U.S. Scientists Recommend Setting ‘Carbon Budget’

BY Lea Winerman  May 19, 2010 at 1:03 PM EST

A panel of the nation’s leading scientists on Wednesday called for more research on climate change and more action to mitigate its effects, including setting a national “budget” to limit carbon emissions.

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In a three-part report commissioned by Congress, the National Research Council — part of the National Academies of Sciences — surveyed the state of climate change science as well as what the country is doing to reduce and adapt to the environmental changes it will cause.

The researchers examined newer data than that included in the last major report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was released in 2007.

They concluded that in order to avoid the most serious consequences, the U.S. needs to keep to a budget of releasing between about 170 billion and 200 billion tons of carbon pollution between 2012 and 2050. That means major cutbacks, because the country now releases about 7 billion tons each year.

Meeting that goal would require developing new technologies, said Robert Fri, a former EPA administrator and the chairman of the committee that wrote the part of the report on mitigating climate change.

“Particularly in the transportation sector, we can’t get there just by deploying what we know how to do,” he said in a briefing.

The report also suggests the U.S. set up a policy framework that would put a price on carbon dioxide pollution, such as a cap-and-trade system or a carbon tax — though it doesn’t recommend a specific method.

A bill that would have enacted a cap-and-trade system passed the House last year but died in the Senate. A similar bill was introduced last week by Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Joe Lieberman, I-Conn.