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Climate Change Likely To Add Fuel To Wildfires, Causing Greater Risk Of Respiratory Harm From Smoke Inhalation, U.S. Government Study Finds

New Report Says Communities Across The U.S. Are Vulnerable To Climate Change, Calls For Implementation Of Preparedness Measures

WASHINGTON, July 17, 2008 – Wildfires, which have ravaged the Western United States to a record degree in recent years, are likely to become even more severe, frequent and widespread due to climate change, leading to an expected increase in respiratory illness from smoke inhalation, increased property damage, and significant disruption to communities throughout the West and South, warns a new government report issued today.

The report, prepared by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in conjunction with the U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP), details the impacts of climate change on public health and welfare. It concludes that nearly every region of the U.S. is vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, which will likely include degraded air quality, more frequent and more intense extreme weather events, and greater transmission of diseases. It further states that climate change will likely cause harm to ecosystems across the country, posing threats to humans and animals alike. 

“These ecosystems provide vital habitat for threatened and endangered species and are therefore at the crux of WWF’s conservation mission,” said Dr. Richard Moss, vice president for climate change at World Wildlife Fund (WWF). “But they are also vitally important to human welfare in that they provide essential services ranging from clean water and building materials, to food and recreational opportunities.

“To protect both nature and humanity, it is essential that policies be implemented – at the national and international levels – to reduce greenhouse gas pollution. And, recognizing the disruptive consequences of climate change, we must also move forward on the development and implementation of preparedness measures.”

The report released today, Analyses of the Effects of Global Change on Human Health and Welfare and Human Systems, states that nearly every region of the country will be affected by climate change, which is likely to exacerbate challenges already being faced by state and local governments. “The challenges presented by population growth, an aging population, migration patterns, and urban and coastal development will be affected by changes in temperature, precipitation, and extreme climate-related events,” the report says.

In response, the report outlines a variety of measures to prepare for the expected impacts of climate change and urges that some be implemented without delay: “[T]he strength and consistency of projections for climatic changes for some exposures of concern to human health suggest that implementation of adaptation actions should commence now."

The release of the report today by the EPA comes less than a week after the agency made a public announcement that it would not issue a determination on whether climate change is endangering public health or welfare. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that EPA would be legally required to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act if the agency made an endangerment finding.

“The report issued today further confirms that climate change poses a serious threat not only to the natural environment, but also to public health and welfare,” said Moss. "Yet the EPA appears to have opted not to use the report to inform its decision.”

Fact sheet
Executive summary

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Note to editors:
A chart noting the expected impacts of climate change on specific regions, the executive summary of the report and a fact sheet on the report are available on the WWF website: http://www.worldwildlife.org 

The full report is available online at http://www.climatescience.gov/Library/sap/sap4-6/default.php.