Climate Catastrophe Predicted by U.S. as Obama Urges UN Action

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center during a visit to the Everglades National Park on April 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida.

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Labor productivity would dwindle as workers wilt in the heat. Summers in Illinois would feel like a Louisiana swamp. Epic downpours and surging seas of the future would leave $5 trillion in losses. And worsening air quality would result in 57,000 premature deaths in 2100.

As President Barack Obama tries to unite the nation behind his efforts to combat climate change, the White House on Monday released a detailed projection for a dystopian future if greenhouse-gas emissions remain unchecked. The most catastrophic impact, the administration argued, can be avoided if leaders mandate the carbon cuts necessary to keep global warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit).

“We have a choice on how we move forward, and what our future will look like,” Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy said at a White House briefing. “Action now is necessary to address that trajectory on a long-term basis.”

Issued two years after Obama said fighting climate change would be a top priority of his second term, the White House report pulls from federal data to show climate change impacts and risks. Officials said it shows Obama’s proposals to curb greenhouse gases from trucks, power plants, landfills and oil wells will all provide health and economic payoffs.

The administration is planning this week to highlight risks that climate change poses to the U.S. as negotiators press ahead with talks to reach a global accord by the end of this year in Paris to fight climate change. The White House is scheduled to hold a conference on climate change and health Tuesday, and curbing emissions is a key part of a summit between U.S. and Chinese leaders.

Republican Opposition

Obama’s aides also are fighting off efforts by Republican lawmakers to halt any and all regulations to rein in emissions. This week, Congress is set to vote on measures that would block the EPA’s plan to curb carbon gases spewed from power plants, and a measure that would slash the EPA’s funding and also halt those rules.

White House officials signaled Obama would veto those measures, and said they’re confident the administration doesn’t need a vote from Congress on any global climate accord.

“We feel comfortable and confident that we have the authority to get it done,” Brian Deese, a White House climate adviser, said of the talks overseen by the United Nations.

A global accord is necessary because if the U.S. cuts its carbon pollution, it could be replaced by increases from China or India. Without steps to curb emissions, the consequences to the U.S. could be dire. Seal-level rise and storm surges could cause $5 trillion in damage to coastal property over the next 85 years, the study said. Increased road maintenance costs would be $7 billion a year by 2100.

Drought Risks

California faces increasing risk of drought, while trout and salmon runs would face destruction.

White House officials sought to frame the report, which drew from EPA data and was led by EPA’s atmospheric programs office, in terms of the benefit from acting to curb emissions, and most of those gains were tied to avoiding heat waves, flooding or droughts.

One of the biggest benefits would be $110 billion in “avoided damages from lost labor due to extreme temperatures,” the report said.

Critics say Obama’s pledge to the UN that the U.S. would cut its emissions by 26 percent to 28 percent by 2025 can’t be achieved without Congress mandating larger changes to the U.S. economy. With Republican control of the House and Senate, and continued congressional criticism of the EPA’s efforts, any new climate legislation is unlikely.

The administration hasn’t spelled out exactly how it foresees those emission cuts happening.

That goal “assumes we execute the slate of actions we’ve identified,” Deese said. “There’s not an assumption” of congressional action, he said.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.
LEARN MORE