Climate change report wake-up call to America

A new report showing what effect climate change is having on the US has been published by the Obama administration. Some environmental groups hope it will make the American political climate more receptive to action to reduce greenhouse gases, but environmental action still faces considerable opposition.

The report is the third US National Climate Assessment, an 840-page document detailing how warming is affecting different parts of the US and how the country is dealing with the threat of climate change. It may have greater resonance in the US than the three IPCC reports published in the last few months, as it focuses specifically on America. For example, it highlighted that heavy rainfall in New England, in the north-east, increased by 71% in the last 50 years, while in the drier west it rose by just 5%. Meanwhile, the south-western states are likely to face more wildfires and water shortages.
 
Hopes that it will change the political climate are based on the finding that global warming is no longer theoretical but of practical relevance now. ‘Climate change,’ it says, ‘once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present. Corn producers in Iowa, oyster growers in Washington state, and maple syrup producers in Vermont are all observing climate-related changes that are outside of recent experience.’
 
The report’s authors also made it clear that the argument that warming may be part of the climate’s natural fluctuations should be dismissed. ‘There is no equivocation,’ the lead author Professor Gary Yohe said. ‘It is fundamentally the pace of observations of extreme weather that makes it clear it is not natural variability.’
 
White House officials welcomed the report and said it would guide President Barack Obama in the remaining 32 months of his presidency. He is expected to try to cut carbon emissions from power stations next month, and he will still be in office when the crucial Paris climate summit takes place at the end of next year. Last month he delayed a decision on whether to approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which would bring tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to the US Gulf Coast.
 
‘This is a problem that is affecting Americans right now,’ Obama said in a TV interview. ‘Whether it means increased flooding, greater vulnerability to drought, more severe wildfires – all these things are having an impact on Americans as we speak.’
 
But Obama still faces fundamental opposition to environmental action. A Louisiana Republican senator David Vitter, who sits on the Senate’s environment committee, said: ‘Definitive policy decisions and regional planning based on far too many uncertainties could hurt our nation’s economic viability and competitiveness.’