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Science, Environmental Groups Laud New Report On US Climate Impacts

WASHINGTON, DC - Leading science and environmental groups today lauded the draft of Climate Change and Our Nation, which will be released for public review on Monday, June 12, as a balanced assessment of the potential impacts of climate variability and change on the United States. At the same time, the groups warned that the country should view the report as a wake-up call for Americans to take climate change seriously, and to launch significant efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to hedge against possible negative impacts and surprises.

"Places that Americans love like Florida's coral reefs and the alpine meadows of the Rocky Mountains could suffer greatly from global warming, according to the report. America's alarm bells should go off today," said Jennifer Morgan, director of the World Wildlife Fund's Climate Change Campaign. "The National Assessment shows that now more than ever the US must act to protect its national treasures."

The draft report, which should be released on June 12 for public comment, reveals that natural ecosystems are the most vulnerable to the harmful effects of climate change because they have very limited options to adapt to these changes and because they are already stressed through air and water pollution, habitat fragmentation, and overuse.

"Major alteration of natural ecosystems due to a changing climate is particularly significant because our lives and our economy depend on the sustained bounty of our Nation's lands, waters, and native plant and animal communities," the report stated.

Among the key findings of the report are:

  • According to the climate models used in the assessments, temperatures will rise 5 - 100 F on average in the next 100 years if trends in greenhouse gas emissions continue, but increases will vary somewhat from one US region to the next. It is also very likely that more rain will come in heavy downpours, increasing the risk of floods.
  • Ecosystems are highly vulnerable to the projected rate and magnitude of climate change. The goods and services lost through the disappearance or fragmentation of certain ecosystems are likely to be costly or impossible to replace.
  • Throughout the US, water is likely to become one of the key concerns in coming decades: droughts, floods, declining snow packs and water quality, and possibly greater water use conflicts could become even more common problems than they are today.
  • Climate change and the resulting rise in sea level are likely to worsen threats to buildings, roads, powerlines and other infrastructure along the coast. Sea-level rise is very likely to cause the loss of some barrier beaches, islands, and wetlands, and worsen storm surges and flooding during storms.
  • Overall, US crop productivity is likely to increase over the next few decades, but the gains will not be uniform across the nation. Falling prices and competition are likely to stress some farmers. And pests, droughts and floods could reduce some of the benefits from higher temperatures, precipitation and carbon dioxide.
  • Similarly, forest productivity is likely to increase in some areas over the next few decades, but fires, insects, droughts and diseases will possibly decrease productivity. Climate change will cause long-term shifts in forest species, such as sugar maples moving north out of the Northeast or economically important soft wood species moving from the Southeast to the Mid-Atlantic.

The report covers all regions of the country, and assesses the potential impacts of climate variability and change on water, agriculture, human health, forests, coastal areas, and marine resources.

"This report brings the meaning of global climate change home to every American," said Dr. Susanne Moser of the Union of Concerned Scientists. "Even if the impacts ultimately manifest differently from what the report projects, everyone will experience some changes, and everyone should know that climate change is not science fiction. In some regions, like Alaska, the impacts of warming are here, now."

The report consists of an overview and a much longer foundation document, and is a snapshot of the current state of knowledge produced through a series of regional and sectoral assessments, supplemented through the peer-reviewed literature. The report release was preceded by an extensive, multistage peer-review process involving more than 300 scientific and technical experts throughout the country, and overseen by a Blue Ribbon Panel of renowned scientists.

The so-called National Assessment Synthesis Team, a group of 14 climate change impacts experts, who authored the report, was convened by the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. Federal agencies, under the guidance of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, also reviewed the report.

"Climate change is already happening," said Dr. Janine Bloomfield, senior scientist at Environmental Defense, "Because greenhouse gasses stay in the earth's atmosphere for decades, the time for action is now. Reducing emissions is the most important action we can take now to minimize damage to people, ecosystems, and economies."

The report does not cover the current state of climate science, the question of human causation, or how heat-trapping gases can be reduced but instead focuses exclusively on the potential impacts of global warming, given selected climate change scenarios. It identifies regions and sectors most vulnerable to climate change, opportunities to adapt to likely changes, and the most critical information needs for the US to be better positioned to predict climate change impacts. "No matter how aggressively emissions are reduced, the world will still experience some climate change," the report stated. This is because elevated concentrations of greenhouse gases will remain in the atmosphere for decades as the climate system responds only slowly to changes in human inputs.

"The assessment shows that many of the country's distinct natural features could deteriorate as a result of changing climate," said Dr. Susan Subak, a senior research associate at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "Whether we're talking about fisheries and recreational areas on the coasts, or the habitats of America's mountains and deserts, rising temperatures will put further stress on our natural areas."

"This report is yet another blow to the global warming naysayers. It confirms the validity of the science and the seriousness of the impacts on human health, our economy and our environment," said Philip E. Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust. "And it demonstrates that the current international negotiations in Bonn and the November negotiations in The Hague are critical."

For more information on this report, please go to:
http://www.climatehotmap.org/impacts/