Scientists, economists press for US pollution cuts

President BushWASHINGTON (AFP) – Scientists and economists urged the United States Thursday to pass laws to cut greenhouse gases, as the Senate prepared to debate a sweeping climate change bill that is opposed by the White House.

Highlighting the US failure to enact federal laws to cut greenhouse gas emissions, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) issued a statement signed by 1,700 experts calling for “swift and deep cuts.”

“The longer we wait, the harder and more costly it will be to limit climate change,” said the statement, which calls for a reduction in US emissions of 80 percent below 2000 levels by 2050.

“The first step on this path should be reductions on the order of 15-20 percent below 2000 levels by 2020, which is achievable and consistent with sound economic policy.”

The statement was released ahead of a debate in the Senate Monday on environmental legislation known as the Lieberman-Warner bill, after sponsors Senator John Warner and Joe Lieberman. President George W. Bush opposes it.

The bill calls for a “cap and trade” system that would make it more expensive for industries to pollute while providing cash incentives to companies that are environmentally friendly.

Lexi Schultz, deputy director of the climate program at UCS, called the bill “more comprehensive and more thorough than any climate policy ever put forth.”

UCS director of science and policy Peter Frumhoff said the statement “does not explicitly point to any piece of policy” but that “the core purpose … is to ensure that the debate in Congress is informed” by top economic and scientific experts.

Bush last month called for a voluntary target of cutting the growth of US greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 and opposes the Lieberman-Warner legislation on the basis it would be “bad for the economy,” his spokeswoman Dana Perino has said.

The UCS countered that “voluntary initiatives to date have proven insufficient” and said a “strong US commitment to reduce emissions is essential to drive international climate progress.”

One of the statement’s signatories, James McCarthy, professor of Biological Oceanography at Harvard University and president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said policies must be enacted to set the United States, one of the world’s largest polluters, on the right path as soon as possible.

“The changes now occurring are more rapid than thought likely,” McCarthy said.

“Each year in the past decade we have seen new extremes,” he said. “We live now in a world of climate surprises and we have to take action.”

The United States has “made no serious effort to contribute to the solution. We need to re-engage with US leadership,” McCarthy said.

Pointing to the high costs of global warming, economist Geoff Heal told reporters that tackling climate change could “pay back 10 times what it costs.”

“The cost of preventing climate change in terms of policy is generally agreed (by economists) to be 1-2 percent of US GDP,” while the projected costs of continuing on the current path are “10-20 percent of GDP,” he said.

Some of the most costly ramifications of global warming in the United States include “extreme events” such as massive hurricanes and floods, the risk to infrastructure by a potential rise in sea level and the spread of disease, he said.

The UCS statement highlighted the European Union’s commitment to “limiting global warming to no more than two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels,” and said scientists should regularly re-evaluate this goal.

“All nations must commit to a goal designed to limit further harm,” it said.

“The most risky thing we can do is nothing.”