Nov 23, 2018

New climate report warns of increasingly dire risks to U.S.

An American flag hangs at a burned out mobile home park in Paradise, California on Nov. 18. Photo: Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images

The Trump administration released a major new climate science report on Black Friday, warning of "hundreds of billions of dollars" in annual losses to some economic sectors without scaled up actions to adapt to current changes and slash emissions to avoid future warming.

Why it matters: The report by scientists from 13 federal agencies constitutes the second volume of the Fourth National Climate Assessment, which is a congressionally mandated report. Its conclusion: Lives and property are already at risk in the U.S. due to climate change.

  • The release date, on the Friday after Thanksgiving, which is traditionally the busiest shopping day of the year, is likely to bury the news coverage of its findings.
  • On a call with reporters this afternoon, David Reidmiller, the director of the assessment, said the timing was determined in order to have the report come out in advance of the next round of U.N. climate talks beginning in Poland on Dec. 2 as well as a large scientific meeting in Washington in mid-December.
  • “We wanted to get this out sufficiently in advance of those meetings so that folks have a chance to review it," Reidmiller said.
  • Monica Allen, a spokesperson for NOAA, said the decision to release the report on Black Friday was "made in the last week or so."

The details: The contents of the new report, which consists of 29 chapters that were extensively peer reviewed, are bleak. The report points out that the era of climate consequences for the U.S. is well underway, and only actions taken in the next few years can be effective in addressing the scope and severity of the problem.

  • The authors warn that neither climate adaptation or the pace of emissions cuts are keeping up with the severity and swiftness of the challenge.
  • The report release comes as the death toll from historic California wildfires continue to rise, and it finds that climate change is expected to bring more frequent wildfires and poor air quality.
  • The report finds that under a worst-case climate change scenario, in which emissions continue to climb at current rates, extreme heat would cause labor-related losses of an estimated $155 billion per year by 2090. At the same time, coastal property damage in the U.S. from sea level rise and storm surge flooding could reach nearly $120 billion per year.

The backstory: The new report builds off of findings from the first volume of the National Climate Assessment, which was released by the Trump administration in November 2017.

  • The second volume contains more information specific to vital U.S. economic sectors, regions and national interests. It includes a region-by-region breakdown of how global warming is altering life and economic productivity, as well as what opportunities there are to adapt to it.
  • The first report was a sweeping overview of climate science findings, which decisively concluded that there is no credible explanation for modern-day global warming other than the burning of fossil fuels for energy.
  • The report was written and published under the auspices of the U.S. Global Change Research Program, which brings together the 13 federal agencies that work on climate change issues, from the Energy Department to NOAA.

"This report dives into details concerning the US in a way that has not been done before," Michael Wehner, a climate researcher at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, told Axios.

Between the lines: The Trump administration has allowed the National Climate Assessment process to move forward without interference, while at the same time expressing doubt about the causes and extent of the threat of human-caused climate change when it comes to forming its energy policies.

In an interview with in November with "Axios on HBO," President Trump was presented with the first volume of the assessment, and he dismissed it.

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This post has been updated with details from a press call and more information about the report.

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