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Climate Change: Reasons for Action
Table of Contents
Background and Overview
Contributing Causes of Global Warming
Impacts of Global Warming
Reasons for Action
Climate Change Solutions
The Individual's Role
Where To Go for Help
Complete List of Links

Why is climate change mitigation necessary, and urgent? This section provides some background on major energy use and other sources of greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions and associated impacts, supporting the rationale for reducing GHG emissions.

In summary, the impetus for enacting change with respect to global warming includes (but is not limited to):

  • Atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other GHGs that exceed what are considered to be safe levels;
  • Regulations, protocols, agreements, and voluntary disclosure, both domestic and global, are resulting in many organizations measuring, reporting, and reducing GHG emissions, and implementing climate action plans;
  • Globally, citizens and businesses consume fossil-fuel derived electricity and fuel inefficiently, and at rates that contribute significantly to the total atmospheric concentration of GHGs; and
  • Climate, health, and economic impacts are occurring as a result of global warming, with expectations for increasing deleterious and potentially irreversible impacts if current warming trends continue and GHG levels in the atmosphere continue to rise, and,
  • Potential participation in carbon trading schemes.

Exceedance of Safe Atmospheric Levels of Carbon Dioxide (CO2)

The Environmental Defense Fund states that "atmospheric CO2 concentration ... is on course to surpass the 450 ppm threshold—increasing the risk of the worst global-scale impacts of climate change —even if all industrial nations cut emissions to zero by 2050 [1]". Scientists believe that humans have caused the atmosphere to exceed safe levels of CO2 - at a current rate of 387 parts per million (ppm). Many scientists and climate experts believe that the safe upper limit of CO2 in the atmosphere is 350 ppm. According to, unless we reduce the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere this century back to 350 ppm, the Earth will exceed its “tipping point” where irreversible impacts will occur. Unfettered, the concentration will continue to rise about two ppm each year.

James Hansen of America's National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the first scientist to warn about global warming more than two decades ago, wrote recently, "If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted, paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced from its current 385 ppm to at most 350 ppm."

Scientists writing for the science journal Nature (including James Hansen), propose that human changes to atmospheric CO2 concentrations should not exceed 350 ppm and that radiative forcing should not exceed 1 watt per square meter above pre-industrial levels. “Transgressing these boundaries will increase the risk of irreversible climate change, such as the loss of major ice sheets, accelerated sea-level rise and abrupt shifts in forest and agricultural systems.

Regulations, Requirements, Voluntary Disclosure, and Global Agreements on GHG Reporting and Reduction

It is important to reduce GHG emissions to support coordinated and cooperative global efforts, and to meet new [and pending] regulations in the U.S, and for many organizations or efforts, to demonstrate environmental and/or corporate responsibility.

In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has the authority and the obligation to regulate greenhouse gases as pollutants under the Clean Air Act. In December 2009, the EPA issued a formal finding that greenhouse gasses, including carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions "threaten the public health and welfare of the American people." This enables the agency to regulate a wide range of CO2-emitting industries. While these regulations are pending, the EPA did issue their Final Mandatory Reporting of Greenhouse Gases Rule, for annual reporting starting in the year 2010. The mandatory reporting requires emissions from more than 10,000 facilities in the U.S., and is intended to collect accurate and timely emissions data to inform future policy decisions.

The Securities Exchange Commission issued guidance on corporate disclosure of climate risk by the country's nearly 9,000 publically traded companies. EPA is widely expected (in spring of 2010) to impose the first-ever direct federal controls on GHG emissions, affecting at least 14,000 stationary sources, and possibly many more. And, the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) is reportedly about to issue new guidance on how climate change impacts should be incorporated into the environmental review process for every major public or private project requiring federal approval or obtaining federal funding.

While these may not impact all U.S. businesses, many more are measuring and reporting on a voluntary basis, setting them on a path to reducing their GHG emissions.

Several states are facilitating the reporting of greenhouse gas emissions in one or more ways, including: setting CO2 emissions disclosure requirements for electricity providers, creating GHG registries for entities to enter emissions levels and/or emissions changes into a formal repository, and requiring entities to report their GHG emissions to the state.The EPA Climate Change site lists what actions states are taking in each climate policy area at

The Kyoto Protocol is an international treaty with the goal of stabilizing GHG concentrations in the atmosphere at a level which avoids “dangerous” or irreversible climate impacts caused by anthropogenic activity. The protocol was initially adopted in 1997 in Kyoto, Japan and officially implemented in 2005. As of August 2009, 194 countries have signed and accepted ratification of the protocol, committing to various levels of reduction of GHGs.

Inefficient Use and Overuse of Fossil Fuel-Based Energy

The EPA ranks the major GHG contributing end-user sectors in the following order: industrial, transportation, residential, commercial, and agricultural. Many energy studies, energy benchmarking reports, energy efficiency, technology analysis, and related evaluations show that most of these industries and processes have improved energy efficiency in recent years or decades, but have significant opportunity to further improve on energy efficiency, which saves money and reduces GHG emissions.

Energy production and distribution are also inefficient; the efficiency of a typical coal power plant may be less than 35 percent [2]. An estimated 27 percent of the world's energy is lost in electricity transmission and generation [3].

Related to inefficient use, is plain overuse of fossil fuel based energy. Unnecessary use of energy and electricity definitely contribute to avoidable GHG emissions.

Improving efficiency, increasing conservation efforts, and promoting more renewable energy resources creates jobs and helps position the U.S. to capitalize on a new energy economy.

Global Impacts

See the Climate Change Topic Hub Impacts Section for a discussion of current and predicted impacts.

Carbon Markets

GHG emissions trading is an administrative approach used to manage total GHG emissions by providing economic payback for achieving reductions in the emissions. As these develop, expand, and become more widely used, the opportunity may grow for financial returns on GHG reduction or removal projects.

Currently a few voluntary trading schemes are in place, and one mandatory cap and trade program. All have quite rigorous GHG accounting requirements to validate carbon credits for exchange on these markets. Examples of voluntary programs include the European Union Emission Trading Scheme, the Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX), the Voluntary Carbon Standard, and the European Union Greenhouse Gas Emissions Allowance Trading Scheme. The northeast U.S. states have a mandatory cap and trade program, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). Other programs in place, that may eventually support regional cap and trade schemes in the U.S. are the Western Climate Initiative and the Midwestern Greenhouse Gas Accord.


[1] Environmental Defense Fund. August 2009. Tropical Deforestation and Climate Change. Creating Economic Incentives to Conserve Forests Through REDD.

[2] National Energy Technology Laboratory. 2009. Improving Efficiency of Coal-Fired Power Plants for Near Term CO2 Reductions. (Presentation by DiPietro, P.)
[3] "Energy Efficiency Measures and Technological Improvements." Retrieved 2007-01-21. Article by group of ten leading electricity companies.


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Hub Last Updated: 5/7/2013