Climate change is already affecting the American people – National Climate Assessment

“Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present” – report

May 6, 2014
Contact: 
Sharyn Stein, 202-572-3396, sstein@edf.org

(Washington, D.C. – May 6, 2014) A sweeping new national report has found that Americans are feeling the effects of climate change right now, and that those effects are likely to get worse – although our choices today will affect how much damage we’ll see in the future.

President Obama unveiled the Third National Climate Assessment (NCA) today, with the help of several of his cabinet members, other high-ranking government officials, scientists and meteorologists.

“As this important report shows, climate change is hurting Americans today -- and will continue to harm our environment, our health and our infrastructure,” said Fred Krupp, president of Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). “We need to work together to meet this challenge, starting with federal limits on climate pollution from power plants. We have no time to waste. That's why it matters so much that President Obama is leading a national conversation about climate change and the extreme weather impacts we’ve all been noticing.”

The NCA is the work of more than 300 experts who looked at all available data on the effects climate change is having on the U.S. It was overseen by a 60-member Federal Advisory Committee and was reviewed by the National Academies of Sciences with input from the public.

The NCA reaches the same essential conclusions on a domestic level as the global IPCC reports that were released earlier this year. These scientific reports found that the evidence indicates, beyond a reasonable scientific doubt, that human-driven emissions of greenhouse gases are causing climate change, that damage from climate change is already occurring, and that we’ll need both mitigation and adaptation to address climate change risks in the future. 

Among the key findings in the NCA:

  • “Evidence for climate change abounds …The sum total of this evidence tells an unambiguous story: the planet is warming.”
  •  Average U.S. temperatures have increased by 1.3 to 1.9 degrees Fahrenheit since record-keeping began in 1895.  Most of this warming has occurred since 1970.
  • The most recent decade was America’s hottest on record.
  • The U.S. will likely see more warming in the next few decades – possibly up to another four degrees Fahrenheit in some areas.
  • The U.S. is seeing increasingly intense heat waves in the western portion of the country, and increasingly intense flooding in the eastern portion.
  • Droughts in the Southwest and heat waves everywhere are projected to become more intense in the future.
  • There has been an increase in the overall strength of hurricanes and in the number of strong hurricanes in the North Atlantic since the early 1980’s. The intensity of the strongest hurricanes is projected to continue increasing as the oceans continue to warm.
  • Climate change increases the likelihood of water shortages. The western U.S. relies heavily on mountain snowpack for water storage, and spring snowpack is declining in most of the West.
  • There have been large reductions in glaciers and permafrost.
  •  Summer sea ice in the Arctic has halved since record-keeping began in 1979. 2012 set a new record for minimum area of Arctic ice.
  • Over the past century global sea level has risen by about 8 inches. Since 1992, the rate of global sea rise has been roughly twice the rate observed over the last century.
  • Sea level rise has increased coastal erosion and storm surge damage in the U.S.
  • Sea levels are projected to rise as much as another four feet this century.

The report also has a chapter on how climate change is affecting our ecosystems.

“Healthy ecosystems are the frontline defense against the most extreme impacts of a changing climate,” said Rebecca Shaw, senior scientist and associate vice president of Land, Water and Wildlife at Environmental Defense Fund. “With increasing droughts, floods and hurricanes, we can protect ourselves from such devastating impacts by investing in projects that boost our natural infrastructure and protect our food and water systems.”

According to the NCA, some climate change-related impacts are now unavoidable, and adaptation measures will be necessary, but the U.S. can still act to protect itself:

“[B]eyond the next few decades, the amount of climate change will still largely be determined by choices society makes about emissions. Lower emissions mean less future warming and less severe impacts.”

The U.S. has taken several steps to reduce climate pollution and is expected to take others soon. One major next step is a proposal that will set the first-ever national limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants, which are responsible for 40 percent of all carbon pollution in the U.S. The Obama Administration is expected to unveil that proposal in early June

The U.S. has already taken some steps to reduce climate pollution, and is expected to take others soon. The most important of those will be a proposal to set the first-ever national limits on power plants, which the Obama Administration is expected to unveil that proposal in early June.

“The good news is that because we know what the cause is, we also know what is needed in order to stabilize our planet,” said EDF climate scientist Ilissa Ocko. “We must come together now—locally, nationally, and internationally—and work towards a better future.”


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