Rapidly reducing greenhouse gas emissions could limit future consequences of climate change, but deeper cuts are desperately needed or severe climate risks to the United States will continue to increase.
That’s according to a recent report released by the Biden-Harris administration and the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), the Fifth National Climate Assessment, which expounded on efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change since the last National Climate Assessment in 2018. The report determined GHG emissions have fallen since their peak in 2007.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) contributed significantly to the report, with 35 authors and 13 chapter leaders contributing, and the agency providing editorial, graphical, and technical support.
“The key findings of this Fifth National Climate Assessment showcase the science-based information NOAA provides for the nation by observing and predicting climate change and working with communities to build resilience to its effects,” NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad said in a statement. “The report details the far-reaching effects of human-caused climate change on the U.S. and concludes that every additional increment of warming that we avoid — every action to reduce warming — matters for reducing harmful impacts. This report with its strong emphasis on mitigation and adaptation can empower the nation to scale up these efforts as the Biden-Harris administration accelerates the reduction of greenhouse emissions to limit devastating climate impacts.”
Climate Change Risks
The report stated that climate change is happening now in all U.S. regions — and the risks are significant, from sea level rise to annual temperature to precipitation and more. In fact, each additional increment of warming leads to greater risks, impacting food security, water supply, infrastructure, health, the economy, and more.
One of the biggest takeaways from the report was that current actions can have a larger impact on the overall climate change effect in the future. For example, 2 degrees Fahrenheit of warming could cause more than twice the economic harm induced by 1 degree of warming. Plus, higher temperatures and tropical cyclones are associated with worse economic outcomes.
“Future global greenhouse gas emissions from human activities determine whether and how quickly the U.S. reaches warming levels associated with greater risks,” the report stated.
Beyond the long-term implications of reducing greenhouse gasses today, there are near-term benefits and opportunities, as well. From the emergence of low-carbon jobs, improved air quality, and reduced risks to environments and biodiversity, there are numerous health and economic benefits to taking action to steeply curb emissions even further than they are today.
Further, the report also noted that extreme weather events are already having a big impact in the United States, causing direct economic losses through infrastructure damage, disruptions in labor and public services, and losses in property values.
The report also outlines numerous climate change actions and mitigation strategies to prevent the worst-case scenarios. Some of the actions covered include:
- Implementing nature-based solutions — such as restoring coastal wetlands or oyster reefs — to reduce shoreline erosion
- Upgrading stormwater infrastructure to account for heavier rainfall
- Applying innovative agricultural practices to manage increasing drought risk
- Assessing climate risks to roads and public transit
- Managing vegetation to reduce wildfire risk
- Developing urban heat plans to reduce health risks from extreme heat
- Planning relocation from high-risk coastal areas
Despite many of these adaptation actions already underway, the current efforts and investments are “insufficient” to reduce the climate change risks, the report concluded. The report also reiterated that “While U.S. greenhouse gas emissions are falling, the current rate of decline is not sufficient to meet national and international climate commitments and goals.”
Simultaneously as the report was released, President Biden announced more than $6 billion in funding through his Investing in America agenda to strengthen communities’ resilience to climate change.