USCAP: More Relevant Than Ever

Three years ago, 13 business, environmental and conservation organizations got together to figure out how to confront the growing economic, environmental and social threats of climate change.

Each of these companies and non-profits recognized the direct impacts climate change would have on their missions, daily operations, and communities — from droughts that threaten crop production and water supplies, to rising temperatures that bring increased heat-related deaths and energy blackouts, to more severe weather patterns that are destroying infrastructure and entire communities.

Over the past three years, those 13 have grown into the 28 members that now make up the US Climate Action Partnership (USCAP). Each member organization has dedicated thousands of hours to analysis, intense deliberation and honest — sometimes agonizing — debate in order to develop innovative yet practical recommendations that can lead to an effective climate and energy solution.

The time and energy has been well worth it, and we at The Nature Conservancy remain committed to continuing this effort. This is true, not just climate change threatens the very core of the Conservancy’s mission, but also because we believe USCAP represents exactly the kind of roll-up-the-sleeves practical effort that the American people want to see in their leaders.

Rising temperatures are forcing plants and animals to migrate to cooler climates and, when that is not possible, to disappear completely. If warming trends continue, one-fourth of the Earth’s species will be headed for extinction by 2050.

Changing weather patterns are also forever altering our treasured landscapes:

  • Thawing permafrost will allow shrubs and trees to take root in what is now the frozen tundra.
  • New England’s famous fall foliage will fade — and its northern forests will be altered — as maple, beech and red spruce shift north toward cooler temperatures.
  • Coastal areas will need to contend with rising sea levels, putting at risk communities and natural habitat along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts.
  • In the Great Lakes, warmer temperatures will mean declining water levels, not only threatening local ecosystems but also forcing cargo ships to lighten their loads and costing the shipping industry hundreds of millions of dollars each year in lost revenue.
  • In Alaska, warming has major implications not only for transportation and infrastructure built on permafrost, but for tundra and forests, and local communities that face a new relationship with a no-longer ice-covered sea.

In order to protect the world’s natural resources — and the people who rely upon them for survival — we must take swift action to alter the pace of climate change and address its consequences. In January 2009, USCAP unveiled its Blueprint for Legislative Action, offering a comprehensive framework that Congress could draw from as it considered how to confront the climate and energy crisis. When the House of Representatives — for the first time in history — passed a comprehensive climate and energy bill last June, USCAP was pleased to see many of its recommendations included in the final text.

The members of USCAP don’t believe we have all the answers, nor do we think our approach is the only viable path forward. As a diverse coalition representing voices from the energy, environment and manufacturing sectors, we think we can offer good ideas. But we know there are many other ideas out there.

A lot of attention has been given in the past week to the departure of three USCAP members. Those three businesses decided not to renew their membership in USCAP because they believe they can better help forge a climate and energy solution by working individually. We wish them well. It’s not important who finds the answer, as long as we come up with a solution.

Three new businesses have joined USCAP in recent months: the Fortune 500 power company AES, the transport and energy company Alstom, and the Fortune 100 technology and manufacturing company Honeywell. With the insights and experience these new groups bring to USCAP, we are hopeful we will be able to contribute even more effectively to the policy discussion and ensure that Congress passes comprehensive climate and energy legislation this year.

There is no question of the widespread support across the country for enacting effective climate and energy legislation immediately. USCAP members joined with nearly 60 other organizations — representing a wide range of business, labor, faith-based, and environmental groups — to run a series of newspaper ads last month calling for immediate action on the nation’s climate and energy threats. Among those signing the ad were the Christian Coalition, the AFL-CIO and the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce.

With so many diverse groups, voices and ideas — all working toward the singular goal of protecting America’s communities, economy and natural resources from the growing threats of climate change — it is particularly important now that our elected leaders hear the call and come together, as USCAP and others have been doing, to find a solution.

(Photo: Greenpeace Finland. Used under a creative commons license: / CC BY 2.0)

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