Today’s National Climate Assessment Provides the Latest on Climate Change

Chris Carnevale | May 6, 2014 | Climate Change, Extreme Weather

SACE staffer Jennifer Rennicks co-authored this blogpost.

A new report, known as the National Climate Assessment, was released by the White House today, presenting the latest information on the state of climate science in the United States. The report, which holds significant findings both nationally and regionally for the Southeast, states clearly and simply:

“Global climate is changing. Most of the warming of the past half-century is due to human activities. Some types of extreme weather are increasing, ice is melting on land and sea, and sea level is rising.”

The report covers climate from 13 sectors and cross-cutting sectors, including Water, Energy, Transportation, Agriculture, Forests, Ecosystems, Human Health, Energy Water and Land, Urban, Indigenous Peoples, Land Use and Land Cover Change, Rural Communities, and Biogeochemical Cycles.

The report additionally covers topics related to mitigating climate change, including the pollution that exacerbates climate change, where it comes from, and responses to deal with it, and adapting to climate change.

Locally in the Southeast, sea level rise poses widespread and continuing threats to our region’s economy and environment. Extreme heat will affect health, energy, agriculture, and more. Decreased water availability will have economic and environmental impacts. Other take-aways from the report include:

  • Climate change is harming human health. Some existing health threats are intensifying, and other, new health threats will emerge. Primary impacts on human health from climate change include increasingly frequent and intense extreme heat, which causes heat-related illnesses and deaths, worsens drought and wildfire risks, and intensifies air pollution; increasingly frequent extreme precipitation and associated flooding that can lead to injuries and water-borne disease; and rising sea levels that intensify coastal flooding and storm surge.
  • As the climate warms, sea levels rise and pose great hazards for flooding to cities along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Cities at great risk include New Orleans, Tampa, Miami, and Charleston. The National Climate Assessment states with very high confidence (at least 90% confidence) that the sea level will rise between 8 inches and 6.6 feet by 2100, with the most certainty between 1 and 4 feet.
  • The report also warns that, “Increasing temperatures and the associated increase in frequency, intensity, and duration of extreme heat events will affect public health, natural and built environments, energy, agriculture, and forestry.”
  • The NCA also highlights water availability/stress as a significant impact of climate change on the Southeast in years to come: “Decreased water availability, exacerbated by population growth and land-use change, will continue to increase competition for water and affect the region’s economy and unique ecosystems.”  This projection highlights the imperative that our region switch from water-intensive energy production sources, like coal and nuclear, to water-free resources, like wind and solar.
  • We have the power to control how bad the future impacts will be by limiting how much carbon pollution we allow. The NCA states, “A wide range of societal decisions and policy choices will ultimately influence how the world’s emissions evolve, and ultimately, the composition of the atmosphere and the state of the climate system.” Coincidentally, the first-ever limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants is due to be released on June 2. These pollution limits and other such supportive policies will be key to managing the severity of future climate impacts.

This is the third National Climate Assessment report, the first two being released in 2000 and 2009. We wrote about the draft version of the report here. The team that assembles the report, the NCA and Development Advisory Committee, is made up of representatives from leading scientific universities, influential businesses, and various federal government agencies.  In putting together the current version of the report, they engaged more than 300 authors, representing a wide sampling of the scientific community.

Chris Carnevale
Based in Charleston, South Carolina, Chris is SACE’s Coastal Climate and Energy Manager and South Carolina State Affairs Liaison. His work focuses on building a critical mass of support for…
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