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Climate Panel Says Coast, Midwest at Risk of Extreme Weather

Climate Panel Says Coastal Areas at Risk from Extreme Weather
Hoboken N.J. was flooded during Hurricane Sandy on October 30, 2012. Coastal areas face “potentially irreversible impacts” as per the National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee. Photographer: Emile Wamsteker/Bloomberg

Average U.S. temperatures may jump as much as 4 degrees Fahrenheit (2.2 Celsius) 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 today 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 2 degrees to 4 degrees 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 U.S. Reports in 2000 and 2009 by the U.S. 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.

Scientific ‘Consensus’

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 today 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 U.S. temperatures are up 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit 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 U.S. 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.

Society’s Choices

“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.

After the public has commented, the administration of President Barack Obama can rework or amend the findings before publishing a final report in March 2014. The 90-day public comment period begins Jan. 14.

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