On Monday, June 28, academics and senior government officials convened to address what many see as the greatest public policy problem of the next decade: global warming. The three panels that comprised this conference focused on what we know about climate change, policy scenarios related to climate change, and the geopolitical, economic, and social implications of such policy scenarios. This paper provides a summary of the panel presentations, the issues discussed, points of contention, and the varying opinions about climate change over the next 16 years. The following major themes were identified in the conference:
The reality of the greenhouse effect is not in dispute, for statistics show that climate change is a very real phenomenon, although the degree of change caused by human activity is still not fully understood. There was some dispute over the level of weight granted to greenhouse gases versus issues surrounding land use, deforestation for agriculture or urban development. Overall, though, the consensus is that greenhouse gases are playing a critical role in climate change regardless.
Recognition of perceptions of all relevant parties•scientists, policymakers, and the general public•is essential to addressing the problem of global warming. Because the major environmental changes anticipated to result from global warming will not take place until after 2020, perceptions are important to address the situation now through strategic investment.
The United States will have a difficult time assuming a leadership position in the crusade to mitigate the effects of global warming, but there are advantages to having the U.S. at the forefront of the battle armed with advanced technology and policy measures. The U.S. has the strength of presence to carry the mantle of leader, and it has the technological and financial means to do so as well. But what it currently lacks is commitment to such an endeavor. If the United States committed to remedying the problem of climate change, it would not only be able to reinforce relations with allies but also could make deals in the climate arena • thus allowing the U.S. to shape the climate change agenda according to its preferences.
Finally, there is no silver bullet to resolve the problem•no one scientific advance, new technology, or policy mechanism can resolve the effects of global warming.Rather, scientists and policymakers would do well to explore a variety of solutions, focusing on six key technologies: nuclear fission, biomass, wind, solar, the decarbonization of fossil fuels, and energy efficiency.
Bill Lahneman is the Associate Director for Programs at the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland.