Effects of climate change will be felt more deeply in decades ahead, draft report says

A federal advisory panel released a draft report Friday on how Americans can adapt to a changing climate, a more than 1,000 page tome that also sums up what has become increasingly apparent: The country is hotter than it used to be, rainfall is becoming both more intense and more erratic, and rising seas and storm surges threaten U.S. coasts.

The draft of the third National Climate Assessment warns that with the current rate of global carbon emissions, these impacts will intensify in the coming decades.

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The report does not include policy recommendations, but it is designed to guide decision-makers on the federal, state and local level on how to prepare for a warmer world. In a joint blog post Friday, White House science adviser John P. Holdren and Jane Lubchenco, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, wrote that it is aimed at Americans “who need information about climate change in order to thrive — from farmers deciding which crops to grow, to city planners deciding the diameter of new storm sewers they are replacing, to electric utilities and regulators pondering how to protect the power grid.”

The draft will be open for public comment starting Monday and is scheduled to be finalized in March 2014. It is the third such report since 2000 and the most ambitious.

“This draft report sends a warning to all of us: We must act now in a comprehensive fashion to reduce carbon pollution or expose our people to continuing devastation from extreme weather events and their aftermath,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Rick Piltz, who heads the group Climate Science Watch, said the report offers President Obama a rare opening. “He’s said he wants to lead a national conversation on climate change. He should start the national conversation,” Piltz said.

But congressional Republicans are expected to oppose any such efforts. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), who heads the Republican Study Committee, said in a statement that it is clear Americans will not tolerate any new climate policies: “Even President Obama acknowledged that our focus right now should be on putting folks back to work and growing the economy — not climate change.”

The report’s executive summary states that not only have extreme weather and climate events become more frequent in recent years, “there is new and stronger evidence that many of these increases are related to human activities.”

The report adds that these changes are exacting an economic toll on infrastructure across the country; it also identifies specific vulnerabilities in the Washington region, such as the Chesapeake Bay, which it said was threatened by changing land use patterns and the changing climate.

Virginia Beach ranks among the nation’s “most vulnerable port cities,” according to the assessment, after Miami, the New York City area, New Orleans and Tampa-St. Petersburg.

Human health is likely to suffer as a result of higher temperatures, according to the assessment. Studies show that a 1.8-degree Fahrenheit rise in temperature could boost the number of premature deaths by 1,000 annually because of worse smog and fine particle pollution.

Some sectors of the economy face less immediate threats from a changing climate, according to the analysis. In the next 25 years, U.S. agriculture is expected “to be relatively resilient, even though there will be increasing disruptions from extreme heat, drought, and heavy downpours,” the report states. Over the next 100 years, however, both crops and livestock are likely to suffer, according to the report.

 
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