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    Monday, May 12, 2014


    Climate Change Impacts in the United States; U.S. National Climate Assessment

    May 5, 2014 (U.S. Global Change Research Program)

    Climate Change And The American People

    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.

    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 snowmelt 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.

    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. This 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. This report also assesses key impacts on all U.S. regions: Northeast, Southeast and Caribbean, Midwest, Great Plains, Southwest, Northwest, Alaska, Hawai‘i and the 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.

    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…

    A Guide to the Report

    The report has eight major sections, outlined below:

    • Overview and Report Findings: gives a high-level perspective on the full National Climate Assessment and sets out the report’s 12 key findings. The Overview synthesizes and summarizes the ideas that the authors consider to be of greatest importance to the American people.

    • Our Changing Climate: presents recent advances in climate change science, which includes discussions of extreme weather events, observed and projected changes in temperature and precipitation, and the uncertainties associated with these projections. Substantial additional material related to this chapter can be found in the Appendices.

    • Sectors: focuses on climate change impacts for seven societal and environmental sectors: human health, water, energy, transportation, agriculture, forests, and ecosystems and biodiversity; six additional chapters consider the interactions among sectors (such as energy, water, and land use) in the context of a changing climate.

    • Regions: assesses key impacts on U.S. regions – Northeast, Southeast and Caribbean, Midwest, Great Plains, Southwest, Northwest, Alaska, and Hawai‘i and the U.S. affiliated Pacific Islands – as well as coastal areas, oceans, and marine resources.

    • Responses: assesses the current state of responses to climate change, including adaptation, mitigation, and decision support activities.

    • Research Needs: highlights major gaps in science and research to improve future assessments. New research is called for in climate science in support of assessments, climate impacts in regions and sectors, and adaptation, mitigation, and decision support.

    • Sustained Assessment Process: describes an initial vision for and components of an ongoing, long-term assessment process.

    • Appendices: Appendix 1 describes key aspects of the report process, with a focus on engagement; Appendix 2 describes the guidelines used in meeting the terms of the Federal Information Quality Act; Appendix 3 supplements the chapter on Our Changing Climate with an extended treatment of selected science issues; Appendix 4 provides answers to Frequently Asked Questions about climate change; Appendix 5 describes scenarios and models used in this assessment; and Appendix 6 describes possible topics for consideration in future assessments.

    Overarching Perspectives

    Four overarching perspectives, derived from decades of ob- servations, analysis, and experience, have helped to shape this report: 1) climate change is happening in the context of other ongoing changes across the U.S. and the globe; 2) cli- mate change impacts can either be amplified or reduced by societal decisions; 3) climate change related impacts, vulner- abilities, and opportunities in the U.S. are linked to impacts and changes outside the United States, and vice versa; and 4) climate change can lead to dramatic tipping points in natural and social systems. These overarching perspectives are briefly discussed below.

    Global Change Context

    Climate change is one of a number of global changes affecting society, the environment, and the economy; others include population growth, land-use change, air and water pollution, and rising consumption of resources by a growing and wealthier global population. This perspective has implications for assess- ments of climate change impacts and the design of research questions at the national, regional, and local scales. This assess- ment explores some of the consequences of interacting factors by focusing on sets of crosscutting issues in a series of six chap- ters: Energy, Water, and Land Use; Biogeochemical Cycles; In- digenous Peoples, Lands, and Resources; Urban Systems, Infra- structure, and Vulnerability; Land Use and Land Cover Change; and Rural Communities. The assessment also includes discus- sions of how climate change impacts cascade through different sectors such as water and energy, and affect and are affected by land-use decisions. These and other interconnections great- ly stress society’s capacity to respond to climate-related crises that occur simultaneously or in rapid sequence.

    Societal Choices

    Because environmental, cultural, and socioeconomic systems are tightly coupled, climate change impacts can either be am- plified or reduced by cultural and socioeconomic decisions. In many arenas, it is clear that societal decisions have substantial influence on the vulnerability of valued resources to climate change. For example, rapid population growth and develop- ment in coastal areas tends to amplify climate change related impacts. Recognition of these couplings, together with recog- nition of multiple sources of vulnerability, helps identify what information decision-makers need as they manage risks.

    International Context

    Climate change is a global phenomenon; the causes and the impacts involve energy-use, economic, and risk-management decisions across the globe. Impacts, vulnerabilities, and op- portunities in the U.S. are related in complex and interactive ways with changes outside the United States, and vice versa. In order for U.S. concerns related to climate change to be ad- dressed comprehensively, the international context must be considered. Foreign assistance, health, environmental quality objectives, and economic interests are all affected by climate changes experienced in other parts of the world. Although there is significantly more work to be done in this area, this report identifies some initial implications of global and inter- national trends that can be more fully investigated in future assessments.

    Thresholds, Tipping Points, and Surprises

    While some climate changes will occur slowly and relatively gradually, others could be rapid and dramatic, leading to unex- pected breaking points in natural and social systems. Although they have potentially large impacts, these breaking points or tipping points are difficult to predict, as there are many un- certainties about future conditions. These uncertainties and potential surprises come from a number of sources, including insufficient data associated with low probability/high conse- quence events, models that are not yet able to represent all the interactions of multiple stresses, incomplete understand- ing of physical climate mechanisms related to tipping points, and a multitude of issues associated with human behavior, risk management, and decision-making. Improving our ability to anticipate thresholds and tipping points can be helpful in developing effective climate change mitigation and adapta- tion strategies (Ch. 2: Our Changing Climate; Ch. 29: Research Needs; and Appendices 3 and 4).

    Risk Management Framework

    Authors were asked to consider the science and information needs of decision-makers facing climate change risks to infra- structure, natural ecosystems, resources, communities, and other things of societal value. They were also asked to consid- er opportunities that climate change might present. For each region and sector, they were asked to assess a small number of key climate-related vulnerabilities of concern based on the risk (considering likelihood and consequence) of impacts. They were also asked to address the most important infor- mation needs of stakeholders, and to consider the decisions stakeholders are facing. The criteria provided for identifying key vulnerabilities in each sector or region included magni- tude, timing, persistence/reversibility, scale, and distribution of impacts, likelihood whenever possible, importance of im- pacts (based on the perceptions of relevant parties), and the potential for adaptation. Authors were encouraged to think about these topics from both a quantitative and qualitative perspective and to consider the influence of multiple stresses whenever possible.

    Responding To Climate Change

    While the primary focus of this report is on the impacts of cli- mate change in the United States, it also documents some of the actions society is taking or can take to respond. Responses to climate change fall into two broad categories. The first in- volves “mitigation” measures to reduce future climate change by reducing emissions of heat-trapping gases and particles, or increasing removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The second involves “adaptation” measures to improve soci- ety’s ability to cope with or avoid harmful impacts and take advantage of beneficial ones, now and in the future. At this point, both of these response activities are necessary to limit the magnitude and impacts of global climate change on the United States.

    More effective mitigation measures can reduce the amount of climate change, and therefore reduce the need for future adaptation. This report underscores the effects of mitigation measures by comparing impacts resulting from higher ver- sus lower emissions scenarios. This shows that choices made about emissions in the next few decades will have far-reach- ing consequences for climate change impacts throughout this century. Lower emissions will reduce the rate and lessen the magnitude of climate change and its impacts. Higher emissions will do the opposite.

    While the report demonstrates the importance of mitigation as an essential part of the nation’s climate change strategy, it does not evaluate mitigation technologies or policies or under- take an analysis of the effectiveness of various approaches. The range of mitigation responses being studied includes, but is not limited to, policies and technologies that lead to more efficient production and use of energy, increased use of non-car- bon-emitting energy sources such as wind and solar power, and carbon capture and storage.

    Adaptation actions are complementary to mitigation actions. They are focused on moderating harmful impacts of current and future climate variability and change and taking advantage of possible opportunities. While this report assesses the cur- rent state of adaptation actions and planning across the coun- try in a general way, the implementation of adaptive actions is still nascent. A comprehensive assessment of actions taken, and of their effectiveness, is not yet possible. This report docu- ments some of the actions currently being pursued to address impacts such as increased urban heat extremes and air pol- lution, and describes the challenges decision-makers face in planning for and implementing adaptation responses.

    Traceable Accounts: Process And Confidence

    The “traceable accounts” that accompany each chapter: 1) document the process the authors used to reach the conclu- sions in their key messages; 2) provide additional information to reviewers and other readers about the quality of the infor- mation used; 3) allow traceability to resources; and 4) provide the level of confidence the authors have in the main findings of the chapters. The authors have assessed a wide range of information in the scientific literature and various technical reports. In assessing confidence, they have considered the strength and consistency of the observed evidence, the skill, range, and consistency of model projections, and insights from peer-reviewed sources. When it is considered scientifically justified to report the likelihood of particular impacts within the range of possible outcomes, this report takes a plain-language approach to ex- pressing the expert judgment of the author team based on the best available evidence. For example, an outcome termed “likely” has at least a two-thirds chance of occurring; an out- come termed “very likely” has more than a 90% chance. Key sources of information used to develop these characterizations are referenced. 

    Overview And Report Findings

    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 in- tense, including prolonged periods of heat, heavy downpours, and, in some regions, floods and droughts. In addition, warm- ing 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 engi- neers 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 unambigu- ous story: the planet is warming, and over the last half century, this warming has been driven primarily by human activity.

    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 Revolu- tion, and it has been known for almost two centuries that this carbon dioxide traps heat. Methane and nitrous oxide emis- sions 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 sat- ellites have measured the sun’s output with great accuracy and found no overall increase dur- ing 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, glob- al climate would actually have cooled slightly over the past 50 years. The pattern of tempera- ture change through the layers of the atmosphere, with warm- ing 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.

    Because human-induced warming is superimposed on a background of natural variations in climate, warm- ing 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…

    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 be- yond. Climate changes interact with other environmental and societal factors in ways that can either moderate or intensify these impacts…

    Response Options

    As the impacts of climate change are becoming more preva- lent, Americans face choices. Especially because of past emis- sions of long-lived heat-trapping gases, some additional cli- mate 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-trap- ping gases or removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.13

    The other major category of response options is known as “ad- aptation,” 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 re- duces 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 mitiga- tion 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 chap- ters conclude that while response actions are under develop- ment, 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 worst im- pacts of climate change. Some targets called for in interna- tional 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 cumu- lative 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 con- tributed 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 ob- served and projected changes emphasize the need to be pre- pared 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, build- ing 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 flexibil- ity and resilience in the face of ongoing and future impacts. Reducing non-climate-related stresses that contribute to exist- ing vulnerabilities can also be an effective approach to climate change adaptation.16

    Adaptation can involve considering local, state, regional, na- tional, 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 fed- eral, regional, state, tribal, and local levels, and in the corpo- rate and non-governmental sectors, to build adaptive capacity and resilience to climate change impacts. Using scientific infor- mation to prepare for climate changes in advance can provide economic opportunities, and proactively managing the risks can reduce impacts and costs over time.18

    There are a number of areas where improved scientific infor- mation or understanding would enhance the capacity to esti- mate 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 sys- tems 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 Ameri- can people now, and that choices we make will affect our future and that of future generations.

    Report Findings

    These findings distill important results that arise from this National Climate Assessment. They do not represent a full summary of all of the chapters’ findings, but rather a synthesis of particularly noteworthy conclusions.

    1. Global climate is changing and this is apparent across the United States in a wide range of observations. The global warming of the past 50 years is primarily due to human activities, predominantly the burning of fossil fuels.

    Many independent lines of evidence confirm that human activities are affecting climate in unprecedented ways. U.S. average temperature has increased by 1.3°F to 1.9°F since record keeping began in 1895; most of this increase has occurred since about 1970. The most recent decade was the warmest on record. Because human-induced warming is superimposed on a naturally varying climate, rising temperatures are not evenly distributed across the country or over time.21 See page 18.

    2. Some extreme weather and climate events have increased in recent decades, and new and stronger evidence confirms that some of these increases are related to human activities.

    Changes in extreme weather events are the primary way that most people experience climate change. Human-induced climate change has already increased the number and strength of some of these extreme events. Over the last 50 years, much of the United States has seen an increase in prolonged periods of excessively high temperatures, more heavy downpours, and in some regions, more severe droughts.22 See page 24.

    3. Human-induced climate change is projected to continue, and it will accelerate significantly if global emissions of heat-trapping gases continue to increase.

    Heat-trapping gases already in the atmosphere have committed us to a hotter future with more climate-related impacts over the next few decades. The magnitude of climate change beyond the next few decades depends primarily on the amount of heat-trapping gases that human activities emit globally, now and in the future.23 See page 28.

    4. Impacts related to climate change are already evident in many sectors and are expected to become increasingly disruptive across the nation throughout this century and beyond.

    Climate change is already affecting societies and the natural world. Climate change interacts with other environmental and societal factors in ways that can either moderate or intensify these impacts. The types and magnitudes of impacts vary across the nation and through time. Children, the elderly, the sick, and the poor are especially vulnerable. There is mounting evidence that harm to the nation will increase substantially in the future unless global emissions of heat-trapping gases are greatly reduced.24 See page 32.

    5. Climate change threatens human health and well-being in many ways, including through more extreme weather events and wildfire, decreased air quality, and diseases transmitted by insects, food, and water.

    Climate change is increasing the risks of heat stress, respiratory stress from poor air quality, and the spread of waterborne diseases. Extreme weather events often lead to fatalities and a variety of health impacts on vulnerable populations, including impacts on mental health, such as anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. Large-scale changes in the environment due to climate change and extreme weather events are increasing the risk of the emergence or reemergence of health threats that are currently uncommon in the United States, such as dengue fever.25 See page 34.

    6. Infrastructure is being damaged by sea level rise, heavy downpours, and extreme heat; damages are projected to increase with continued climate change.

    Sea level rise, storm surge, and heavy downpours, in combination with the pattern of continued development in coastal areas, are increasing damage to U.S. infrastructure including roads, buildings, and industrial facilities, and are also increasing risks to ports and coastal military installations. Flooding along rivers, lakes, and in cities following heavy downpours, prolonged rains, and rapid melting of snowpack is exceeding the limits of flood protection infrastructure designed for historical conditions. Extreme heat is damaging transportation infrastructure such as roads, rail lines, and airport runways.26 See page 38.

    7. Water quality and water supply reliability are jeopardized by climate change in a variety of ways that affect ecosystems and livelihoods.

    Surface and groundwater supplies in some regions are already stressed by increasing demand for water as well as declining runoff and groundwater recharge. In some regions, particularly the southern part of the country and the Caribbean and Pacific Islands, climate change is increasing the likelihood of water shortages and competition for water among its many uses. Water quality is diminishing in many areas, particularly due to increasing sediment and contaminant concentrations after heavy downpours.27 See page 42.

    8. Climate disruptions to agriculture have been increasing and are projected to become more severe over this century.

    Some areas are already experiencing climate-related disruptions, particularly due to extreme weather events. While some U.S. regions and some types of agricultural production will be relatively resilient to climate change over the next 25 years or so, others will increasingly suffer from stresses due to extreme heat, drought, disease, and heavy downpours. From mid-century on, climate change is projected to have more negative impacts on crops and livestock across the country – a trend that could diminish the security of our food supply.28 See page 46.

    9. Climate change poses particular threats to Indigenous Peoples’ health, well- being, and ways of life.

    Chronic stresses such as extreme poverty are being exacerbated by climate change impacts such as reduced access to traditional foods, decreased water quality, and increasing exposure to health and safety hazards. In parts of Alaska, Louisiana, the Pacific Islands, and other coastal locations, climate change impacts (through erosion and inundation) are so severe that some communities are already relocating from historical homelands to which their traditions and cultural identities are tied. Particularly in Alaska, the rapid pace of temperature rise, ice and snow melt, and permafrost thaw are significantly affecting critical infrastructure and traditional livelihoods.29 See page 48.

    10. Ecosystems and the benefits they provide to society are being affected by climate change. The capacity of ecosystems to buffer the impacts of extreme events like fires, floods, and severe storms is being overwhelmed.

    Climate change impacts on biodiversity are already being observed in alteration of the timing of critical biological events such as spring bud burst and substantial range shifts of many species. In the longer term, there is an increased risk of species extinction. These changes have social, cultural, and economic effects. Events such as droughts, floods, wildfires, and pest outbreaks associated with climate change (for example, bark beetles in the West) are already disrupting ecosystems. These changes limit the capacity of ecosystems, such as forests, barrier beaches, and wetlands, to continue to play important roles in reducing the impacts of these extreme events on infrastructure, human communities, and other valued resources.30 See page 50.

    11. Ocean waters are becoming warmer and more acidic, broadly affecting ocean circulation, chemistry, ecosystems, and marine life.

    More acidic waters inhibit the formation of shells, skeletons, and coral reefs. Warmer waters harm coral reefs and alter the distribution, abundance, and productivity of many marine species. The rising temperature and changing chemistry of ocean water combine with other stresses, such as overfishing and coastal and marine pollution, to alter marine-based food production and harm fishing communities.31 See page 58.

    12. Planning for adaptation (to address and prepare for impacts) and mitigation (to reduce future climate change, for example by cutting emissions) is becoming more widespread, but current implementation efforts are insufficient to avoid increasingly negative social, environmental, and economic consequences.

    Actions to reduce emissions, increase carbon uptake, adapt to a changing climate, and increase resilience to impacts that are unavoidable can improve public health, economic development, ecosystem protection, and quality of life.32 See page 62…

    OUR CHANGING CLIMATE…SECTORS: Water – Energy – Transportation –Agriculture – Forests – Ecosystems - Human Health – Energy, Water, and Land - Urban Indigenous Peoples – Land Use and Land Cover Change - Rural Communities - Biogeochemical Cycles…REGIONS…RESPONSE STRATEGIES - Decision Support - Mitigation – Adaptation - Research Needs - Sustained Assessment…


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