 2013 – thus taking advantage of its renewed political mandate in the wake of the November 2012 presidential re-election. While ultimately the administration should explore all three options, the third alternative – using extant international agreements and domestic laws to combat pollutants that contribute to the greenhouse effect – holds the fewest drawbacks.
Scientific consensus states that human activity is a major factor contributing toward the warming of the planet. The Earth’s temperature rose almost 1 degree Celsius over the past 100 years as a result of activities such as heavy industry and the use of automobiles. This warming is caused by the preponderance of greenhouse gases (e.g., carbon dioxide, methane) that trap heat in the Earth’s atmosphere.4 If unchecked this temperature increase could lead to droughts, food shortages, longer fire seasons, and a rise in worldwide sea levels.5
Following the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009, the United States and several other nations agreed to work toward preventing an overall world temperature increase of 2 degrees Celsius.6 The American Security and Clean Energy Act, passed by the House of Representatives in June 2009, would have gone a long way toward meeting this goal by
America’s Climate Choices p. 16
America’s Climate Choices p. 18
America’s Climate Choices p. 11
lowering U.S. emissions by 17 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050.7 Yet the bill stalled in the Senate and expired at the end of the legislative session. Congress’s reluctance to enact is a reflection of the American public’s indifference toward the climate change issue. An April 2011 survey by Gallup found that 47 percent of Americans – the highest in the percentage in the world – blame natural causes for global warming instead of human activity.8 Thus, there does not exist a strong incentive for Congressional representatives to pass laws the reduce emissions because there is not an equivalent push by their constituents. This reality lends further credence to the notion that the White House must take executive action in this policy area.
The simple “do nothing” option, while applicable in many policy scenarios, is not viable...
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