Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Administration Releases Final U.S. Climate Change Impacts Report

Jun 16: The Obama Administration released a report entitled, Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States, and a new U.S. Global Change Research Program website. The report compiles years of scientific research and takes into account new data not available during the preparation of previous large national and global assessments. It was produced by a consortium of experts from 13 U.S. government science agencies and from several major universities and research institutes. According to a release, the reports production and review span both Republican and Democratic administrations and it offers "a valuable, objective scientific consensus on how climate change is affecting -- and may further affect -- the United States."

John Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy said, "This new report integrates the most up-to-date scientific findings into a comprehensive picture of the ongoing as well as expected future impacts of heat-trapping pollution on the climate experienced by Americans, region by region and sector by sector. It tells us why remedial action is needed sooner rather than later, as well as showing why that action must include both global emissions reductions to reduce the extent of climate change and local adaptation measures to reduce the damage from the changes that are no longer avoidable."

According to the release, the report, confirms previous evidence that global temperature increases in recent decades have been primarily human-induced; incorporates the latest information on rising temperatures and sea levels; increases in extreme weather events; and other climate-related phenomena. Adding greatly to its practical value in the realm of policy and planning, it is the first such report in almost a decade to break out those impacts by U.S. region and economic sector, and the first to do so in such great detail.

Jane Lubchenco, under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said, "This report stresses that climate change has immediate and local impacts – it literally affects people in their backyards. In keeping with our goals, the information in it is accessible and useful to everyone from city planners and national legislators to citizens who want to better understand what climate change means to them. This is an issue that clearly affects everyone."

A product of the interagency U.S. Global Change Research Program, the definitive 190-page report, produced under NOAA’s leadership, is written in plain language to better inform members of the public and policymakers. Commissioned in 2007 and completed this past spring, the science-based report is a consensus product spanning two Presidential administrations and transcends political leanings or biases. It underwent intensive review by scientists inside and outside of government and includes information more recent than that incorporated into the last major report on global climate change released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The report indicates that it is not intended to direct policy makers to take any one approach over another to mitigate climate change or adapt to it. But it emphasizes that the choices we make now will determine the severity of climate change impacts in the future. The report states, "Implementing sizable and sustained reductions in carbon dioxide emissions as soon as possible would significantly reduce the pace and the overall amount of climate change and would be more effective than reductions of the same size initiated later."

The study finds that Americans are already being affected by climate change through extreme weather, drought and wildfire trends and details how the nation’s transportation, agriculture, health, water and energy sectors will be affected in the future. The study also finds that the current trend in the emission of greenhouse gas pollution is significantly above the worst-case scenario that this and other reports have considered. Main findings of the report include:

  • Heat waves will become more frequent and intense, increasing threats to human health and quality of life. Extreme heat will also affect transportation and energy systems, and crop and livestock production.
  • Increased heavy downpours will lead to more flooding, waterborne diseases, negative effects on agriculture, and disruptions to energy, water, and transportation systems.
    Reduced summer runoff and increasing water demands will create greater competition for water supplies in some regions, especially in the West.
  • Rising water temperatures and ocean acidification threaten coral reefs and the rich ecosystems they support. These and other climate-related impacts on coastal and marine ecosystems will have major implications for tourism and fisheries.
  • Insect infestations and wildfires are already increasing and are projected to increase further in a warming climate.
  • Local sea-level rise of over three feet on top of storm surges will increasingly threaten homes and other coastal infrastructure. Coastal flooding will become more frequent and severe, and coastal land will increasingly be lost to the rising seas.

Among the concluding comments in the report, "Human-induced climate change is happening now, and impacts are already apparent. Greater impacts are projected, particularly if heat-trapping gas emissions continue unabated. . . Choices about emissions now and in the coming years will have far-reaching consequences for climate change impacts. A consistent finding of this assessment is that the rate and magnitude of future climate change and resulting impacts depend critically on the level of global atmospheric heat-trapping gas concentrations as well as the types and concentrations of atmospheric particles (aerosols). Lower emissions of heat-trapping gases will delay the appearance of climate change impacts and lessen their magnitude. Unless the rate of emissions is substantially reduced, impacts are expected to become increasingly severe for more people and places."

The report provides separate section detailing anticipated impacts for the regions of: Alaska; Coasts; Great Plains; Islands; Midwest; Northeast; Northwest; Southeast; and Southwest. Additionally, climate change impacts are detailed for the following sectors: Water Resources; Energy Supply and Use; Transportation; Agriculture; Ecosystems; and Human Health.

Access a press release on the report (
click here). Access links to various sections of the report (click here). Access a PowerPoint presentation on the report (click here). Access the U.S. Global Change Research Program website for extensive information (click here).