U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during a climate event at the White House in Washington, D.C. on November 14, 2023.

(Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

US Climate Report Exposes 'Dire Consequences of Inaction'

"The alarm clock on the climate crisis has been blaring for years, and today's assessment makes clear our leaders can no longer continue to hit the snooze button," said one campaigner.

A Biden administration report released Tuesday—the same day as a pair of international analyses—details how "the effects of human-caused climate change are already far-reaching and worsening across every region" and "without deeper cuts in global net greenhouse gas emissions and accelerated adaptation efforts, severe climate risks to the United States will continue to grow."

Green groups such as Sierra Clubsaid that the congressionally mandated Fifth National Climate Assessment (NCA5) shows not only the "massive scope" of the threat, but also the "dire consequences of inaction," and urged U.S. President Joe Biden to do far more, particularly going into the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates this month.

"The alarm clock on the climate crisis has been blaring for years, and today's assessment makes clear our leaders can no longer continue to hit the snooze button," declared Sierra Club executive director Ben Jealous. "This should serve as a massive wake-up call for all who remain willfully ignorant of the impacts of this looming disaster—especially those in the halls of power who appear eager to turn a blind eye to the evidence before them."

"The assessment shows that this crisis threatens us all, will continue to cost us billions of dollars a year, and confirms that the degree to which this looming catastrophe might worsen remains entirely in human hands," he noted. "The United States must lead by example, and COP28 can be the stage upon which we show the world that we take this threat seriously and will act boldly."

"The U.S. must end our reliance on fossil fuels and transform our economy quickly and equitably to run on 100% pollution-free, clean energy."

Dr. Kristina Dahl, a principal climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and one of the over 750 contributors to NCA5, called the assessment proof "that the changes we're living through are unprecedented in human history."

Annual U.S. greenhouse gas emissions peaked in 2007 and actually fell 12% between 2005 and 2019, largely due to changes in the energy industry, NCA5 notes. In fact, since 2017, "the transportation sector has overtaken electricity generation as the largest emitter," underscoring the need for shifting to electric vehicles and improving public transit systems.

The assessment states that "while U.S. greenhouse gas emissions are falling, the current rate of decline is not sufficient to meet national and international climate commitments and goals," including the 2015 Paris agreement, which aims to limit global temperature rise this century to 1.5°C—a target the global community is not currently on track to hit.

"During the past half-century, the United States has warmed faster than the planet as a whole," Dahl pointed out. "Our nation is also enduring billion-dollar climate and weather disasters every three weeks, on average, with total costs averaging nearly $120 billion annually since 2018."

The report highlights that "harmful impacts from more frequent and severe extremes are increasing across the country—including increases in heat-related illnesses and death, costlier storm damages, longer droughts that reduce agricultural productivity and strain water systems, and larger, more severe wildfires that threaten homes and degrade air quality."

Although, as Biden acknowledged in a Tuesday speech, "this assessment shows us in clear scientific terms that climate change is impacting all regions," the report also states that "some communities are at higher risk of negative impacts from climate change due to social and economic inequities caused by ongoing systemic discrimination, exclusion, and under- or disinvestment."

Dahl declared that "we must swiftly reduce heat-trapping emissions and enact transformational climate adaptation policies in every region of the country to limit the stampede of devastating events and the toll each one takes on our lives and the economy. While the United States has made progress on both fronts in recent years, policymaker efforts to reduce global warming emissions and help people prepare for the mounting risks remain woefully insufficient and incremental."

Her UCS colleague, policy director and economist Rachel Cleetus, said that "while policies like the Inflation Reduction Act are a significant down payment, such an endeavor requires federal and states' policymakers to incorporate climate action into all major policy initiatives across all sectors going forward."

"Accelerating the ramp-up of renewable energy, energy storage, and energy efficiency, while electrifying as much energy use as possible, are the best ways to cut heat-trapping emissions and deliver tremendous economic and public health benefits," Cleetus continued. "Communities also need solutions to cope with heatwaves, storms, droughts, wildfires, sea-level rise, and other growing climate change impacts. Policymakers must ensure global warming solutions are implemented in an equitable and just way."

Earthjustice vice president of litigation for climate and energy Jill Tauber similarly stressed Tuesday that "swift and strong climate action that is centered in justice is essential to avoiding the worst impacts of the crisis. The U.S. must end our reliance on fossil fuels and transform our economy quickly and equitably to run on 100% pollution-free, clean energy."

While commending Biden for "historic investments in clean energy and environmental justice," including those announced with the assessment, Tauber also called out the administration for "undermining its own progress by doubling down on fossil fuels," specifically pointing to the Willow oil project in Alaska and the Calcasieu Pass 2 liquefied natural gas terminal in Louisiana.

Biden has also come under fire from climate groups and frontline community members for expanding drilling leases for federal lands and waters as well as backing the Mountain Valley Pipeline in Appalachia and hydrogen hubs across the country.

The NCA5 release coincided with not only the publication of a U.N. report on countries' inadequate plans to meet the Paris goals and Systems Change Lab's "comprehensive roadmap of how to close the global gap in climate action across sectors," but also a letter from hundreds of scientists urging Biden to make bolder climate commitments going into COP28.

"The actions of the United States—as the world's wealthiest nation and the single largest contributor to historical heat-trapping emissions—matter greatly," they wrote. "And if our country acts boldly and fairly, we can unlock greater ambition from other nations. The world is watching, and this is a crucial moment for the United States to join with other world leaders and demonstrate genuine progress toward solving a crisis that is rapidly spiraling out of control."

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