This website is the digital version of the 2014 National Climate Assessment, produced in collaboration with the U.S. Global Change Research Program.

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Welcome to the National Climate Assessment

The National Climate Assessment summarizes the impacts of climate change on the United States, now and in the future.

A team of more than 300 experts guided by a 60-member Federal Advisory Committee produced the report, which was extensively reviewed by the public and experts, including federal agencies and a panel of the National Academy of Sciences.

Explore the effects of climate change
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Overview

The National Climate Assessment summarizes the impacts of climate change on the United States, now and in the future. A team of more than 300 experts guided by a 60-member Federal Advisory Committee produced the report, which was extensively reviewed by the public and experts, including federal agencies and a panel of the National Academy of Sciences.

Explore the overview.

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Introduction

Climate change, 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. So, too, are coastal planners in Florida, water managers in the arid Southwest, city dwellers from Phoenix to New York, and Native Peoples on tribal lands from Louisiana to Alaska. This National Climate Assessment concludes that the evidence of human-induced climate change continues to strengthen and that impacts are increasing across the country.

Americans are noticing changes all around them. Summers are longer and hotter, and extended periods of unusual heat last longer than any living American has ever experienced. Winters are generally shorter and warmer. Rain comes in heavier downpours. People are seeing changes in the length and severity of seasonal allergies, the plant varieties that thrive in their gardens, and the kinds of birds they see in any particular month in their neighborhoods.

woman inspecting grapes ©Ted Wood Photography

Other changes are even more dramatic. Residents of some coastal cities see their streets flood more regularly during storms and high tides. Inland cities near large rivers also experience more flooding, especially in the Midwest and Northeast. Insurance rates are rising in some vulnerable locations, and insurance is no longer available in others. Hotter and drier weather and earlier snow melt mean that wildfires in the West start earlier in the spring, last later into the fall, and burn more acreage. In Arctic Alaska, the summer sea ice that once protected the coasts has receded, and autumn storms now cause more erosion, threatening many communities with relocation.

Scientists who study climate change confirm that these observations are consistent with significant changes in Earth’s climatic trends. Long-term, independent records from weather stations, satellites, ocean buoys, tide gauges, and many other data sources all confirm that our nation, like the rest of the world, is warming. Precipitation patterns are changing, sea level is rising, the oceans are becoming more acidic, and the frequency and intensity of some extreme weather events are increasing. Many lines of independent evidence demonstrate that the rapid warming of the past half-century is due primarily to human activities.

The observed warming and other climatic changes are triggering wide-ranging impacts in every region of our country and throughout our economy. Some of these changes can be beneficial over the short run, such as a longer growing season in some regions and a longer shipping season on the Great Lakes. But many more are detrimental, largely because our society and its infrastructure were designed for the climate that we have had, not the rapidly changing climate we now have and can expect in the future. In addition, climate change does not occur in isolation. Rather, it is superimposed on other stresses, which combine to create new challenges.

woman and solar panel ©Bill Miles/Mint Images/Corbis

This National Climate Assessment collects, integrates, and assesses observations and research from around the country, helping us to see what is actually happening and understand what it means for our lives, our livelihoods, and our future. The report includes analyses of impacts on seven sectors – human health, water, energy, transportation, agriculture, forests, and ecosystems – and the interactions among sectors at the national level. The report also assesses key impacts on all U.S. regions: Northeast, Southeast and Caribbean, Midwest, Great Plains, Southwest, Northwest, Alaska, Hawai'i and Pacific Islands, as well as the country’s coastal areas, oceans, and marine resources.

Over recent decades, climate science has advanced significantly. Increased scrutiny has led to increased certainty that we are now seeing impacts associated with human-induced climate change. With each passing year, the accumulating evidence further expands our understanding and extends the record of observed trends in temperature, precipitation, sea level, ice mass, and many other variables recorded by a variety of measuring systems and analyzed by independent research groups from around the world. It is notable that as these data records have grown longer and climate models have become more comprehensive, earlier predictions have largely been confirmed. The only real surprises have been that some changes, such as sea level rise and Arctic sea ice decline, have outpaced earlier projections.

What is new over the last decade is that we know with increasing certainty that climate change is happening now. While scientists continue to refine projections of the future, observations unequivocally show that climate is changing and that the warming of the past 50 years is primarily due to human-induced emissions of heat-trapping gases. These emissions come mainly from burning coal, oil, and gas, with additional contributions from forest clearing and some agricultural practices.

man holding soil ©iStockPhoto.com/shotbydave

Global climate is projected to continue to change over this century and beyond, but there is still time to act to limit the amount of change and the extent of damaging impacts.

This report documents the changes already observed and those projected for the future.

It is important that these findings and response options be shared broadly to inform citizens and communities across our nation. Climate change presents a major challenge for society. This report advances our understanding of that challenge and the need for the American people to prepare for and respond to its far-reaching implications.

Overview

Climate change is already affecting the American people in far-reaching ways. Certain types of extreme weather events with links to climate change have become more frequent and/or intense, including prolonged periods of heat, heavy downpours, and, in some regions, floods and droughts. In addition, warming is causing sea level to rise and glaciers and Arctic sea ice to melt, and oceans are becoming more acidic as they absorb carbon dioxide. These and other aspects of climate change are disrupting people’s lives and damaging some sectors of our economy.

Climate Change: Present and Future

Evidence for climate change abounds, from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the oceans. Scientists and engineers from around the world have meticulously collected this evidence, using satellites and networks of weather balloons, thermometers, buoys, and other observing systems. Evidence of climate change is also visible in the observed and measured changes in location and behavior of species and functioning of ecosystems. Taken together, this evidence tells an unambiguous story: the planet is warming, and over the last half century, this warming has been driven primarily by human activity.

Ten Indicators of a Warming World Ten Indicators of a Warming World Details/Download

Multiple lines of independent evidence confirm that human activities are the primary cause of the global warming of the past 50 years. The burning of coal, oil, and gas, and clearing of forests have increased the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by more than 40% since the Industrial Revolution, and it has been known for almost two centuries that this carbon dioxide traps heat. Methane and nitrous oxide emissions from agriculture and other human activities add to the atmospheric burden of heat-trapping gases. Data show that natural factors like the sun and volcanoes cannot have caused the warming observed over the past 50 years. Sensors on satellites have measured the sun’s output with great accuracy and found no overall increase during the past half century. Large volcanic eruptions during this period, such as Mount Pinatubo in 1991, have exerted a short-term cooling influence. In fact, if not for human activities, global climate would actually have cooled slightly over the past 50 years. The pattern of temperature change through the layers of the atmosphere, with warming near the surface and cooling higher up in the stratosphere, further confirms that it is the buildup of heat-trapping gases (also known as “greenhouse gases”) that has caused most of the Earth’s warming over the past half century.

Projected Global Temperature Change

Projected Global Temperature Change

Modeled HistoricalSRES A2SRES B1Observations

Different amounts of heat-trapping gases released into the atmosphere by human activities produce different projected increases in Earth’s temperature. The lines on the graph represent a central estimate of global average temperature rise (relative to the 1901-1960 average) for the two main scenarios used in this report. A2 assumes continued increases in emissions throughout this century, and B1 assumes significant emissions reductions, though not due explicitly to climate change policies. Shading indicates the range (5th to 95th percentile) of results from a suite of climate models. In both cases, temperatures are expected to rise, although the difference between lower and higher emissions pathways is substantial. (Figure source: NOAA NCDC / CICS-NC).

Details/Download

Because human-induced warming is superimposed on a background of natural variations in climate, warming is not uniform over time. Short-term fluctuations in the long-term upward trend are thus natural and expected. For example, a recent slowing in the rate of surface air temperature rise appears to be related to cyclic changes in the oceans and in the sun’s energy output, as well as a series of small volcanic eruptions and other factors. Nonetheless, global temperatures are still on the rise and are expected to rise further.

U.S. average temperature has increased by 1.3°F to 1.9°F since 1895, and most of this increase has occurred since 1970. The most recent decade was the nation’s and the world’s hottest on record, and 2012 was the hottest year on record in the continental United States. All U.S. regions have experienced warming in recent decades, but the extent of warming has not been uniform. In general, temperatures are rising more quickly in the north. Alaskans have experienced some of the largest increases in temperature between 1970 and the present. People living in the Southeast have experienced some of the smallest temperature increases over this period.

coal fired plant

Coal-fired power plants emit heat-trapping carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

Temperatures are projected to rise another 2°F to 4°F in most areas of the United States over the next few decades. Reductions in some short-lived human-induced emissions that contribute to warming, such as black carbon (soot) and methane, could reduce some of the projected warming over the next couple of decades, because, unlike carbon dioxide, these gases and particles have relatively short atmospheric lifetimes.The amount of warming projected beyond the next few decades is directly linked to the cumulative global emissions of heat-trapping gases and particles. By the end of this century, a roughly 3°F to 5°F rise is projected under a lower emissions scenario, which would require substantial reductions in emissions (referred to as the “B1 scenario”), and a 5°F to 10°F rise for a higher emissions scenario assuming continued increases in emissions, predominantly from fossil fuel combustion (referred to as the “A2 scenario”). These projections are based on results from 16 climate models that used the two emissions scenarios in a formal inter-model comparison study. The range of model projections for each emissions scenario is the result of the differences in the ways the models represent key factors such as water vapor, ice and snow reflectivity, and clouds, which can either dampen or amplify the initial effect of human influences on temperature. The net effect of these feedbacks is expected to amplify warming. More information about the models and scenarios used in this report can be found in Appendix 5 of the full report.1

Separating Human and Natural Influences on Climate

Prolonged periods of high temperatures and the persistence of high nighttime temperatures have increased in many locations (especially in urban areas) over the past half century. High nighttime temperatures have widespread impacts because people, livestock, and wildlife get no respite from the heat. In some regions, prolonged periods of high temperatures associated with droughts contribute to conditions that lead to larger wildfires and longer fire seasons. As expected in a warming climate, recent trends show that extreme heat is becoming more common, while extreme cold is becoming less common. Evidence indicates that the human influence on climate has already roughly doubled the probability of extreme heat events such as the record-breaking summer heat experienced in 2011 in Texas and Oklahoma. The incidence of record-breaking high temperatures is projected to rise.2

Separating Human and Natural Influences on Climate

Separating Human and Natural Influences on Climate

ObservationsNatural and Human FactorsNatural Factors Only

The green band shows how global average temperature would have changed over the last century due to natural forces alone, as simulated by climate models. The blue band shows model simulations of the effects of human and natural forces (including solar and volcanic activity) combined. The black line shows the actual observed global average temperatures. Only with the inclusion of human influences can models reproduce the observed temperature changes. (Figure source: adapted from Huber and Knutti 20122).

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Human-induced climate change means much more than just hotter weather. Increases in ocean and freshwater temperatures, frost-free days, and heavy downpours have all been documented. Global sea level has risen, and there have been large reductions in snow-cover extent, glaciers, and sea ice. These changes and other climatic changes have affected and will continue to affect human health, water supply, agriculture, transportation, energy, coastal areas, and many other sectors of society, with increasingly adverse impacts on the American economy and quality of life.3

Some of the changes discussed in this report are common to many regions. For example, large increases in heavy precipitation have occurred in the Northeast, Midwest, and Great Plains, where heavy downpours have frequently led to runoff that exceeded the capacity of storm drains and levees, and caused flooding events and accelerated erosion. Other impacts, such as those associated with the rapid thawing of permafrost in Alaska, are unique to a particular U.S. region. Permafrost thawing is causing extensive damage to infrastructure in our nation’s largest state.4

Observed Change in Very Heavy Precipitation

Observed Change in Very Heavy Precipitation

Percent changes in the amount of precipitation falling in very heavy events (the heaviest 1%) from 1958 to 2012 for each region. There is a clear national trend toward a greater amount of precipitation being concentrated in very heavy events, particularly in the Northeast and Midwest. (Figure source: updated from Karl et al. 2009:3).

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Some impacts that occur in one region ripple beyond that region. For example, the dramatic decline of summer sea ice in the Arctic – a loss of ice cover roughly equal to half the area of the continental United States – exacerbates global warming by reducing the reflectivity of Earth’s surface and increasing the amount of heat absorbed. Similarly, smoke from wildfires in one location can contribute to poor air quality in faraway regions, and evidence suggests that particulate matter can affect atmospheric properties and therefore weather patterns. Major storms and the higher storm surges exacerbated by sea level rise that hit the Gulf Coast affect the entire country through their cascading effects on oil and gas production and distribution.5

As Oceans Absorb CO2 They Become More Acidic

As Oceans Absorb CO2, They Become More Acidic

Mauna Loa Atmospheric CO2 (ppm)Aloha Ocean pCO2 in situ (µatm)Aloha Ocean pH (in situ)
 

The correlation between rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (red) with rising carbon dioxide levels (blue) and falling pH in the ocean (green). As carbon dioxide accumulates in the ocean, the water becomes more acidic (the pH declines). (Figure source: modified from Feely et al. 20094).

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Shells Dissolve in Acidified Ocean Water

Shells Dissolve in Acidified Ocean Water

Pteropods, or “sea butterflies,” are eaten by a variety of marine species ranging from tiny krill to salmon to whales. The photos show what happens to a pteropod’s shell in seawater that is too acidic. On the left is a shell from a live pteropod from a region in the Southern Ocean where acidity is not too high. The shell on the right is from a pteropod in a region where the water is more acidic. (Figure source: (left) Bednaršek et al. 20125 (right) Nina Bednaršek).

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Water expands as it warms, causing global sea levels to rise; melting of land-based ice also raises sea level by adding water to the oceans. Over the past century, global average sea level has risen by about 8 inches. Since 1992, the rate of global sea level rise measured by satellites has been roughly twice the rate observed over the last century, providing evidence of acceleration. Sea level rise, combined with coastal storms, has increased the risk of erosion, storm surge damage, and flooding for coastal communities, especially along the Gulf Coast, the Atlantic seaboard, and in Alaska. Coastal infrastructure, including roads, rail lines, energy infrastructure, airports, port facilities, and military bases, are increasingly at risk from sea level rise and damaging storm surges. Sea level is projected to rise by another 1 to 4 feet in this century, although the rise in sea level in specific regions is expected to vary from this global average for a number of reasons. A wider range of scenarios, from 8 inches to more than 6 feet by 2100, has been used in risk-based analyses in this report. In general, higher emissions scenarios that lead to more warming would be expected to lead to higher amounts of sea level rise. The stakes are high, as nearly five million Americans and hundreds of billions of dollars of property are located in areas that are less than four feet above the local high-tide level.6

In addition to causing changes in climate, increasing levels of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels and other human activities have a direct effect on the world’s oceans. Carbon dioxide interacts with ocean water to form carbonic acid, increasing the ocean’s acidity. Ocean surface waters have become 30% more acidic over the last 250 years as they have absorbed large amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This ocean acidification makes water more corrosive, reducing the capacity of marine organisms with shells or skeletons made of calcium carbonate (such as corals, krill, oysters, clams, and crabs) to survive, grow, and reproduce, which in turn will affect the marine food chain.7

Widespread Impacts

Impacts related to climate change are already evident in many regions and sectors and are expected to become increasingly disruptive across the nation throughout this century and beyond. Climate changes interact with other environmental and societal factors in ways that can either moderate or intensify these impacts.

Some climate changes currently have beneficial effects for specific sectors or regions. For example, current benefits of warming include longer growing seasons for agriculture and longer ice-free periods for shipping on the Great Lakes. At the same time, however, longer growing seasons, along with higher temperatures and carbon dioxide levels, can increase pollen production, intensifying and lengthening the allergy season. Longer ice-free periods on the Great Lakes can result in more lake-effect snowfalls.

Observed and projected climate change impacts vary across the regions of the United States. Selected impacts emphasized in the regional chapters are shown below, and many more are explored in detail in this report.

Region Impacts

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Northeast Communities are affected by heat waves, more extreme precipitation events, and coastal flooding due to sea level rise and storm surge.
Southeast and Caribbean Decreased water availability, exacerbated by population growth and land-use change, causes increased competition for water. There are increased risks associated with extreme events such as hurricanes.
Midwest Longer growing seasons and rising carbon dioxide levels increase yields of some crops, although these benefits have already been offset in some instances by occurrence of extreme events such as heat waves, droughts, and floods.
Great Plains Rising temperatures lead to increased demand for water and energy and impacts on agricultural practices.
Southwest Drought and increased warming foster wildfires and increased competition for scarce water resources for people and ecosystems.
Northwest Changes in the timing of streamflow related to earlier snowmelt reduce the supply of water in summer, causing far-reaching ecological and socioeconomic consequences.
Alaska Rapidly receding summer sea ice, shrinking glaciers, and thawing permafrost cause damage to infrastructure and major changes to ecosystems. Impacts to Alaska Native communities increase.
Hawai‘i and Pacific Islands Increasingly constrained freshwater supplies, coupled with increased temperatures, stress both people and ecosystems and decrease food and water security.
Coasts Coastal lifelines, such as water supply infrastructure and evacuation routes, are increasingly vulnerable to higher sea levels and storm surges, inland flooding and other climate-related changes.
Oceans The oceans are currently absorbing about a quarter of human-caused carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere and over 90% of the heat associated with global warming, leading to ocean acidification and the alteration of marine ecosystems.

Sectors affected by climate changes include agriculture, water, human health, energy, transportation, forests, and ecosystems. Climate change poses a major challenge to U.S. agriculture because of the critical dependence of agricultural systems on climate. Climate change has the potential to both positively and negatively affect the location, timing, and productivity of crop, livestock, and fishery systems at local, national, and global scales. The United States produces nearly $330 billion per year in agricultural commodities. This productivity is vulnerable to direct impacts on crops and livestock from changing climate conditions and extreme weather events and indirect impacts through increasing pressures from pests and pathogens. Climate change will also alter the stability of food supplies and create new food security challenges for the United States as the world seeks to feed nine billion people by 2050. While the agriculture sector has proven to be adaptable to a range of stresses, as evidenced by continued growth in production and efficiency across the United States, climate change poses a new set of challenges.8

Water quality and quantity are being affected by climate change. Changes in precipitation and runoff, combined with changes in consumption and withdrawal, have reduced surface and groundwater supplies in many areas. These trends are expected to continue, increasing the likelihood of water shortages for many uses. Water quality is also diminishing in many areas, particularly due to sediment and contaminant concentrations after heavy downpours. Sea level rise, storms and storm surges, and changes in surface and groundwater use patterns are expected to compromise the sustainability of coastal freshwater aquifers and wetlands. In most U.S. regions, water resources managers and planners will encounter new risks, vulnerabilities, and opportunities that may not be properly managed with existing practices.9

Climate change affects human health in many ways. For example, increasingly frequent and intense heat events lead to more heat-related illnesses and deaths and, over time, worsen drought and wildfire risks, and intensify air pollution. Increasingly frequent extreme precipitation and associated flooding can lead to injuries and increases in waterborne disease. Rising sea surface temperatures have been linked with increasing levels and ranges of diseases. Rising sea levels intensify coastal flooding and storm surge, and thus exacerbate threats to public safety during storms. Certain groups of people are more vulnerable to the range of climate change related health impacts, including the elderly, children, the poor, and the sick. Others are vulnerable because of where they live, including those in floodplains, coastal zones, and some urban areas. Improving and properly supporting the public health infrastructure will be critical to managing the potential health impacts of climate change.10

Climate change also affects the living world, including people, through changes in ecosystems and biodiversity. Ecosystems provide a rich array of benefits and services to humanity, including habitat for fish and wildlife, drinking water storage and filtration, fertile soils for growing crops, buffering against a range of stressors including climate change impacts, and aesthetic and cultural values. These benefits are not always easy to quantify, but they support jobs, economic growth, health, and human well-being. Climate change driven disruptions to ecosystems have direct and indirect human impacts, including reduced water supply and quality, the loss of iconic species and landscapes, effects on food chains and the timing and success of species migrations, and the potential for extreme weather and climate events to destroy or degrade the ability of ecosystems to provide societal benefits.11

Human modifications of ecosystems and landscapes often increase their vulnerability to damage from extreme weather events, while simultaneously reducing their natural capacity to moderate the impacts of such events. For example, salt marshes, reefs, mangrove forests, and barrier islands defend coastal ecosystems and infrastructure, such as roads and buildings, against storm surges. The loss of these natural buffers due to coastal development, erosion, and sea level rise increases the risk of catastrophic damage during or after extreme weather events. Although floodplain wetlands are greatly reduced from their historical extent, those that remain still absorb floodwaters and reduce the effects of high flows on river-margin lands. Extreme weather events that produce sudden increases in water flow, often carrying debris and pollutants, can decrease the natural capacity of ecosystems to cleanse contaminants.12

The climate change impacts being felt in the regions and sectors of the United States are affected by global trends and economic decisions. In an increasingly interconnected world, U.S. vulnerability is linked to impacts in other nations. It is thus difficult to fully evaluate the impacts of climate change on the United States without considering consequences of climate change elsewhere.

Response Options

As the impacts of climate change are becoming more prevalent, Americans face choices. Especially because of past emissions of long-lived heat-trapping gases, some additional climate change and related impacts are now unavoidable. This is due to the long-lived nature of many of these gases, as well as the amount of heat absorbed and retained by the oceans and other responses within the climate system. The amount of future climate change, however, will still largely be determined by choices society makes about emissions. Lower emissions of heat-trapping gases and particles mean less future warming and less-severe impacts; higher emissions mean more warming and more severe impacts. Efforts to limit emissions or increase carbon uptake fall into a category of response options known as “mitigation,” which refers to reducing the amount and speed of future climate change by reducing emissions of heat-trapping gases or removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.13

The other major category of response options is known as “adaptation,” and refers to actions to prepare for and adjust to new conditions, thereby reducing harm or taking advantage of new opportunities. Mitigation and adaptation actions are linked in multiple ways, including that effective mitigation reduces the need for adaptation in the future. Both are essential parts of a comprehensive climate change response strategy. The threat of irreversible impacts makes the timing of mitigation efforts particularly critical. This report includes chapters on Mitigation, Adaptation, and Decision Support that offer an overview of the options and activities being planned or implemented around the country as local, state, federal, and tribal governments, as well as businesses, organizations, and individuals begin to respond to climate change. These chapters conclude that while response actions are under development, current implementation efforts are insufficient to avoid increasingly negative social, environmental, and economic consequences.14

Large reductions in global emissions of heat-trapping gases, similar to the lower emissions scenario (B1) analyzed in this assessment, would reduce the risks of some of the damaging impacts of climate change. Some targets called for in international climate negotiations to date would require even larger reductions than those outlined in the B1 scenario. Meanwhile, global emissions are still rising and are on a path to be even higher than the high emissions scenario (A2) analyzed in this report. The recent U.S. contribution to annual global emissions is about 18%, but the U.S. contribution to cumulative global emissions over the last century is much higher. Carbon dioxide lasts for a long time in the atmosphere, and it is the cumulative carbon emissions that determine the amount of global climate change. After decades of increases, U.S. CO2 emissions from energy use (which account for 97% of total U.S. emissions) declined by around 9% between 2008 and 2012, largely due to a shift from coal to less CO2-intensive natural gas for electricity production. Governmental actions in city, state, regional, and federal programs to promote energy efficiency have also contributed to reducing U.S. carbon emissions. Many, if not most of these programs are motivated by other policy objectives, but some are directed specifically at greenhouse gas emissions. These U.S. actions and others that might be undertaken in the future are described in the Mitigation chapter of this report. Over the remainder of this century, aggressive and sustained greenhouse gas emission reductions by the United States and by other nations would be needed to reduce global emissions to a level consistent with the lower scenario (B1) analyzed in this assessment.15

With regard to adaptation, the pace and magnitude of observed and projected changes emphasize the need to be prepared for a wide variety and intensity of impacts. Because of the growing influence of human activities, the climate of the past is not a good basis for future planning. For example, building codes and landscaping ordinances could be updated to improve energy efficiency, conserve water supplies, protect against insects that spread disease (such as dengue fever), reduce susceptibility to heat stress, and improve protection against extreme events. The fact that climate change impacts are increasing points to the urgent need to develop and refine approaches that enable decision-making and increase flexibility and resilience in the face of ongoing and future impacts. Reducing non-climate-related stresses that contribute to existing vulnerabilities can also be an effective approach to climate change adaptation.16

Adaptation can involve considering local, state, regional, national, and international jurisdictional objectives. For example, in managing water supplies to adapt to a changing climate, the implications of international treaties should be considered in the context of managing the Great Lakes, the Columbia River, and the Colorado River to deal with increased drought risk. Both “bottom up” community planning and “top down” national strategies may help regions deal with impacts such as increases in electrical brownouts, heat stress, floods, and wildfires.17

Proactively preparing for climate change can reduce impacts while also facilitating a more rapid and efficient response to changes as they happen. Such efforts are beginning at the federal, regional, state, tribal, and local levels, and in the corporate and non-governmental sectors, to build adaptive capacity and resilience to climate change impacts. Using scientific information to prepare for climate changes in advance can provide economic opportunities, and proactively managing the risks can reduce impacts and costs over time.18

man riding bike; green roof; house on stilts

Cities providing transportation options including bike lanes, buildings designed with energy saving features such as green roofs, and houses elevated to allow storm surges to pass underneath are among the many response options being pursued around the country.

There are a number of areas where improved scientific information or understanding would enhance the capacity to estimate future climate change impacts. For example, knowledge of the mechanisms controlling the rate of ice loss in Greenland and Antarctica is limited, making it difficult for scientists to narrow the range of expected future sea level rise. Improved understanding of ecological and social responses to climate change is needed, as is understanding of how ecological and social responses will interact.19

A sustained climate assessment process could more efficiently collect and synthesize the rapidly evolving science and help supply timely and relevant information to decision-makers. Results from all of these efforts could continue to deepen our understanding of the interactions of human and natural systems in the context of a changing climate, enabling society to effectively respond and prepare for our future.20

The cumulative weight of the scientific evidence contained in this report confirms that climate change is affecting the American people now, and that choices we make will affect our future and that of future generations.
 

In the Overview, reference numbers in the main text indicate chapters from the full report that provide supporting evidence for the reported conclusions, as shown in the list below. Reference numbers for figure sources refer to external sources.

  1. Ch. 2.
  2. Ch. 2, 3, 6, 9, 20.
  3. Ch. 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 9, 10, 12, 16, 20, 24, 25.
  4. Ch. 2, 12, 16, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23.
  5. Ch. 2, 4, 12, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 22, 25.
  6. Ch. 2, 4, 5, 10, 12, 16, 17, 20, 22, 25.
  7. Ch. 2, 12, 23, 24, 25.
  8. Ch. 2, 12, 13, 14, 18, 19.
  9. Ch. 2, 3, 12, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 23.
  10. Ch. 2, 9, 11, 12, 13, 16, 18, 19, 20, 25.
  11. Ch. 3, 6, 8, 12, 14, 23, 24, 25.
  12. Ch. 3, 7, 8, 25.
  13. Ch. 2, 26, 27.
  14. Ch. 26, 27, 28.
  15. Ch. 2, 4, 27.
  16. Ch. 2, 3, 5, 9, 11, 12, 13, 25, 26, 27, 28.
  17. Ch. 3, 7, 9, 10, 12, 18, 20, 21, 26, 28.
  18. Ch. 28.
  19. Ch. 29, Appendix 6.
  20. Ch. 30.
  21. Ch. 2, Appendices 3 and 4.
  22. Ch. 2, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 23, Appendices 3 and 4.
  23. Ch. 2, 27, Appendices 3 and 4.
  24. Ch. 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23,24, 25.
  25. Ch. 2, 6, 9, 11, 12, 16, 19, 20, 22, 23.
  26. Ch. 2, 3, 5, 6, 11, 12, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 25.
  27. Ch. 2, 3, 12, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 23.
  28. Ch. 2, 6, 12, 13, 14, 18, 19.
  29. Ch. 12, 17, 20, 21, 22, 23, 25.
  30. Ch. 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, 10, 11, 14, 15, 19, 25.
  31. Ch. 2, 12, 23, 24, 25.
  32. Ch. 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 13, 15, 25, 26, 27, 28.

References

  1. Bednaršek, N., G. A. Tarling, D. C. E. Bakker, S. Fielding, E. M. Jones, H. J. Venables, P. Ward, A. Kuzirian, B. Lézé, R. A. Feely, and E. J. Murphy, 2012: Extensive dissolution of live pteropods in the Southern Ocean. Nature Geoscience, 5, 881-885, doi:10.1038/ngeo1635.

  2. Feely, R. A., S. C. Doney, and S. R. Cooley, 2009: Ocean acidification: Present conditions and future changes in a high-CO2 world. Oceanography, 22, 36-47, doi:10.5670/oceanog.2009.95. URL

  3. Huber, M., and R. Knutti, 2012: Anthropogenic and natural warming inferred from changes in Earth's energy balance. Nature Geoscience, 5, 31-36, doi:10.1038/ngeo1327. URL

  4. Karl, T. R., J. T. Melillo, and T. C. Peterson, 2009: Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States. T.R. Karl, J.T. Melillo, and T.C. Peterson, Eds. Cambridge University Press, 189 pp. URL

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The National Climate Assessment summarizes the impacts of climate change on the United States, now and in the future.

A team of more than 300 experts guided by a 60-member Federal Advisory Committee produced the report, which was extensively reviewed by the public and experts, including federal agencies and a panel of the National Academy of Sciences.

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