Draft of the Third National Climate Assessment Report Released for Public Comment

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The National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee has released for public comment its draft report regarding the effects of climate change on Americans.

The purpose of the third National Climate Assessment report by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, once finalized later this year, will be to “show what is actually happening [with regard to climate change] and what it means for peoples’ lives, livelihoods, and future” based on observations and research.

In a blog post on the White House’s website announcing the release of the draft report, NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco, who is leaving the agency in February, and Assistant to the President and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy John Holdren wrote that although the report, a scientific document, does not make policy recommendations, it is expected to be used by the public and stakeholders looking for information about how to handle climate change.

In its introduction the report states that the effects of climate change, once thought to be in the distant future, have “now moved firmly into the present.”

“Climate change is already affecting the American people,” the draft executive summary begins. “Certain types of weather events have become more frequent and/or intense, including heat waves, heavy downpours, and, in some regions, floods and droughts. Sea level is rising, oceans are becoming more acidic, and glaciers and arctic sea ice are melting. These changes are part of the pattern of global climate change, which is primarily driven by human activity.”

As Justin Gillis pointed out on the New York Times Green blog, the draft by the 60-person committee “minces no words” with its “aggressive language about climate change.” Gillis also noted that the government did not issue the 1,193 page report with advance notice to journalists as it usually does.

“If it survives in substantially its current form, the document will be a stark warning to the American people about what has already happened and what is coming,” Gillis wrote.

Before getting into what are and would be the effects of climate change, the summary states that the evidence “abounds” to support that the changes are in fact occurring.

Here are the observations of climate change in the draft report by region:

  • Northeast: Heat waves, coastal flooding due to sea level rise and storm surge, and river flooding due to more extreme precipitation events are affecting communities in the region.
  • Southeast: Decreased water availability, exacerbated by population growth and land- use change, is causing increased competition for water; risks associated with extreme events like hurricanes are increasing.
  • Midwest: Longer growing seasons and rising carbon dioxide levels are increasing yields of some crops, although these benefits have already been offset in some instances by occurrence of extreme events such as heat waves, droughts, and floods.
  • Great Plains: Rising temperatures are leading to increased demand for water and energy and impacts on agricultural practices.
  • Southwest: Drought and increased warming have fostered wildfires and increased competition for scarce water resources for people and ecosystems.
  • Northwest: Changes in the timing of streamflow related to earlier snowmelt have already been observed and are reducing the supply of water in summer, causing far-reaching ecological and socioeconomic consequences.
  • Alaska: Summer sea ice is receding rapidly, glaciers are shrinking, and permafrost is thawing, causing damage to infrastructure and major changes to ecosystems; impacts to Alaska native communities are increasing.
  • Hawaii: Increasingly constrained freshwater supplies, coupled with increased temperatures, are stressing both people and ecosystems, and decreasing food and water security.
  • Coasts: Coastal lifelines, such as water supply infrastructure and evacuation routes, are increasingly vulnerable to higher sea levels and storm surges, inland flooding, and other climate-related changes.
  • Oceans: The oceans are currently absorbing about a quarter of human-caused carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere and over 90% of the heat associated with global warming, leading to ocean acidification and the alteration of marine ecosystems.
Draft of the Third National Climate Assessment Report Released for Public Comment

(Image: Shutterstock.com)

The draft report acknowledges that while natural factors do contribute to climate change, it says human activity is the driving force at present day. Heat-trapping gas produced as a result of human activity, the report says, has committed the Earth to a certain amount of warming that cannot be reversed. But how much more warming will occur, it states, depends on future emissions and climate sensitivity to those emissions.

“Everyone on Earth will be affected by the changes that are occurring,” the report reads. “To limit risks and maximize opportunities associated with the changes, people everywhere need to understand how climate change is going to affect them and what they can do to cope. There is significant likelihood that climate change will affect ecosystems and human systems – such as agricultural, transportation, water resources, and health infrastructure – in ways we are only beginning to understand. Moreover, climate change can interact with other stressors, such as population increase, land use change, and economic and political changes, in ways that we may not be able to anticipate, compounding the risks.

“Although some impacts will likely be beneficial within limited sectors and regions, overall these changes will be costly. We do not have a choice about whether we will adapt, the choice is between proactive adaptation (where we plan ahead to limit the impacts) or reactive adaptation (where responses occur after the damage is already unavoidable).”

The 90-day public comment period on the draft National Climate Change Assessment report will end in April 12.

The full PDF of the draft report is available here. Previous assessment reports were issued in 2000 and 2009.

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