Politics & Government

New White House climate report: Waiting on action boosts costs dramatically

The cost of waiting to act on climate change would be enormous and would grow rapidly with each passing year, the White House says in a new report coming out Tuesday.

During a week the Obama administration is pushing hard on its climate-change agenda, the president’s Council of Economic Advisers came out with the new report using sophisticated economic models to document the possible cost of delaying any climate change fixes.

The administration has been on the offensive in recent months, talking about climate science and the long-term environmental and economic damage that could result from inaction. Last month, the administration’s Environmental Protection Agency released a new proposed rule that is designed to substantially reduce carbon pollution in the nation – a process that could shutter older coal-fired power plants and spur development of more wind and other alternative energy sources. It requires that states develop plans to lower carbon pollution by specified amounts; the power industry and Republicans in Congress are pushing back hard against the proposal.

This week, the EPA is holding four public hearings on the proposal – in Washington, Atlanta, Denver and Pittsburgh – and expects 1,600 speakers. That’s on top of the 300,000 written comments the proposed rule has thus far received.

The new report seeks to determine how much it will cost the nation in the long-run if it delays making the kind of changes that the White House says need to be made now.

According to the report:

“Delaying climate policies avoids or reduces expenditures on new pollution control technologies in the near term. But this short-term advantage must be set against the disadvantages, which are the costs of delay. The costs of delay are driven by fundamental elements of climate science and economics. Because the lifetime of CO2 in the atmosphere is very long, if a mitigation policy is delayed, it must take as its starting point a higher atmospheric concentration of CO2.”

From there, the report details how delaying could lead to higher costs later, particularly if the climate hits a tipping point that triggers sudden change – such as when an ice sheet’s melting becomes irreversible.

While there is significant uncertainty about when and how quickly some of these changes will happen, “This report makes clear we know way more than enough to justify action today,” Jason Furman, chairman of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers, said in a conference call with reporters Monday. The report concludes that delaying policy actions by a decade will boost the cost of making changes by about 40 percent.

And while there are uncertainties, Furman said those are actually reasons to act now – putting the cost of change in the category of “climate insurance.” Pay now, he said, to protect against the uncertain costs in the future.

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