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The Big Question in U.S.; Does Stopping Global Warming Mean Wrecking The Economy?

Nine U.S. states price carbon through a cap-and-trade system, a market-based approach in which polluters buy permits for each ton of carbon dioxide they emit. California has its own program.

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Students hold banners and posters during a demonstration against climate change in New York, March 15, 2019. VOA

When Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey introduced their Green New Deal resolution, Markey said it would be “the greatest blue-collar job creation program in a generation.”

President Donald Trump, on the other hand, said it would “put millions of Americans out of work.”

Battle lines have been drawn with the first major U.S. proposal to tackle climate change in nearly a decade: Does stopping global warming mean wrecking the economy? Or is failing to act worse?

In the coming months, Voice of America will explore the prospects for salvaging the environment without killing off jobs.

We will meet winners and losers in the energy transition. Our first stop will be in Markey’s home state of Massachusetts, where an energy transition is well underway. We will visit a town where one of the state’s last coal-fired power plants closed, shedding coal jobs but gaining a cutting-edge solar farm. We will see how Massachusetts’ investments in the green economy are paying dividends in jobs and economic growth.

FILE - U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) hold a news conference for their proposed Green New Deal to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in 10 years, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Feb. 7, 2019.
U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) hold a news conference for their proposed Green New Deal to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in 10 years, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Feb. 7, 2019. VOA

Though the Senate has voted down Markey and Ocasio-Cortez’s nonbinding Green New Deal resolution, the proposal has put climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions back on the agenda on Capitol HIll. Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a steadfast opponent of measures to reduce carbon emissions, now acknowledges global warming is a real and human-induced threat.

Trump, by contrast, has called climate change a hoax and sees unfettered production of coal, oil and natural gas as the path to economic expansion.

Graph Showing rate of prevention. VOA
Graph Showing rate of prevention. VOA

Hotter, drier, wetter

Pressure is growing on elected officials to do something. The impacts of climate change are increasingly obvious.

Eight of the 10 hottest years on record have piled up in just the last decade.

Hotter and drier conditions in California helped spread the wildfires that caused $24 billion in damage and claimed 106 lives last year. Those fires broke the record for area burned, a record that was set just the year before.

A warmer atmosphere holds more water, making epic soakers like last year’s Hurricane Florence more likely. That $24 billion disaster followed 2017’s Hurricane Harvey, which did $127.5 billion in damage to Houston and the surrounding areas.

And this is just the beginning. Scientists from 13 government agencies estimated that if emissions remain high, extreme heat would slice $155 billion annually from labor productivity by 2090 as more days are too hot to work. Dwindling water supplies for cities and industries would take a $316 billion toll each year. Annual health care costs for West Nile Virus, just one of several diseases expected to rise with warming temperatures, would be $3 billion higher.

Polls show Americans feel the threat of a changing climate more strongly than ever. Seventy-three percent say global warming is happening, and 62 percent say it is mostly human-caused. Both figures are the highest since the Yale Program on Climate Communication started polling in 2008.

Two-thirds say they are “worried” or “very worried” about global warming. For the first time, that includes a third of conservative Republicans.

The graph showing voters concern.
The graph showing voters concern. VOA

Meanwhile, the federal government is moving in the opposite direction. Trump has moved to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate treaty. His administration is working to loosen Obama administration regulations limiting greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and vehicles.

That has left states, local governments and businesses to fill in the gap. But it will not be easy or cheap.

Pricing pollution

One possible tool: Put a price on the carbon pollution that is causing global warming in the first place.

Raising the price reduces demand for more-polluting fuels and encourages companies and consumers to find cheaper, cleaner alternatives, economists say.

Pricing carbon would also raise revenue that can be returned to taxpayers or invested in reducing emissions.

Participants walk past the main entrance of the One Planet Summit, in Boulogne-Billancourt near Paris, France, Dec. 12, 2017.
Participants walk past the main entrance of the One Planet Summit, in Boulogne-Billancourt near Paris, France, Dec. 12, 2017. VOA
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Nine U.S. states price carbon through a cap-and-trade system, a market-based approach in which polluters buy permits for each ton of carbon dioxide they emit. California has its own program.

And economic growth in these states has continued as greenhouse gas emissions have declined.

“There’s a lot of rhetoric about how a carbon tax or a greenhouse gas tax would wreck the economy,” said Brookings Institution economist Adele Morris. “There’s absolutely no peer-reviewed evidence that supports that assertion.”

But these policies are not politically popular. A national cap-and-trade proposal died in Congress in 2010. Last November, Washington state voters rejected a carbon tax.

And they would not solve the problem on their own. Pledges the United States and others made in Paris will not achieve the ultimate goal of the accord: Keep global warming to “well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.”

That would take a carbon price of at least $40 to $80 per ton, rising to $50 to $100 by 2030, according to a World Bank-backed commission. It’s only about $15 per ton in California, and $5 in the nine-state market.

“There’s an open question whether politically, it’s achievable to hit some of the temperature targets that scientists have recommended,” Morris said. “That’s the conundrum. What’s the willingness to pay (in carbon taxes) of the American electorate? How far can we go before we hit a wall?”

FILE - Kristin Cook, right, of Potomac, Md., joins a rally outside the White House in Washington.
Kristin Cook, right, of Potomac, Md., joins a rally outside the White House in Washington. VOA

Filling the federal vacuum

As Trump moves to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate treaty, many states are moving forward on their own.

Most require power providers to source a percentage of their energy from renewable or zero-carbon sources. Several have recently increased these requirements. New Mexico recently joined California in aiming to be 100 percent renewable by mid-century.

And the private sector is stepping up, as well.

After Trump announced the United States would withdraw from the Paris agreement, more than 2,000 businesses and investors declared that they continue to support the climate accord.

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For investors, Lubber says, the economic risk comes not from fighting climate change.

“If we don’t stop global warming, we wreck the economy,” she said. (VOA)

Next Story

Escalating Consequences of Climate Change Hit Countries Globally

India was ranked fifth vulnerable globally

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Climate
As Climate impacts begin to result in permanent loss and damage across the world, there is still no specific UN climate finance facility to reimburse the loss of land, culture and human lives. Pixabay

The escalating consequences of Climate change are now hitting both rich and poor countries, a report published on Wednesday said. India was ranked fifth vulnerable globally.

The Climate Risk Index 2020, an annual report by Germanwatch, ranks countries according to their vulnerability to extreme weather events.

It was released in the Spanish capital on the sidelines of the 25th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) or COP25 that is being held in the backdrop of climate impact biting globally.

According to the report, India has also been badly affected, ranking fifth in the overall global vulnerability index in 2018, ranked first in terms of fatalities and second in the world in terms of losses in millions of dollars.

India’s overall ranking has drastically fallen from 14th in 2017, to fifth in 2018.

The report shows that extreme weather, linked with climate change, is affecting not only the poorer countries like Myanmar and Haiti, but also some of the world’s richest countries.

Japan is the worst-hit country in 2018, while Germany and Canada were both also in the ‘bottom 10’ i.e. the most affected.

The results reflect the increasing damage caused by heatwaves, which scientists have found are being worsened by climate change.

To explain this drastic fall in ranking in a year, David Eckstein, Policy Advisor (Climate Finance and Investment) with Germanwatch said: “India’s high rank is due to severe rainfall, followed by heavy flooding and landslides that killed over 1,000 people.”

The state of Kerala was especially impacted. The floods were described as the worst in the last 100 years.

Climate
A report shows that extreme weather, linked with climate change, is affecting not only the poorer countries like Myanmar and Haiti, but also some of the world’s richest countries. Pixabay

According to Eckstein, India was struck by two cyclones in October and November 2018 that also nearly killed 1,000 people. Last but not least, India also suffered from extreme heat. While the human death toll was kept considerably low due to public measures, the economic damage was quite severe.

Other countries ranking in the bottom 20 in the overall climate risk categories are the US at 12th, Vietnam at sixth, Bangladesh at seventh and France at 15th.

The report also points to the importance of negotiations at COP25. As climate impacts begin to result in permanent loss and damage across the world, there is still no specific UN climate finance facility to reimburse the loss of land, culture and human lives.

So far, the industrialised countries have refused to even negotiate it.

But at COP25, for the first time, financial support for climate-related loss and damage is high on the agenda.

For the poorest and most vulnerable countries, this climate summit is, therefore, of the utmost importance. They demand that states agree a deal to support those who are suffering, or at least acknowledge the necessity, with a pathway towards real help.

Otherwise the poorest countries will continue to rely on loans to cope with the consequences of climate change, which means they are threatened with excessive debts, undermining often already vulnerable economies.

In the talks that will last till December 13, India has been ambitious in its actions.

Climate
The escalating consequences of Climate change are now hitting both rich and poor countries, a report published on Wednesday said. India was ranked fifth vulnerable globally. Pixabay

It has emphasised that developed countries should take the lead in undertaking ambitious actions and fulfil their climate finance commitments of mobilising $100 billion per annum by 2020 and progressively and substantially scale up their financial support to inform parties for future action through Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

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India is also stressing upon the need for fulfilling the pre-2020 commitments by developed countries, and that pre-2020 implementation gaps should not present an additional burden to developing countries in the post-2020 period.

The Indian delegation will be led by Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar, who is attending the summit from December 9. (IANS)