Since the start of the industrial revolution, carbon dioxide concentrations have risen from about 280 parts per million (ppm) to more than 380 ppm today, and global average temperatures have risen by more than one degree Fahrenheit over the last century.
A growing body of scientific opinion has formed that we face extreme dangers if global average temperatures are allowed to increase by more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit from today’s levels. We may be able to stay within this envelope if atmospheric concentrations of CO2 and other global warming gases are kept from exceeding 450 ppm CO2- equivalent and then rapidly reduced. However, this will require us to halt U.S. emissions growth within the next few years and then cut emissions by approximately 80 percent over the next 50 years.This goal is ambitious, but achievable. It can be done through an annual rate of emissions reductions that ramps up to about a 4 percent reduction per year. But if we delay and emissions continue to grow at or near the business-as-usual trajectory for another 10 years, the job will become much harder. In such a case, the annual emission reduction rate needed to stay on the 450 ppm path would double to 8 percent per year. In short, a slow start means a crash finish, with steeper and more disruptive cuts in emissions required for each year of delay. ...
With every month of delay we lose a piece of that opportunity and commit ourselves to 60 years of emissions. The International Energy Agency (IEA) forecasts that more than 20 trillion dollars will be spent globally on new energy technologies between now and 2030. How this money is invested over the next decade, and whether we will have the proper policies in place to drive investment into cleaner technologies, which can produce energy from zero and low carbon sources, or that can capture and dispose of carbon emissions, will determine whether we can realistically avoid the worst effects of global warming.
In short, we have the solutions—cleaner energy sources, new vehicle technologies and industrial processes and enhanced energy efficiency. We just lack the policy framework to push business investments in the right direction and to get these solutions in the hands of consumers."
—Excerpted from the testimony of Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, before The Subcommittee on Public and Consumer Solutions to Global Warming and Wildlife Protection Committee on Environment and Public Works United States Senate Hearing On America’s Climate Security Act, Oct. 24, 2007