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Cornelius B. Murphy, Jr., Ph.D. Headshot

Draft Climate Report Paints Bleak Picture

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The 2013 Draft National Climate Assessment Report was released for public review on January 11 in the form of a 1,193-page document that paints a bleak picture. The report was prepared by the 60-person National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee with more than 240 authors providing input.

The introduction to the voluminous report is framed as a letter to the American people that tells an alarming story about the changing American climate and the impacts that we see and sense almost every day. The report suggests that corn producers in Iowa, oyster growers in the state of Washington and maple syrup producers in the Northeast have experienced the impact of climate change in a most direct economic way. The damage from tropical storms Lee and Irene and Superstorm Sandy has been widespread and devastating and is also linked to climate change. Americans whose livelihoods are not directly related to the weather notice that summers are generally longer and hotter than they remember in the past while winters feel milder and shorter.

Among the report's 30 chapters, which cover both the various sectors of the U.S. economy and the nation's geographic regions, two of the most important chapters cover adaptation and mitigation.

Under mitigation it is significant to note that:

• The U.S. economy has been emitting less CO2 per unit of GDP: growth largely reflecting the reduction in energy required to produce each unit of GDP.
• Our forests are important in sequestering 13 percent of U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases.
• Despite the lack of a comprehensive national greenhouse gas policy, actions taken at the federal, state and local level represent significant steps forward but are not adequate to reduce the catastrophic impacts projected by 2050 and 2100.
• The most ambitious state program is California's Global Warming Solutions Act, which sets a state goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.
• Other voluntary actions being undertaken include the Carbon Disclosure Project with 650 business signatories, the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement supported by 1,055 municipalities from all 50 states and the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment backed by 677 higher education institutions.

The draft report notes that progress has been made in adaptation planning:

Executive Order 13514 has been established on the federal level requiring federal agencies to develop recommendations for strengthening policies and programs necessary to adapt to climate change. A new National Global Change Research Plan has also been developed identifying the goals of improving science in this area, improving decision making and developing a communication plan.

The Army Corps of Engineers is looking at the vulnerability of water resources infrastructure to climate change impacts and ways to improve the resilience of the current infrastructure. The U.S. Forest Service is looking at short-term and long-term actions to reduce climate risks to our nation's forests and grasslands. In the end, all federal agencies are developing Adaptation Plans as part of their annual Strategic Sustainability Performance Plans.

States are also getting more active in climate change adaptation planning. At least 15 states have completed adaptation plans and four states are in the process of writing plans.

In covering adaptation, the report notes that adaptation action is hampered by lack of funding, policy and legal impediments; and that sharing best practices, learning by doing and collaboration including stakeholder involvement can support progress. It also points out that climate change adaptation measures often fulfill other societal goals such as sustainable development, disaster risk reduction and quality of life improvement, so they can be incorporated into existing decision-making processes.

If you are interested in the future of our planet, I urge you to read at least the introduction and the Executive Summary and provide your comments during the review process. The report can be accessed at here.

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