Jul 14, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Biden administration seeks to reshape major climate report

Illustration of a tiny man painting a giant binder.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Biden administration has appointed a new head of the National Climate Assessment (NCA), a pivotal, congressionally mandated report on how human-caused global warming is affecting the U.S.

Driving the news: The next NCA will be overseen by Allison Crimmins, an environmental scientist who has spent a decade at the EPA and has expertise in scientific communication.

  • Her appointment on Tuesday comes after the administration reassigned the previous head of the NCA process, Betsy Weatherhead, to the U.S. Geological Survey.
  • Weatherhead, who has research experience in mainstream climate science, had been appointed by the Trump administration.

Why it matters: The NCA is the most comprehensive and authoritative federal climate report that goes through the U.S. region by region, with specific projections for economic sectors and ecosystems.

The intrigue: In an effort to make the report more accessible and actionable, the administration plans to make changes in how the Fifth edition of the NCA will be presented to the public, Crimmins told Axios in an interview.

  • Such changes may include the development of visual or interactive features to show how climate change could affect local communities.

What they're saying: "We're all facing increasing threats to our communities and livelihoods, as a result of the climate crisis," Crimmins said.

  • "We're really focused on how to make this usable and useful to more people. We don't want this to be a report that's just for scientists to read, we want it to be a report that people feel belongs to them."
  • She said they are exploring a tagging structure that will make it easier for people to follow threads of information throughout the massive document, and a greater focus on economics and social science as well.

Of note: Part of Crimmins' job will be to stabilize the NCA process and ensure it's on track to be released close to the original timeline, which has now slipped to the fall of 2023.

How it works: The NCA is prepared by experts at the 13 federal agencies which conduct climate research, as well as outside scientists, all aimed at helping policy makers and the public to understand their changing climate and prepare for its consequences.

  • The previous assessment, released in 2018, concluded that the climate is “changing is faster than at any point in the history of modern civilization,” and pinned the blame for those changes on human activities.
  • It warned that, if unaddressed, the associated impacts could cost the U.S. 10% of its gross domestic product.
  • Then-President Trump disavowed its findings in 2018.

Catch up fast: The fifth NCA got off to a turbulent start when, in the waning days of the Trump administration, there was an effort to interfere with its contents by installing critics of established climate science findings to help oversee it.

  • Shortly before President Biden's inauguration, both were removed from those positions for publishing unauthorized pamphlets with the presidential seal, containing false and misleading climate science information.
  • Crimmins' appointment completes the leadership team for the report — which is ultimately overseen by a committee of senior interagency officials, and will be extensively peer reviewed before it is released.
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