President, World Resources Institute
U.S. House of Representatives
Committee on Energy and Commerce
January 15, 2009
Mr. Chairman, distinguished members of the Committee, good morning and thank you
for inviting me to testify today as a member of the United States Climate Action
Partnership (US CAP), I am Jonathan Lash, President of the World Resources Institute.
The World Resources Institute is a non-profit, non-partisan environmental think tank that
goes beyond research to provide practical solutions to the world’s most urgent
environment and development challenges. We work in partnership with scientists,
businesses, governments, and non-governmental organizations in more than seventy
countries to provide information, tools and analysis to address problems like climate
change, and the degradation of ecosystems and their capacity to provide for human
As a proud founding member of USCAP let me start by saying that the US CAP
partnership was designed to support your work. Since we launched our Call for Action
in January of 2007, we have been reaching out to help Congress consider options for
climate policy, we have convened workgroups designed to help ponder questions you
will face, and today we are releasing our Blueprint for Legislative Action. I am
delighted to be here today to continue our joint efforts to support rapid enactment of US
domestic climate policy in 2009.
The need for U.S. climate legislation is urgent. The science is unequivocal, and the
need for a new economy to provide jobs and investment is urgent. US CAP businesses
and non-profits alike agree that this is the moment to redefine the United States and
support the transition to a low carbon economy.
Let me first address the science: everything we thought we knew a few years ago
about climate change has been superseded. All of the trends are proceeding more
quickly than we anticipated. Rising temperatures and the consequent impacts are all
taking place faster than the models predicted. That means that our long-range
projections of what might happen are off. While of course we cannot yet know with
complete certainty what will occur 20 (much less 50) years from now, according to our
best current work, everything is trending to the high end. And the consequences we are
observing today are the product of a mere 0.8 degrees centigrade of warming. Even
very aggressive action will only barely forestall two degrees centigrade of warming. The
science is telling us we have to act with extraordinary urgency – and that our action
must be more than the modest marginal efforts made to date – it must fundamentally
change the course of our energy infrastructure, it must address land use and forestry,
and it must build a regime that can have global effect, not merely address US
WRI annually reviews the latest in climate science. This review confirms the case that
our climate system is changing. For example:
According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), levels of Arctic
sea ice from June through September 2007 were at a record low of 4.13 million
km2.1 In 2008, while there was some modest recovery, the world still saw the
second lowest recorded ice extent since record-keeping began in 1979. Still
more worrisome, the extensive losses during the past two summers have led
scientists to speculate that the Arctic Ocean may be ice-free in the summertime
much sooner than anticipated. Furthermore, in October 2008, scientists reported
that the thickness of winter sea ice plummeted after the 2007 minimum, showing
that the ice pack is not only shrinking but is decreasing in overall volume.2
The British Columbia Ministry of Forests and Range, in their 2007 report on the
mountain pine beetle outbreak,3 show that in 2007, the impacted area had
increased to 13 million hectares (from 4.2 million hectares in 2003). Mountain
pine beetles prefer mature lodgepole pines and while they typically die off with
cold snaps, warmer temperatures in the region have allowed them to persist.
They cut off the nutrient and water supply of the trees by burrowing in trees’ bark.
The Ministry finds that 40% of merchantable pine volume – 12% of total
merchantable volume on the timber harvesting land base in British Columbia –
has been impacted from 1999 to 2006. They project that if the pine beetle
outbreak continues at the same pace, it will kill off 78% of the pine volume – 23%
of total merchantable volume on the province’s timber harvesting land base – by
These impacts, and dozens more of the same magnitude with impacts to our oceans
and marine life, to our agriculture systems – and in particular with an impact on the
world’s poorest and most needy, are harbingers of the future in a climate changed world
that seems to be upon us much sooner than anticipated. And every year the list of
damages and ecosystems in danger continues to grow. Nature and our economies are
linked. But nature does not do bailouts.
If the science calls for urgency, our economy is equally in need of quick remedies.
USCAP recognizes that the United States faces an urgent need to reinvigorate our
nation’s economy, make the country more energy secure, and take meaningful action to
slow, stop and reverse GHG emissions to address climate change. Thoughtful and
comprehensive national energy and climate policy will help secure our economic
prosperity and provide American businesses and the nation’s workforce with the
opportunity to innovate and succeed.
The U.S. needs legislation that is fast, fair and builds future value. We need legislation
that jump-starts the economy and creates a signal to investors to put their money into
the transition to a low carbon future. We must set the nation on a new course
immediately to deliver economic and climate results, provide benefits to all, and prepare
us for the next generation of technological competitiveness. I believe this includes
promote energy efficiency in buildings and homes,
modernize the nation's electric grid, making it "smarter" and allowing it to
facilitate new, more efficient technologies and renewable energy,
stimulate a variety of low-carbon sources of electricity,
demonstrate and deploy carbon capture and storage for coal-fired power
plants and other large stationary sources,
encourage greater use of less carbon-intensive forms of transportation and
improve the efficiency of our transportation system.
US CAP supports enactment of an economy-wide, market-driven approach which
includes a well-crafted cap-and-trade program that places specified limits on GHG
emissions. The program should contain cost-containment measures, complementary
policies and measures to supplement the cap-and-trade program, and a fully funded
federal technology research, development, demonstration, and deployment program for
climate-friendly technologies. Properly designed legislation will encourage innovation,
enhance America’s energy security, foster economic growth, improve our balance of
trade, and provide critically needed U.S. leadership on this vital global challenge.
Business needs regulatory certainty to begin a fundamental transformation akin to a
new industrial revolution.
I believe that if we do not create domestic markets for advanced technologies, other
countries will be serving the global markets of tomorrow. The world wants the efficient,
clean technologies that U.S. business can provide if a long term program is in place to
drive innovation. The world is looking to the U.S. to resume its place on the global
stage – and this includes engaging developed and developing countries alike on issues
such as technology transformation and adaptation. The U.S. must act domestically and
must fully engage in the international negotiations to support action by other countries
through a global agreement. But U.S. action can not be contingent on action by other
countries, since we are the largest historical contributor to the increases in temperatures
and greenhouse gas concentrations we are experiencing today.
Recent debate surrounding the crafting of an economic stimulus package early in the
111th Congress has included discussion of such a package of clean energy
investments. We agree that such efforts can and should be taken as early as possible.
Additionally, a central tenet of our Call for Action is that in order to effect the change
needed throughout the economy, an economy-wide cap-and-trade system is essential.
When combined with complementary measures, the resulting new vision and policy
direction will spur the innovation through which America has always excelled. When
given the proper tools, incentives and market signals, the American entrepreneurial
spirit will lead to sustainability solutions required to meet our many economic, energy,
environmental and national security challenges.
We recognize the challenge facing this Committee in crafting comprehensive climate
change legislation and we very much hope that the Committee will call upon our unique
partnership to help sort through these complexities. The need to begin the
transformation of our economy to a sustainable, secure, low-carbon future is compelling
and timely; indeed, this will only become more difficult, and more costly, if Congress
Since 2007, US CAP has provided Congress with international principles and more
detailed information on the topics of cost containment, energy efficiency, geologic
carbon storage technologies and a greenhouse gas registry. Further, our diverse and
broad-based coalition has and will continue to serve as a sounding board for policymakers
as they contemplate legislative options.
USCAP is committed to helping Congress find environmentally sound, workable, cost-effective
approaches to climate change. We believe that path forward exists and that
we must embark on the journey with deliberate speed. Representing many sectors of
the economy, we believe we are in the unique position to work with the President-elect,
Congress and all other stakeholders to enact an environmentally effective, economically
sustainable and fair climate change program. We look forward to working with the
Committee in the 111th Congress to ensure prompt enactment of national climate