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January 14, 2013
Draft Report Paints Grim Picture of Climate Change Effects
    by Robert Kropp

The 1,200-page Third National Climate Assessment warns that some effects of climate change are already underway, and insufficient response ensures that the effects will grow worse in coming years.

Last Friday, the National Climate Assessment Development Advisory Committee (NCADAC) published a draft of the Third National Climate Assessment (NCA). Established under the Department of Commerce in December 2010, NCADAC conducts the NCA under the Global Change Research Act of 1990, which requires a report to the President and Congress evaluating the federal research program on global change every four years.

The 21 pages of the document's Executive Summary alone make for sobering reading, and every one of the report's key findings imply that not enough is being done. "The climate change of the past 50 years is due primarily to human activities, predominantly the burning of fossil fuels," the report unequivocally states. Furthermore, many effects of climate change, such as extreme weather and other climate events—including high temperatures, heavy rainfall, and severe drought—are already being felt.

On the issue of public health, "Climate change is increasing the risks of heat stress, respiratory stress from poor air quality, and the spread of waterborne diseases," the report finds. "Food security is emerging as an issue of concern, both within the US and across the globe, and is affected by climate change. Large-scale changes in the environment due to climate change and extreme weather events are also increasing the risk of the emergence or reemergence of unfamiliar health threats."

Damage to the nation's infrastructure, and a decreased reliability of freshwater supply, are happening already as well.

So what has been done thus far to address this most important sustainability issue of our time? Not enough, the report finds. "In recent years, climate adaptation and mitigation activities have begun to emerge in many sectors and at all levels of government; however barriers to implementation of these activities are significant," it states. "The level of current efforts is insufficient to avoid increasingly serious impacts of climate change that have large social, environmental, and economic consequences."

As a result of inaction, "Heat-trapping gases already in the atmosphere have committed us to a hotter future with more climate-related impacts over the next few decades," the report warns. The draft report weighs in at 1,200 pages, and NCADAC warns that downloading of the massive file will be slow. But Grist has helpfully extracted 32 charts from the report, and the numbers warn of a near future much changed from the world we live in today.

In the worst-case scenario—that is, if greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are allowed to continue at their current trajectory—temperatures could rise as much as 11 degrees F by the end of the century. Also according to the worst-case scenario, sea levels could rise by over six and one-half feet in the same time frame.

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) responded to the publication of the draft report by stating, "The document released today deserves credit already for setting a new standard of scientific integrity, user relevance, and stakeholder inclusiveness."

However, OSTP also stated, "The draft NCA is a scientific document—not a policy document—and does not make recommendations regarding actions that might be taken in response to climate change." OSTP said that the Obama administration will review the document as part of the year-long process leading to publication of a final draft.

According to NCADAC, the public is invited to review the document and submit comments until April 12th, but a leading investor network has wasted no time in addressing the issues raised by the draft. In a statement, Ceres president Mindy Lubber said, "Climate change and more pronounced extreme weather are hurting businesses, are hurting the economy and are hurting US taxpayers who oftentimes bear the biggest financial brunt."

"The report sends a strong message that human activity is warming the planet and that fossil fuel use is the most damaging contributor," Lubber continued. "Until actions are taken to reduce the burning of fossil fuels, human suffering and financial losses will continue escalating."


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