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 August 24, 2009
A 'Dow Jones' For Climate: The Case for a Warming Index

 With the health care overhaul now consuming Washington, we are once again at risk of seeing the issue of climate change displaced from the national agenda. So, even if the U.S. Senate manages to adhere to its intended schedule by taking up the historic House-passed cap-and-trade bill in September, will the congressional leadership and the president have enough political capital to steer two economy-transforming bills to passage at once?

Many expect any climate change bill that survives this high-stakes moment to be weakened to the point that it will not achieve the scientifically grounded objective of avoiding dangerous global warming. Chief among the concerns is that the bill’s emissions reduction targets won’t be steep enough. After all, the House bill’s targets were weakened by the horse-trading that enabled its passage, and many expect the Senate to weaken them further.

Yet tucked away in the bill is a little-discussed, but ultimately crucial, provision informally referred to as the "scientific look-back." And that measure, strengthened by a nascent idea to create something I call the Global Climate Change Index (GCCI), could put teeth back into the legislation that will limp across the line in Congress.

The so-called look-back provision calls for the Environmental Protection Agency to report to Congress in 2013 on the latest scientific developments and emissions-reducing solutions. The National Academies of Science would review those findings one year later. These reviews would be repeated every four years, assessing whether the U.S. climate program is on track to hit its emissions targets and whether those targets should be altered.

An index could be used to obligate the President to tighten greenhouse gas emissions targets.

The President could then recommend changes to Congress, but given the track record of congressional inaction on this issue, it’s anyone’s guess whether Congress would again act to tighten emissions targets. So the look-back provision, as it now stands, must be substantially strengthened in the bill being debated this fall. Otherwise it will mandate an impressive succession of reports, but no real action to keep our emissions targets and other action in line with the latest science.

Read the full article in Yale 360

Daniel R. Abbasi is director of regulatory and public policy research for MissionPoint Capital Partners, a private investment firm that specializes in the transition to a low-carbon economy. He is a former senior adviser in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Policy and a former associate dean at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, where he wrote Americans and Climate Change: Closing the Gap Between Science and Action

For More Information: Yale University

By Daniel R. Abbasi