US in dire climate straits, government report says

US in dire climate straits, government report says
The US is experiencing accelerated warming and “far-reaching and worsening” conditions of climate change. / WClarke
By by Roberta Harrington in Los Angeles November 15, 2023

The US is experiencing accelerated warming and “far-reaching and worsening” conditions of climate change compared with the rest of the world, says a new government report.

The report, the Fifth National Climate Assessment – which was produced by more than 750 experts from various government agencies – highlights a range of increasingly harmful impacts across the US.

These impacts are affecting all regions, from extreme heat and rising sea levels in Florida to declining fish populations and increased food insecurity in Alaska, according to the 2,000-page report. Although US emissions contributing to climate change have decreased since their peak in 2007, these reductions fall short of international targets to avert catastrophic climate change.

The report emphasises that, without deeper cuts in carbon pollution, the US will continue to face severe climate risks. The US is the world’s second-biggest current emitter and largest historical emitter.

The world is on track to warm more than 2C, in part because the US is not on track to meet goals. US net emissions would have to fall by more than 6% each year on average to meet its targets. But US emissions fell by less than 1% per year, on average, between 2005 and 2019.

Even with substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, the report warns that climate change's effects will intensify in the coming decade. It underscores that decisions made by the US and other nations will shape the trajectory of climate change for generations to come.

This latest iteration of the congressionally mandated climate assessment, the fifth of its kind, follows a summer marked by climate change-driven events across the country, including devastating wildfires in Hawaii, wildfire smoke on the east coast, and record-breaking heatwaves in multiple states including Texas.

Allison Crimmins, a climate scientist and the director of the National Climate Assessment, pointed out that more people are witnessing the immediate impacts of climate change. She noted that the US now experiences a disaster costing at least $1bn in damages every three weeks on average, compared with every four months in the 1980s. Crimmins emphasised the urgency of addressing these challenges and the disproportionate burden placed on vulnerable communities.

The report's release, just weeks ahead of crucial United Nations COP28 climate talks in Dubai, marks the first such release during President Joe Biden's tenure, with the previous assessment being published by the administration of climate-denier Donald Trump in 2018.

The White House has used this updated report to highlight Biden's efforts to combat the climate crisis. It has announced more than $5bn in new spending aimed at improving the electricity grid, enhancing disaster resilience, and addressing environmental inequality.

Nevertheless, concerns persist over the approval of major oil and gas projects that extend the fossil-fuel era.

Ali Zaidi, Biden's climate adviser, described the investment in clean energy through the Inflation Reduction Act as "historic" and pointed to the report's endorsement of the economic and health benefits of transitioning to solar, wind and electric vehicles (EVs).

Acknowledging the monumental challenge ahead, John Podesta, a clean energy adviser to Biden, stressed the need to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, which would require a transformation of the global economy on an unprecedented scale.