Climate change – new report issues stark warning over impacts on all aspects of US society

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A new report released by the US Government has issued a stark warning that climate change is already having serious impacts on every aspect of US society which will worsen without a rapid shift to a low carbon economy.

The Fourth National Climate Assessment report published by the U.S. government’s Global Change Research Program has confirmed that climate change will affect all regions and all sectors of U.S. economy.

Prepared with the support and approval of 13 federal agencies, and with input from hundreds of government and non-governmental experts, the two volume 1500 page report provides a comprehensive and detailed look at how climate change will impact the United States.

The federal report finds that climate change is affecting the natural environment, agriculture, energy production and use, land and water resources, transportation, and human health and welfare across the U.S. and its territories.

Key findings of the NCA4, Vol. II include:

Communities

Human health and safety, quality of life, and the rate of economic growth in communities across the U.S. are increasingly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

The cascading impacts of climate change threaten natural, built and social systems, both within and beyond the nation’s borders.

Without substantial and sustained global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and regional initiatives to prepare for anticipated changes, climate change is expected to cause growing losses to American infrastructure and property and impede the rate of economic growth over this century.

Agriculture and food production

Rising temperatures, extreme heat, drought, wildfire on rangelands and heavy downpours are expected to increasingly challenge the quality and quantity of U.S. crop yields, livestock health, price stability and rural livelihoods.

Ecosystems

Continued changes to Earth’s climate will cause major disruptions in some ecosystems. Some coral reef and sea ice ecosystems are already experiencing transformational changes, affecting communities and economies that rely upon them.

Water

Rising air and water temperatures and changes in precipitation are intensifying droughts, increasing heavy downpours, reducing snowpack, and causing declines in surface water quality, with varying impacts across regions.

Future warming will add to the stress on water supplies and adversely impact the availability of water in parts of the United States. Groundwater depletion is exacerbating drought risk in many parts of the U.S, particularly in the Southwest and Southern Great Plains.

Most U.S. power plants rely on a steady supply of surface water for cooling, and operations are expected to be affected by changes in water availability and temperature increases. Increased drought risk will also threaten oil and gas drilling and refining.

Aging and deteriorating water infrastructure, typically designed for past environmental conditions, is also compounding the climate risk faced by society. Water management strategies that account for changing climate conditions can help reduce present and future risks to water security, but implementation of such practices remains limited, the report says.

Expected increases in the severity and frequency of heavy precipitation events will affect inland infrastructure in every region, including access to roads, the viability of bridges, and the safety of pipelines. Flooding from heavy rainfall, storm surge, and rising high tides is expected to compound existing issues with aging infrastructure in the Northeast.

Critical infrastructure

Without adaptation, climate change will continue to degrade infrastructure performance over the rest of the century, with the potential for cascading impacts that threaten the economy, national security, essential services and health and well-being.

Climate change and extreme weather events are expected to increasingly disrupt U.S. energy and transportation systems, threatening more frequent and longer-lasting power outages, fuel shortages, and service disruptions, with cascading impacts on other critical sectors.

The continued increase in the frequency and extent of high-tide flooding due to sea level rise threatens America’s trillion-dollar coastal property market and public infrastructure, with cascading impacts to the larger economy.

Forward-looking infrastructure design, planning, and operational measures and standards can reduce exposure and vulnerability to the impacts of climate change and reduce energy use while providing additional near-term benefits, including reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Climate change will transform coastal regions by the latter part of the century, with ripple effects on other regions and sectors. Many communities should expect higher costs and lower property values from sea level rise.

Health

Climate change threatens the health and well-being of the U.S. population by causing increasing extreme weather, changes to air quality, the spread of new diseases by insects and pests, and changes to the availability of food and water.

The report is warning that societal efforts to respond to climate change have expanded in the last five years, but not at the scale needed to avoid substantial damages to the economy, environment, and human health over the coming decades.

Annual losses in some sectors could reach hundreds of billions of dollars by end of this century

Without substantial and sustained global mitigation and regional adaptation efforts, climate change is expected to cause growing losses to American infrastructure and property and impede the rate of economic growth over this century.

In the absence of significant global mitigation action and regional adaptation efforts, rising temperatures, sea level rise, and changes in extreme events are expected to increasingly disrupt and damage critical infrastructure and property and labour productivity.

Rising temperatures are projected to reduce the efficiency of power generation while increasing energy demands, resulting in higher electricity costs while the impacts of climate change beyond US borders are expected to increasingly affect trade and economy, including import and export prices and U.S. businesses with overseas operations and supply chains.

The continued warming that is projected to occur without substantial and sustained reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions is expected to cause substantial net damage to the U.S. economy throughout this century.

With continued growth in emissions at historic rates, annual losses in some economic sectors are projected to reach hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century—more than the current gross domestic product (GDP) of many U.S. states.

$1 trillion dollars of public infrastructure and private property along U.S. coastline at risk

Commenting on the report, Dan Lashof, U.S. Director, World Resources Institute said:

“The message is loud, clear and undeniable: climate impacts are here and growing. The tragic Camp Fire in California serves as a stark illustration of how climate change is loading the dice for more extreme events that devastate people, homes and the economy. We should trust what we’re seeing with our own eyes: more intense wildfires, hurricanes, flooding, and heat waves. This is what climate change looks like and it will become far worse unless we rapidly shift to a low-carbon economy.

“Climate change is already taking a toll on U.S. agriculture, health, tourism, fisheries, energy, transportation, infrastructure, businesses and more. For example, $1 trillion dollars of public infrastructure and private property along the U.S. coastline are at risk due to rising seas, increasing storm surges, and tidal flooding. No region of the country and no sector of the economy is immune. We must use all tools and pursue all policy levers to turn the tide. The NCA report makes it clear that we need a rapid and decisive shift to a low-carbon economy to achieve inclusive, long-term economic prosperity across the United States.”

Click here to access Fourth National Climate Assessment