CAMBRIDGE, MASS - JULY 11 - If heat-trapping emissions are not significantly curtailed, global warming will substantially change critical aspects of the Northeast's character and economy, according to a new report by the Northeast Climate Impacts Assessment (NECIA), a two-year collaboration between the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and a team of more than 50 scientists and economists. Near-term choices about energy, transportation, and land-use will largely determine the extent and severity of climate change.
"Global warming represents an enormous challenge, but we can meet it if we act swiftly," said Peter Frumhoff, director of science and policy at UCS and chair of the NECIA team. "Our response to global warming in the next few years will shape the climate our children and grandchildren inherit."
The peer-reviewed report, "Confronting Climate Change in the U.S. Northeast," incorporates and builds on NECIA's 2006 study that described how the climate of the nine Northeast states will change under two scenarios: one that assumes an increase in global warming emissions from continued heavy reliance on fossil fuels, and another that assumes substantially lower emissions due to an increased reliance on clean energy sources. The report documents the projected consequences of each emissions path. It also details what individuals, businesses, and governments can do today to reduce emissions to levels below the lower-emissions scenario and to adapt to the unavoidable changes already set in motion by emissions over the past several decades.
The new report and a complete list of collaborating scientists and economists are available at www.climatechoices.org/ne/resources_ne/nereport.html. The report's findings include:
Climate: The two emissions scenarios would lead to starkly different climates when children born today reach middle age. Under the higher-emissions scenario, winters in the Northeast could warm by 8°F to 12°F and summers by 6°F to 14°F above historic levels by late this century. But under the lower-emission scenario, temperatures during Northeast winters are projected to warm only 5°F to 8°F above historic levels by late-century, and summers by just 3°F to 7°F.
Coastlines: Global sea level is conservatively projected to rise 10 to 23 inches under the higher-emissions scenario and 7 to 14 inches under the lower-emissions scenario. Using these estimates, cities such as Boston and Atlantic City can expect a coastal flood equivalent to today's 100-year flood every two to four years on average by mid-century and almost annually by the end of the century under either scenario. New York City is projected to face flooding equivalent to today's 100-year flood once every decade on average under the higher-emissions scenario and once every two decades under the lower-emissions scenario by century's end. Sea-level rise is also projected to increase shoreline erosion and wetland loss, particularly along the vulnerable coasts of Cape Cod, Long Island, and the Jersey Shore.
Agriculture: By late-century under the higher-emissions scenario, heat stress in cows is projected to cut milk production across much of the region by 5 to 20 percent in certain months, with the greatest losses in the key dairy state of Pennsylvania. Parts of the Northeast are projected to become unsuitable for growing certain popular varieties of apples, blueberries, and cranberries by mid-century, since they require long winter-chill periods to produce fruit. Meanwhile, weed problems and pest-related damage are likely to escalate, increasing pressures on farmers to use more herbicides and pesticides. By contrast, changes expected under the lower-emissions scenario are generally much less extensive.
Marine fisheries: As ocean temperatures continue to rise, the range of suitable habitat in the Northeast for many fish and shellfish species such as cod and lobster is projected to shift northward. Cod are expected to disappear from the region's waters south of Cape Cod during this century, under either emissions scenario. With higher emissions, the renowned fishing grounds of Georges Bank will likely lose its cod stocks. The lobster populations in Long Island Sound and the nearshore waters off Rhode Island and south of Cape Cod are expected to be lost by mid-century under either scenario.
Winter recreation and tourism: Under the higher-emissions scenario, only western Maine is projected to retain a reliable ski season by the end of the century, and only northern New Hampshire would support a snowmobiling season longer than two months. Under the lower-emissions scenario, reliable ski seasons can be expected through this century in the North Country of New York and parts of Vermont and New Hampshire, in addition to western Maine.
The Northeast cannot reduce global warming alone, but as a world leader in technology, finance and innovation—and a major source of heat-trapping emissions—the region is well-positioned to help drive national and international progress in reducing emissions. The report concluded that sustained efforts to reduce emissions in the region—on the order of 80 percent below 2000 levels by mid-century and just over 3 percent per year on average over the next several decades—can help pull global emissions below the lower-emissions path used in this study.
States in the Northeast already have taken several important first steps. For example, all the states in the report except Pennsylvania have joined the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), the first multistate, market-based plan to reduce heat-trapping emissions from power plants. Most states—Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island—also have renewable electricity standards requiring utilities to obtain a certain percentage of their power from clean, renewable sources such as wind, solar, and biomass. Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont have adopted California's law requiring vehicle tailpipe emissions reductions of approximately 30 percent below 2002 levels by 2016, beginning with the 2009 model year (with implementation contingent upon an EPA ruling).
These initiatives are laudable, but the region can do much more to lower emissions and help protect its people and economy, said James McCarthy, professor of biological oceanography at Harvard University, vice-chair of the NECIA, and president-elect of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. "The Northeast has a tremendous opportunity to help lead us to a secure climate future. Fortunately, more and more people understand the stakes and are mobilizing around the problem. The time to act is now."