US Lagging Behind On Climate Change Legislation

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Originally published on ThinkProgress.
By Rebecca Lefton.

Out of 66 countries representing 88 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, 61 of them have legislation aimed at cutting carbon pollution and promoting clean energy sources, according to an annual audit of climate change legislation released Thursday. The bad news? None of the bills in the United States include targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Hurricane Sandy.
Image Credit: NASA Earth Observatory image by Jesse Allen, using Suomi NPP VIIRS data provided by Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies (CIMSS).

Countries addressing climate change are doing so because it is their national interests, the GLOBE Climate Legislation Study found, a collaboration between the Globe International and the London School of Economics. In addition to reducing the threat posed by unchecked greenhouse gases, nations are benefiting from improved energy security as a result of decreased reliance on imported fossil fuels, costs savings from enhanced energy efficiency, and stronger economic competitiveness.

The GLOBE study is a call to legislators to implement climate change-related legislation that will yield similar benefits. “We need an international movement to pass climate legislation, and nowhere is that movement needed more than here in the United States,” said U.S. Senator Edward Markey (D-MA). “The GLOBE study shows legislators around the world are taking active steps to develop significant national legislation and I urge colleagues here in the United States to acknowledge the movement and take action.”

Aside from modest legislation aimed at increasing clean energy sources, the U.S. does not have a comprehensive climate change law.

On Thursday, Markey hosted more than 100 international legislators to showcase the need for domestic action in forming an international climate agreement. In response to the study, the Global Legislators Organization supported by the United Nations and the World Bank Group launched The Partnership for Climate Legislation to help legislators develop and implement climate change laws through best practice sharing, as well as by providing policy, technical, and legal capacity.

The report underscores that climate change is an international problem requiring national and subnational actions that provide a foundation for a global climate. As Todd Stern, U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change, said during the 2013 U.N. climate negotiations in Warsaw, climate change is “first and foremost a quintessentially a global problem,” but “you can’t ever forget that the most important locus of action on climate change is at the national level.” The question remains how national laws can be recognized within a 2015 international climate change agreement that countries decided to create during 2011 U.N. climate talks in Durban, South Africa.

Though the report demonstrates that a great deal of action is already occurring at the country-level, collectively, it warns that these actions are not sufficient to avoid dangerous global warming. This is consistent with other analyses finding that the sum of national efforts fall short. The United Nations says that there is an 8-12 gigatons of CO2 equivalent gap between countries’ current climate pollution pledges through 2020 and what is necessary to keep us on a path to limiting temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius — the level scientists caution is necessary to avoid disastrous impacts of climate change.

Across the globe impacts of global warming already are being harshly felt, driving the development of legislation or policies to improve resilience in 52 of the countries analyzed by the authors.

“Climate action is happening in legislatures around the globe because climate change is harming countries and their people around the globe,” said Markey.

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