Summarizing the NCA

On May 6, 2014, the White House published the third National Climate Assessment (NCA), adding to the growing body of reports highlighting the negative impact that climate change is already having on the United States. This report, which is supposed to be published every four years according to a 1990 law, is only the third report to be successfully published in the 24 years since enactment of the law. Political pressure in Congress kept the Clinton administration from publishing the first report until 2000, and the Bush administration not only failed to produce another report during its tenure, but also scrubbed mention of the 2000 report from official documents. The second report, published in 2009 under the first Obama administration, was released with little fanfare and had minimal impact.

Now, 24 years after the original mandate was passed, the White House has finally published a meaningful climate assessment that has been gathering plenty of media and public attention, making the top fold of almost every major US newspaper.

The report reflects the increased attention that the US government and scientific communicators are placing on making climate change research accessible and easy to understand for the general public. In an interactive website, the NCA offers readers a chance to breeze through the main highlights, or explore the full report. Produced by more than 300 climate experts guided by a 60-member Federal Advisory Committee, the report highlights four key findings about climate change in America:

  1. The world has warmed, will continue warming, and humans are the primary contributors. Long-term weather data from both atmospheric and oceanic sources has confirmed that the climate is warming, weather patterns are changing, sea ice is melting and the ocean is acidifying. According to the report, many lines of independent evidence demonstrate that the rapid warming of the past half-century is due primarily to human activities such as burning of fossil fuels and deforestation.
  2. Climate change is already being felt in every part of America. U.S. average temperature has increased 1.3-1.9 degrees Fahrenheit since 1895, and most of that has been since 1970. Our summers are longer and hotter, and extended periods of unusual heat are lasting longer than ever. Rain comes in heavier downpours and floods, while huge swaths of the country experiencing extreme droughts. Seasonal allergies are more severe and last longer, and ecosystems are changing as biodiversity is lost.
  3. Climatic changes will have both beneficial and detrimental impacts in the United States. Some regions will experience longer growing seasons and longer shipping seasons, which could increase food availability in the short run. However, many of the changes will be detrimental because our nation’s infrastructure was designed for the current climate, not a warmer, more unpredictable one. Significant changes will be required to protect human health, water, energy, transportation, agriculture, forests, and ecosystems. 
  4. The extent of warming and climate change impacts will vary from region to region. While all U.S. regions have experienced warming over the past decade, the extent has not been uniform. Temperatures are rising more quickly in the North. Coastal areas and dry areas in the Southwest will likely feel the worst impacts of climate change due to rising storm surges on the coast and drought and wildfire in desert areas. Alaska is also particularly vulnerable, as melting permafrost will damage critical infrastructure that residents rely on.

While many of the findings of the National Climate Assessment echo the scientific consensus described in the latest IPCC report, the NCA’s main contribution to domestic climate change discussions is in providing research on how the United States specifically will be impacted. The report provides details about how climate change is already impacting each region of the country, what can be expected over the next 100 years, and recommendations about how to cope with the expected changes. The regional information is designed to start the conversation among local governments, citizens and businesses about how to make the country more resilient and help them make sound plans for the future.

Over the next few two weeks on Mondays and Fridays we will be bringing you a snapshot of what climate change impacts can be expected in each region of the US, and the recommendations from the NCA about how communities and local governments can begin to prepare.  Stay tuned to S&S to learn more about what you can expect in your city in the coming years, and what we as a country can be doing to increase our climate resiliency. 


Image Credit: US NPS via Wikimedia Commons


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