US coast, Midwest at risk: climate panel


Sun, Jan 13, 2013 - Page 7

Average US temperatures may jump as much as 2.2oC in the coming decades, and efforts to combat the effects are insufficient, a government advisory panel on climate change said.

The 60-member panel approved and released a draft report on Friday that says many coastal areas face “potentially irreversible impacts” as warmer temperatures lead to flooding, storm surges and water shortages.

“The chances of record-breaking, high-temperature extremes will continue to increase as the climate continues to change,” the panel said in its report.

Temperatures are predicted to increase, on average, by between 2oC and 4oC in the next few decades, according to the report.

The panel of scientists from academia, industry, environmental groups and the government prepared the report, and its findings are the closest to a consensus about global warming in the US. Reports in 2000 and 2009 by the US Global Change Research Program concluded carbon dioxide emissions since the Industrial Revolution have led to a warming of the Earth’s temperature, which threatens to cause extreme weather, drought and floods.

The latest report “represents a consensus of the scientific community of what has changed and what the impacts are across the country,” Katharine Jacobs, a White House official who is director of the assessment, said on Friday after the panel met. “It’s important given how rapidly things are changing.”

The current 400-page report for the first time tackles efforts to adapt to global warming and efforts to mitigate its effect, Jacobs said.

Already, average US temperatures are up 1.5oF since 1895, with most of the increase occurring in the past three decades, it said. Last year was the warmest on record going back to 1895 for the 48 contiguous US states and the second-worst for weather extremes including arid conditions, hurricanes and wildfires, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The group highlighted the possible impact of the increased temperatures, which will include more intense heat waves, reduced water quality, increased risk of coastal erosion and stronger storm surges along the coasts.

“As a result of past emissions of heat-trapping gases, some amount of additional climate change and related impacts is now unavoidable,” according to the report. “However, beyond the next few decades, the amount of climate change will still largely be determined by choices society makes about emissions.”

Not all the outcomes are catastrophic. Warming will mean a longer growing season in the Midwest and northeast, and farmers should be able to adapt to warmer seasons for the next 25 years, it said.

“The draft report is the most thorough, science-based assessment of present and future climate-driven impacts facing America,” Lou Leonard, managing director for climate change at the World Wildlife Fund, said in a statement.