As legislation providing for a federal cap on greenhouse-gas emissions died in the U.S. Senate on Friday, University President Richard Levin warned that Congress’ failure to tackle the issue of climate change sends the wrong message to other global powers.
Democratic leaders pulled the landmark measure, which would have aimed to reduce carbon emission about 70 percent by the middle of the century, from consideration after it failed to garner the votes needed to overcome a Republican filibuster. The move effectively ends any hope of passing legislation on climate change before a new president takes office.
Levin, who is not usually outspoken when it comes to politics, testified in front of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works in April in support of mandatory caps on greenhouse-gas emissions, saying that “our future depends on it.”
On Friday, he acknowledged that the legislation, co-authored by Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman ’64 LAW ’67, was “not perfect.” But Levin — an economist by training — warned that if members of Congress do not act soon when it comes to the issue of climate change, their idleness could imperil efforts to protect the environment on a worldwide scale.
“If there is to be any hope of a global climate agreement in 2009, the United States must take some credible steps toward a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade regime,” Levin said, referring to what could develop out of the United Nations Climate Change Conference scheduled for Copenhagen, Denmark, next year.
Levin has frequently cautioned that if the world’s economic powers — namely, the United States, India, China and the European Union — do not all commit to efforts to reduce carbon emissions, individual efforts to stabilize global temperatures will be rendered futile. Following the demise of the bill on Friday, Levin lamented that if the United States continues on its path of inaction, other countries will likely do the same.
“China and India will not take action unless the U.S. commits first,” Levin said.
President George W. Bush ’68 had promised to veto the Lieberman-Warner bill if it had passed, asserting that its mandates would have strained the American economy and pushed gasoline prices even higher. With resistance from him and other Republicans, the bill received only 48 of the 60 votes on Friday that were necessary to end debate in the Senate and bring about a vote on the measure.
But under a new administration, similar legislation will probably enjoy more support. Both presidential candidates, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois and Sen. John McCain of Arizona, supported the bill and have vowed to tackle the issue of climate change if they win the White House.
Levin said he sees that as an encouraging sign that all might not be lost by the time the U.N. summit, scheduled for December 2009, rolls around.
“I remain hopeful that the next president will make action on climate change a high priority early next year,” he said.