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Senate Panel: Climate Change Could Create Security Crisis

The effects of global climate change, including severe droughts, excessive sea level rise, erratic storm behavior, deteriorating glaciers, pestilence and shifts in agriculture ranges, could increase instability and lead to conflict in already fragile regions of the world, witnesses said during a hearing of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations in Washington, DC, last Tuesday.

Those effects could result in water wars, crop failures, famine, disease and mass migration, according to former committee member John Warner, who told senators climate change could further lead to failed nations, extremism and an increased threat of terrorism. Climate change is a "threat multiplier" that makes existing problems even worse, Warner said.

"Delaying action on global climate change will exacerbate these threat-multiplying effects and will cost the U.S. more in the long run," said Warner, a Republican who represented Virginia in the Senate for 30 years.

The United States must take a leadership role in an effort to have all nations commit to economywide emissions targets, even if that policy is not practical in the midst of the current global economic crunch, Warner said.

"Our international position must be to encourage developing nations to adopt a framework of policy commitments for a national program. These commitments could include sustainable forestry, renewable energy and other programs that achieve emission reductions...to foster early international participation, our domestic climate change program must provide for robust international offsets. Until advanced technologies become commercially available, we must take advantage of low-cost, readily available emission reduction opportunities wherever they are, which today often means in other countries.

"International offsets provide the best chance to slow tropical deforestation and are a critical component of our domestic challenge to reduce compliance costs...by purchasing emission reductions made abroad, U.S. companies save money, save jobs and foster critical relationships in developing nations," Warner said.

Dennis McGinn, a member of the CNA Military Advisory Board, said achieving energy security in a carbon-constrained world will require moving away from fossil fuels, diversifying the nation's energy portfolio with low-carbon alternatives and a price on carbon. "Perhaps most importantly, it requires action now," McGinn said.

Last year climate change legislation (S. 3036) sponsored by Warner and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) failed in the Senate (see NGI, June 9, 2008). The Senate measure proposed cutting carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gas emissions from affected industries -- such as power plants, refineries and transportation sources -- to 19% below current levels by 2020, and to approximately 70% below current levels by 2050. The legislation would have limited the amount of CO2 that affected industries could emit and would have set up a program for trading allowances.

"When I testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee earlier this year, I suggested that climate legislation should incorporate a specific role -- equal to other departments and agencies -- to the Department of Defense and the intelligence agencies...looking back, we should have included such language in the Lieberman-Warner bill. We could have garnered more support. A reasonable objective analysis of polling data today shows that the American public is motivated toward action on climate change by the likelihood that more jobs will be created and our national security strengthened," Warner said.

In addition to the Foreign Relations Committee, Warner said the Senate Armed Services and Intelligence committees should be invited to look at climate change legislation being considered by Congress.

While climate change "poses a clear and present danger" to the United States, there could still be an upside to the issue, according to Lee Gunn, president of American Security Project.

"If we respond appropriately, I believe we will enhance our security, not simply by averting the worst climate change impacts, but by spurring a new energy revolution," Gunn said. A recent report from the CNA Military Advisory Board concluded that national security, linked to energy security and economic growth, can be achieved by taking action now to avert the worst consequences of climate change, he said.

Even if major polluters China and India refuse to accept carbon emission-reduction targets, unilateral efforts by the United States to cut emissions would make a significant difference in global warming, Obama administration officials told a Senate committee earlier this month (see Power Market Today, July 8). Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) called that hearing the "kick-off of [a] historic Senate effort" on the issue of climate change.

Boxer said she would use the recently passed House cap-and-trade bill (see NGI, June 29) as a foundation for a legislative proposal in the Senate; Boxer subsequently pushed back her timeline for completing mark-up on climate change legislation to early September (see NGI, July 13). Republicans have since responded with an alternative plan that calls for the construction of 100 new nuclear power plants over the next two decades; increased offshore oil and natural gas exploration; electric vehicles; and the doubling of research to make renewable energy cost-competitive (see NGI, July 20).

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