UN climate report changes little on Hill

A United Nations report that concludes climate change is negatively affecting every continent arrived with a predictable thud Monday in Washington.

Democrats and the Obama administration saw the report as more evidence that leaders must take quick, decisive action on the issue, while skeptics, including much of the Republican Party, held fast in their position that the science is wrong.

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Eric Smith, a professor of political science at the University of California, Santa Barbara, predicted that “remarkably little will change, especially in the short term,” in terms of the climate-change debate.

“The problem is that views on climate change are very partisan,” he said, adding that Republican voters “don’t think this is a serious problem.”

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), perhaps the Senate’s most prominent climate-change skeptic, called the report from the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) a distraction from real problems in the world such as poverty and violence.

“The IPCC report is another effort to scare people into believing in man-made global warming despite the 15-year pause in temperature increase,” Inhofe said in a statement. The temperature research he cited was released last year by the United Kingdom.

The Heartland Institute released a report of its own, saying that climate research has found “no net harm to the global environment or to human health and often finds the opposite: net benefits to plants, including important food crops, and to animals and human health.” 

The report urged world leaders to prepare for the effects of climate change while working to slow it down, saying “adaptation and mitigation choices in the near-term will affect the risks of climate change throughout the 21st century.”

“We live in an era of man-made climate change,” said Vicente Barros, co-chairman of the IPCC. “In many cases, we are not prepared for the climate-related risks that we already face. Investments in better preparation can pay dividends both for the present and for the future.”

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Environmental and Public Works Committee, saw the report as a new addition to the body of climate research.

“The latest IPCC report adds a tremendous sense of urgency for Congress to wake up and do everything in its power to reduce dangerous carbon pollution,” Boxer said in a statement. “This new IPCC report identifies the serious threats to human health, vital infrastructure, and the world’s economy that will multiply as temperatures warm. It confirms that we must cut carbon pollution now to avoid lasting changes to our planet.”

Boxer, along with 30 other senators, spoke about climate change on the Senate floor for an entire night in March. A panel aide said the IPCC report “bolsters” the senators’ actions against climate change, and more actions are planned.” Boxer did not propose anything new immediately following Monday’s report.

The White House took a similar tone, using the report to support President Obama’s executive actions to fight climate change.

“The president is aggressively addressing these challenges using every tool available to him, and that includes the fuel efficiency standards that he’s put in place and the new fuel efficiency standards that he’s announced,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said.

Carney said there are “obstacles” to legislative action, but there are still actions that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This includes shifting to natural gas for electricity production, which emits fewer greenhouse gases than other fuels like coal.

Obama science adviser John Holdren said it increases the urgency of Obama’s climate policy, which seeks to mitigate climate change while preparing for its effects.

“It reflects scientists’ increased confidence that the kinds of harm already being experienced as a result of climate change are likely to worsen as the world continues to warm,” Holdren said.