The National Climate Assessment has been an essential tool for businesses and governments for almost thirty years. But due to recent policy changes, the Assessment is at risk. What is the Assessment, and why is it important? Also, why is it at risk? In addition, what can you do? Read on to find out.
What is the National Climate Assessment?
The National Climate Assessment is a report from the United States Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) regarding the current state of the climate. The report looks at key scientific findings and trends in climate change science. The goal of the report is to help individuals, businesses, and governments to make future plans based on climate science. In addition, the USGCRP intends for state and local governments to use the report to plan for potential climate-related disasters and challenges.
The National Climate Assessment came out of a 1990 federal statute, the Global Change Research Act. The Global Change Research Act of 1990 set out a requirement for a federal climate change research program. In addition, the Act requires a report to the federal government every four years. The National Climate Assessment is that report.
The first National Climate Assessment appeared in 2000. Since then, there have been three more: in 2009, 2014, and 2017. The USGCRP plans to release the next report in 2018.
Who Contributes to the Report?
The Assessment, sometimes called the Climate Change Report, unites 13 government agencies with hundreds of experts in climate change science. With this intention, these agencies are:
- The Agency for International Development
- USDA: The United States Department of Agriculture
- The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), United States Department of Commerce (USDC), and National Institute of Standards and Technology
- DOD: The United States Department of Defense
- DOE: The United States Department of Energy
- The National Institutes of Health, United States Department of Health and Human Services
- United States Department of State
- DOT: The United States Department of Transportation
- USGS: The United States Geological Survey, United States Department of the Interior
- EPA: The Environmental Protection Agency
- NASA: The National Aeronautics and Space Administration
- NSF: The National Science Foundation
- The Smithsonian Institution
The group’s purpose is to conduct and report on climate change science findings. Additionally, its task includes making predictions about potential climate change and challenges. It also hopes to inform governments, businesses, and individuals about issues in climate science. Finally, the group hopes to broaden the public’s understanding of climate change science and to develop the scientific workforce of the future.
What are Some of the Findings of the National Climate Assessment?
Looking back at past assessments, you may spot some familiar trends. More extreme weather events. Longer periods of rain and snow, and longer periods without it. Rising temperatures and rising sea levels. The 2000 findings based predictions on “what if” scenarios. But later reports analyzed trends that scientists have actually observed. It’s pretty interesting — and pretty scary — stuff.
The first National Climate Assessment kicked off the national process of research, analysis, and dialogue about climate change and its impact. In addition, it helped to lay out a strategy for what Americans can do to adapt to a continuously changing climate.
The report made predictions based on different “what if” scenarios. And, if you look at the weather of the past 18 years, you will see that some of these predictions have come to pass.
First, the report predicted more extreme rain and snow, combined with faster evaporation. This, they said, would lead to a greater frequency of very dry and very wet conditions. And it has.
Second, the report predicted that coastal communities would be at greater risk from storm surges. Specifically, this would be especially true in the Southeastern United States. The unprecedented 2017 hurricane season, which devastated parts of Texas, Florida, and other southeastern states, certainly seemed to bear this out.
In addition, the report predicted reduced snowpack in the Western United States, along with increased heat waves, water shortages, and wildfires. Again, the extreme 2017 wildfire season in the American West seemed to follow the predictions.
The key findings of the 2009 National Climate Assessment include the idea that climate change is an unarguable fact. In addition, it is caused by human activity. Also, the report predicts that both climate change and its impacts will grow.
Water will become a greater challenge. In addition, there will be new threats to livestock, including more pests, less water, new and increased diseases, and weather extremes.
These factors will also affect human health. And these stresses will lead to cultural and social conflict. The report predicts harm to various ecosystems. Additionally, and perhaps more optimistically, the report found that our actions can help to reduce these impacts in the future.
In addition, the report predicts that snowpack will decrease, and water shortages will increase. Finally, the report predicts more intense tropical cyclones and more wildfires.
The 2014 Climate Change Report will also sound familiar. Global annual average temperature over land and oceans has increased. Additionally, so has carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration in the atmosphere.
There has also been an unprecedented decline in sea ice. As a result, there has been simultaneously more Arctic warming and colder weather over sub-Arctic northern countries.
The Western United States is experiencing less snowpack, more drought, and longer dry seasons. Also, once again, the report pins the blame for climate change firmly on humanity’s use of fossil fuels.
The 2017 National Climate Assessment found a continuation of trends reported in earlier assessments. First, the Eastern United States saw more extreme and more frequent rain and snow. Snowfall has declined in the rest of the country.
Second, there have been record-setting droughts and heat waves, especially in the West.
Third, extreme weather events have changed in frequency and intensity. For example, tornado country has seen fewer days with tornadoes, but more tornadoes on those days. Futhermore, the report also predicts that both cold days and warm days will be warmer.
What Has the National Climate Assessment Achieved?
In addition to sharing climate science information, the National Climate Assessment has spawned some useful projects. One of these includes the Resilience Dialogues.
The Obama Administration worked extensively with state, local, and tribal decision makers, as well as businesses and nonprofits, to develop climate information products and technical assistance. The goal was to help these entities to help communities plan for climate changes and challenges.
The Resilience Dialogues is a public/private collaboration that connects community leaders with experts who can help them to lay down concrete plans. As a result, these plans will hopefully help them to lessen the effects of climate events, and to recover from events that affect them.
In addition, the USGCRP has put together a climate resilience toolkit for community leaders. The toolkit allows decision makers to see what other communities are doing, and also to learn more about climate projections for their areas. Additionally, decision makers can build a resilience framework for their communities, including hazards, risks, options, and actions they can take.
The White House, Climate Change, and the Climate Assessment
On August 18, 2017, the Trump Administration disbanded the Climate Advisory Committee. Former President Obama created the Climate Advisory Committee in 2015. Its job was to use information from the National Climate Assessment to help state and local governments prepare for possible changes and disasters due to climate change. The disbanding followed the Trump Administration’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord.
In January of 2018, a coalition of academics and private citizens put the committee back together. Involved parties include New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Richard Moss. Moss is the former chairman of the Federal Advisory Committee for the National Climate Assessment. Additional committee members come from academia, industry, government, and nongovernmental organizations. They hope to carry on the work of the Climate Advisory Council, even without the support of the Federal Government.
What Can You Do?
Educate Yourself. First, read the previous National Climate Assessments. Next, figure out how it applies to your area. Also, you can undertake disaster preparedness training, so that in the event of a climate-related disaster, you can help people directly.
Engage. First, look for groups working for climate resilience in your area. If there are none, start one. Next, engage with policymakers. Write letters and attend town hall meetings. Let your representatives know how you feel. “Public servants” are just that. It’s their job to listen to the will of their constituents and to act on it. Most importantly, if no one is representing your interests, consider running for office yourself.
Act. This can mean different things to different people. You don’t have to run for office. There’s plenty of work behind the scenes, as well as on the front lines. But the important thing is to do something. Because all the National Climate Assessments agree that the future is in our hands.