For the past six years, the United States has done far too little on the issue of global warming. There are two reasons for this. The first is that a significant number of lawmakers have not been persuaded that the threat is real because they have cited too many uncertainties that need to be resolved before we can do anything substantive. The second is that the concern over economic impacts to the country would be too great and could lead to sacrificing the competitive edge of the United States, displacing jobs and manufacturing.

Earlier this month, the latest scientific report from the United Nations – a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – laid to rest the debate over the first problem, that there are too many scientific uncertainties to link anthropogenic emissions and global warming.

The IPCC affirmed with over 90% certainty that most of the warming that our climate system has experienced in the last 50 years is due to human caused greenhouse gas emissions and that extreme weather events, heat waves, and heavy precipitation will become more frequent.

The second concern over the impacts to our economy has been difficult to overcome as well. The debate over what we can and cannot afford has persisted in every discussion on global warming we have had here in the Senate and elsewhere in the United States. But now, with the release of this report by Sir Nicholas Stern – the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change – we are beginning to understand that the costs that we cannot afford are the costs of inaction.

Since the release of the Stern Review and the November elections in the United States, the ground on this issue has shifted substantially and I believe there is an opportunity to pass significant legislation on global warming this year. The challenge now will be to get a majority of Congress to agree on any number of specific proposals. There are a number of proposals that have been introduced and circulated already this year. With all of these bills and strategies for reducing greenhouse gases on the table, it is vital that we work together to craft sensible policy that can be enacted sooner rather than later. The science tells us that action is needed immediately and that the longer we delay the more difficult the problem will be.