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Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2010. Limiting the Magnitude of Future Climate Change. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12785.
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Limiting the Magnitude of Future Climate Change

America’s Climate Choices Panel on Limiting the Magnitude of Climate Change

Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate

Division on Earth and Life Studies

NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL
OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES

THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS

Washington, D.C.
www.nap.edu

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2010. Limiting the Magnitude of Future Climate Change. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12785.
×

THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS
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NOTICE: The project that is the subject of this report was approved by the Governing Board of the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The members of the committee responsible for the report were chosen for their special competences and with regard for appropriate balance.

This study was supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration under contract number DG133R08CQ0062, TO# 4. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the sponsoring agency or any of its subagencies.

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Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2010. Limiting the Magnitude of Future Climate Change. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12785.
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THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES

Advisers to the Nation on Science, Engineering, and Medicine


The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit, self-perpetuating society of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific and engineering research, dedicated to the furtherance of science and technology and to their use for the general welfare. Upon the authority of the charter granted to it by the Congress in 1863, the Academy has a mandate that requires it to advise the federal government on scientific and technical matters. Dr. Ralph J. Cicerone is president of the National Academy of Sciences.


The National Academy of Engineering was established in 1964, under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences, as a parallel organization of outstanding engineers. It is autonomous in its administration and in the selection of its members, sharing with the National Academy of Sciences the responsibility for advising the federal government. The National Academy of Engineering also sponsors engineering programs aimed at meeting national needs, encourages education and research, and recognizes the superior achievements of engineers. Dr. Charles M. Vest is president of the National Academy of Engineering.


The Institute of Medicine was established in 1970 by the National Academy of Sciences to secure the services of eminent members of appropriate professions in the examination of policy matters pertaining to the health of the public. The Institute acts under the responsibility given to the National Academy of Sciences by its congressional charter to be an adviser to the federal government and, upon its own initiative, to identify issues of medical care, research, and education. Dr. Harvey V. Fineberg is president of the Institute of Medicine.


The National Research Council was organized by the National Academy of Sciences in 1916 to associate the broad community of science and technology with the Academy’s purposes of furthering knowledge and advising the federal government. Functioning in accordance with general policies determined by the Academy, the Council has become the principal operating agency of both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering in providing services to the government, the public, and the scientific and engineering communities. The Council is administered jointly by both Academies and the Institute of Medicine. Dr. Ralph J. Cicerone and Dr. Charles M. Vest are chair and vice chair, respectively, of the National Research Council.


www.national-academies.org

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AMERICA’S CLIMATE CHOICES: PANEL ON LIMITING THE MAGNITUDE OF FUTURE CLIMATE CHANGE

ROBERT W. FRI (Chair),

Resources for the Future, Washington, D.C.

MARILYN A. BROWN (Vice Chair),

Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta

DOUG ARENT,

National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Golden, Colorado

ANN CARLSON,

University of California, Los Angeles

MAJORA CARTER,

Majora Carter Group, LLC, Bronx, New York

LEON CLARKE,

Joint Global Change Research Institute (Pacific Northwest National Laboratory/University of Maryland), College Park, Maryland

FRANCISCO DE LA CHESNAYE,

Electric Power Research Institute, Washington, D.C.

GEORGE C. EADS,

Charles River Associates, Washington, D.C.

GENEVIEVE GIULIANO,

University of Southern California, Los Angeles

ANDREW HOFFMAN,

University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

ROBERT O. KEOHANE,

Princeton University, New Jersey

LOREN LUTZENHISER,

Portland State University, Oregon

BRUCE MCCARL,

Texas A&M University, College Station

MACK MCFARLAND,

DuPont, Wilmington, Delaware

MARY D. NICHOLS,

California Air Resources Board, Sacramento

EDWARD S. RUBIN,

Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

THOMAS H. TIETENBERG,

Colby College (retired), Waterville, Maine

JAMES A. TRAINHAM,

RTI International, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina

NRC Staff

LAURIE GELLER, Study Director

ALAN CRANE, Senior Program Officer

TOM MENZIES, Senior Program Officer

KATIE WELLER, Research Associate

SHELLY FREELAND, Senior Program Assistant

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Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2010. Limiting the Magnitude of Future Climate Change. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12785.
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Foreword: About America’s Climate Choices

Convened by the National Research Council in response to a request from Congress (P.L. 110-161), America’s Climate Choices is a suite of five coordinated activities designed to study the serious and sweeping issues associated with global climate change, including the science and technology challenges involved, and to provide advice on the most effective steps and most promising strategies that can be taken to respond.


The Committee on America’s Climate Choices is responsible for providing overall direction, coordination, and integration of the America’s Climate Choices suite of activities and ensuring that these activities provide well-supported, action-oriented, and useful advice to the nation. The committee convened a Summit on America’s Climate Choices on March 30–31, 2009, to help frame the study and provide an opportunity for high-level input on key issues. The committee is also charged with writing a final report that builds on four panel reports and other sources to answer the following four overarching questions:

  • What short-term actions can be taken to respond effectively to climate change?

  • What promising long-term strategies, investments, and opportunities could be pursued to respond to climate change?

  • What are the major scientific and technological advances needed to better understand and respond to climate change?

  • What are the major impediments (e.g., practical, institutional, economic, ethical, intergenerational, etc.) to responding effectively to climate change, and what can be done to overcome these impediments?

The Panel on Limiting the Magnitude of Future Climate Change was charged to describe, analyze, and assess strategies for reducing the net future human influence on climate. This report focuses on actions to reduce domestic greenhouse gas emissions and other human drivers of climate change, such as changes in land use, but also considers the international dimensions of climate stabilization.


The Panel on Adapting to the Impacts of Climate Change was charged to describe, analyze, and assess actions and strategies to reduce vulnerability, increase adaptive

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capacity, improve resiliency, and promote successful adaptation to climate change in different regions, sectors, systems, and populations. The panel’s report draws on a wide range of sources and case studies to identify lessons learned from past experiences, promising current approaches, and potential new directions.


The Panel on Advancing the Science of Climate Change was charged to provide a concise overview of past, present, and future climate change, including its causes and its impacts, and to recommend steps to advance our current understanding, including new observations, research programs, next-generation models, and the physical and human assets needed to support these and other activities. The panel’s report focuses on the scientific advances needed both to improve our understanding of the integrated human-climate system and to devise more effective responses to climate change.


The Panel on Informing Effective Decisions and Actions Related to Climate Change was charged to describe and assess different activities, products, strategies, and tools for informing decision makers about climate change and helping them plan and execute effective, integrated responses. The panel’s report describes the different types of climate change-related decisions and actions being taken at various levels and in different sectors and regions; it develops a framework, tools, and practical advice for ensuring that the best available technical knowledge about climate change is used to inform these decisions and actions.


America’s Climate Choices builds on an extensive foundation of previous and ongoing work, including National Research Council reports, assessments from other national and international organizations, the current scientific literature, climate action plans by various entities, and other sources. More than a dozen boards and standing committees of the National Research Council were involved in developing the study, and many additional groups and individuals provided additional input during the study process. Outside viewpoints were also obtained via public events and workshops (including the Summit), invited presentations at committee and panel meetings, and comments received through the study website, http://americasclimatechoices.org.


Collectively, the America’s Climate Choices suite of activities involves more than 90 volunteers from a range of communities including academia, various levels of government, business and industry, other nongovernmental organizations, and the international community. Responsibility for the final content of each report rests solely with the authoring panel and the National Research Council. However, the development of each report included input from and interactions with members of all five study groups; the membership of each group is listed in Appendix A.

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2010. Limiting the Magnitude of Future Climate Change. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12785.
×

Preface

Tackling climate change promises to be one of the most significant social and technological challenges of the 21st century. Since the industrial revolution, the atmosphere has been one of the world’s principal waste repositories because it has offered an easy and inexpensive means of managing unwanted by-products. It is currently absorbing a net gain of two parts per million of CO2 per year as the result of global emissions, and the world’s leading scientists believe that this change in atmospheric composition is changing the global climate.


This report focuses on actions available to the United States to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The goal of actually limiting1 global climate change requires international cooperation, since most of this century’s emissions will come from developing countries, with U.S. emissions representing a shrinking portion of the total. Thus, our national strategy must promote domestic actions while at the same time influencing the rest of the world to control their emissions.


The United States has successfully reduced emissions of several key atmospheric pollutants—including SO2, NOX, and particulates—through the Clean Air Act. The creation of a market for SO2 allowances, in conjunction with performance standards and a cap on emissions, provided strong incentives for entrepreneurs to develop lower-cost SO2 abatement technologies and approaches, and is one of the past century’s greatest environmental policy successes. Emissions of most GHGs, however, remain largely unregulated and continue to be discharged without penalty, through smokestacks, tailpipes, and chimneys, and by the destruction of forests. With no price on carbon, or regulatory pressure, there exist few incentives to mitigate emissions. Thus, we continue to “lock in” incumbent technologies and systems that are typically carbon-intensive. Changing these practices will require scientific and engineering genius to create new energy systems that avoid emitting all but a small fraction of today’s GHGs while simultaneously powering global economic growth. Success will also necessitate institutional, economic, social, and policy innovations to foster the widespread and rapid deployment of transformational technologies.

1

The term “limiting” climate change rather than “mitigation” of climate change was deliberately chosen, because in some circles, mitigation often refers to mitigating the impacts of climate change, that is, adaptation (the focus of another America’s Climate Choices panel report). Our focus is on limiting the main drivers of climate change (i.e., greenhouse gas emissions), with the expectation that this will contribute to limiting climate change itself.

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2010. Limiting the Magnitude of Future Climate Change. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12785.
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In this study, the panel was charged with describing, analyzing, and assessing strategies for reducing the future human influence on climate (see full Statement of Task in Appendix B). We considered both existing and emerging technologies, as well as existing and innovative new policies. Technologies and policies were assessed according to their scale of impact, cost, feasibility, and other critical factors, with the assistance of a set of guiding principles. Based on these factors and principles, the panel was able to recommend a short list of options that appear to be most important for significantly reducing GHG emissions.


There are numerous important issues closely related to the topic of limiting climate change that are not addressed here. This report does not, for instance,

  • describe the scientific evidence for why climate change is real and being driven largely by human influences and why this poses a serious threat to humans and ecosystems;

  • identify the impacts that may result from not taking sufficient action to limit climate change and the vulnerability of different populations and regions to those impacts;

  • analyze the economic impacts of acting versus not acting to limit climate change (i.e., cost-benefit analyses);

  • discuss “solar radiation management” geoengineering strategies;

  • explore (in any considerable depth) the scientific research needed for improving our understanding of climate change and the specific types of technological research and development needed for reducing emissions; or

  • examine strategies for improving education and communication about climate change with the general public and the media.

Many of these issues are addressed in the other America’s Climate Choices panel reports (Advancing the Science of Climate Change, Adapting to the Impacts of Climate Change, Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change), and/or will be addressed in the final report of the ACC main committee.


This study began at a time when the United States and countries around the world were actively debating options for addressing global climate change. It is particularly timely, therefore, that the National Research Council has taken on this task; in doing so, we were fortunate to engage a panel of experts with a diversity of backgrounds—including, for instance, physical scientists, social scientists, economists, engineers, community organizers, lawyers, and executives of nongovernmental organizations. This broad-based group of experts proved capable of resolving many opposing viewpoints that at first blush might have seemed irreconcilable. Their active involvement and commitment to producing a useful report is greatly appreciated.

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2010. Limiting the Magnitude of Future Climate Change. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12785.
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The panel approached its task by conducting its own review of the literature and by supplementing the panel members’ expertise with informational briefings on key topics from outside authorities. In particular, we wish to thank Jonathan Black, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee; Rachel Cleetus and Steve Clemmer, Union of Concerned Scientists; Ana Unruh Cohen, House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming; Robert Marlay, Climate Change Technology Program, U.S. Department of Energy; W. David Montgomery, CRA International; Bill Parton, Colorado State University; Robert Pollin, University of Massachusetts, Amherst; and Michael Ryan, USDA Forest Service.


We are particularly grateful for the assistance provided by Laurie Geller, who managed this panel study for the National Research Council. Her unflagging persistence, upbeat attitude, regular communications, and writing and editing assistance helped keep the panel on schedule. She received considerable assistance from Tom Menzies, Alan Crane, and Paul Stern, who were important sounding boards as the panel’s ideas were being formulated. We also thank Shelly Freeland, who managed the logistics of our meetings, and Katie Weller, who supported the preparation of the final manuscript.


Bob Fri (Chair) and Marilyn Brown (Vice Chair)

America’s Climate Choices: Panel on Limiting the Magnitude of Future Climate Change

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Acknowledgments

This report has been reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for their diverse perspectives and technical expertise, in accordance with procedures approved by the National Research Council’s (NRC’s) Report Review Committee. The purpose of this independent review is to provide candid and critical comments that will assist the institution in making its published report as sound as possible and to ensure that the report meets institutional standards for objectivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the study charge. The review comments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the deliberative process. We wish to thank the following individuals for their review of this report:


PAUL DECOTIS, Long Island Power Authority

PETER FRUMHOFF, Union of Concerned Scientists

ARNULF GRUBLER, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis

HENRY JACOBY, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

ROGER KASPERSON, Clark University

FRANZ LITZ, World Resources Institute

WILLIAM NORDHAUS, Yale University

MICHAEL OPPENHEIMER, Princeton University

ROBERT POLLIN, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

MAXINE SAVITZ, Honeywell, Inc. (retired)

RICHARD SCHMALENSEE, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

ROBERT SOCOLOW, Princeton University

BJORN STIGSON, World Business Council for Sustainable Development

MICHAEL VANDENBERGH, Vanderbilt University

DAVID VICTOR, Stanford University


Although the reviewers listed above have provided many constructive comments and suggestions, they were not asked to endorse the conclusions or recommendations nor did they see the final draft of the report before its release. The review of this report was overseen by Robert Frosch (Harvard University) and Tom Graedel (Yale University). Appointed by the NRC, they were responsible for making certain that an independent examination of this report was carried out in accordance with institutional procedures and that all review comments were carefully considered. Responsibility for the final content of this report rests entirely with the authoring panel and the institution.

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2010. Limiting the Magnitude of Future Climate Change. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12785.
×

Institutional oversight for this project was provided by:

BOARD ON ATMOSPHERIC SCIENCES AND CLIMATE

ANTONIO J. BUSALACCHI, JR. (Chair), University of Maryland, College Park

ROSINA M. BIERBAUM, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

RICHARD CARBONE, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado

WALTER F. DABBERDT, Vaisala, Inc., Boulder, Colorado

KIRSTIN DOW, University of South Carolina, Columbia

GREG S. FORBES, The Weather Channel, Inc., Atlanta, Georgia

ISAAC HELD, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Princeton, New Jersey

ARTHUR LEE, Chevron Corporation, San Ramon, California

RAYMOND T. PIERREHUMBERT, University of Chicago, Illinois

KIMBERLY PRATHER, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, California

KIRK R. SMITH, University of California, Berkeley

JOHN T. SNOW, University of Oklahoma, Norman

THOMAS H. VONDER HAAR, Colorado State University/CIRA, Fort Collins

XUBIN ZENG, University of Arizona, Tucson

Ex Officio Members

GERALD A. MEEHL, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado

NRC Staff

CHRIS ELFRING, Director

LAURIE GELLER, Senior Program Officer

IAN KRAUCUNAS, Senior Program Officer

EDWARD DUNLEA, Senior Program Officer

TOBY WARDEN, Program Officer

MARTHA MCCONNELL, Program Officer

MAGGIE WALSER, Associate Program Officer

JOSEPH CASOLA, Postdoctoral Fellow

RITA GASKINS, Administrative Coordinator

KATIE WELLER, Research Associate

LAUREN M. BROWN, Research Assistant

ROB GREENWAY, Program Associate

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2010. Limiting the Magnitude of Future Climate Change. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12785.
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SHELLY FREELAND, Senior Program Assistant

AMANDA PURCELL, Senior Program Assistant

JANEISE STURDIVANT, Program Assistant

RICARDO PAYNE, Program Assistant

SHUBHA BANSKOTA, Financial Associate

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Climate change, driven by the increasing concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, poses serious, wide-ranging threats to human societies and natural ecosystems around the world. The largest overall source of greenhouse gas emissions is the burning of fossil fuels. The global atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, the dominant greenhouse gas of concern, is increasing by roughly two parts per million per year, and the United States is currently the second-largest contributor to global emissions behind China.

Limiting the Magnitude of Future Climate Change, part of the congressionally requested America's Climate Choices suite of studies, focuses on the role of the United States in the global effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The book concludes that in order to ensure that all levels of government, the private sector, and millions of households and individuals are contributing to shared national goals, the United States should establish a "budget" that sets a limit on total domestic greenhouse emissions from 2010-2050. Meeting such a budget would require a major departure from business as usual in the way the nation produces and uses energy-and that the nation act now to aggressively deploy all available energy efficiencies and less carbon-intensive technologies and to develop new ones.

With no financial incentives or regulatory pressure, the nation will continue to rely upon and "lock in" carbon-intensive technologies and systems unless a carbon pricing system is established-either cap-and-trade, a system of taxing emissions, or a combination of the two. Complementary policies are also needed to accelerate progress in key areas: developing more efficient, less carbon-intense energy sources in electricity and transportation; advancing full-scale development of new-generation nuclear power, carbon capture, and storage systems; and amending emissions-intensive energy infrastructure. Research and development of new technologies that could help reduce emissions more cost effectively than current options is also strongly recommended.

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