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Climate Protection Policies

Can We Afford to Delay?

This report explains why delaying policy implementation threatens to make climate protection more, not less, costly while also postponing potential benefits from early action.

Executive Summary

This report explains why delaying policy implementation threatens to make climate protection more, not less, costly while also postponing potential benefits from early action.

Findings include:

The costs of delay. More compelling than the fear that early action will cause premature retirement of capital stock is the fact that without early action we will continue to invest in inefficient capital stock too carbon-intensive to be economical in the next century.

The longer we wait, the greater the accumulation of fossil fuel-dependent machinery, equipment and core infrastructure, and the more disruptive and expensive future greenhouse gas reductions will be.

Furthermore, the argument that we should wait until technological advances make greenhouse gas emission reductions cheaper is based on a false premise. Without a clear, immediate policy signal, research and development efforts will continue to focus on fossil fuel-based systems and technologies, rather than in renewable energy and energy efficiency alternatives. As a consequence we will be increasingly locked into technologies that depend on conventional fuels.

Early implementation of economic incentives -- such as a cap and trade policy -- would alter present investment patterns and encourage more rapid development of renewable and energy conservation technologies.

Global implications of delay. Delay by the U.S. will have global implications since other nations, developing countries in particular, are unlikely to take action unless the United States first commits to do so. Without early action by the U.S., greenhouse gas emissions worldwide will continue to rise in both industrialized and developing nations.

Potential early action benefits. Without early action, the potential additional benefits from climate protection policies, such as reduced air pollution and savings from energy efficiency will be lost.

Unfortunately, we have no idea what constitutes a safe long-term concentration of greenhouse gases. However, the longer we delay making reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, the greater the risks of serious and irreversible consequences. Austin's arguments for early action on climate change are compelling.

With world leaders poised to make decisions about how to maintain the health of Earth's climate system, the time to act is now.

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