ENFORCING nATIONAL ASSESSMENT OF CLIMATE CHANGE EFFECTS
The United States churns out almost a fourth of global CO2 emissions — more than any other country. But the world’s leading contributor of greenhouse gases is lagging behind in assessing their effects.
The impacts of climate change seriously threaten every aspect of society, both nationally and internationally. Rising ocean temperatures contribute to more intense tropical storms, causing devastating mortality and billions of dollars in damage, while rising air temperatures can cause prolonged heat waves and changes in precipitation and evaporation patterns that may lead to disastrous water shortages. Continued thawing of Arctic permafrost and sea ice will further damage forests, buildings, roads and coastlines, as well as harming subsistence livelihoods. Already, the World Health Organization estimates that 150,000 lives are lost each year due to human-induced climate change. And then there are the many animal and plant species threatened with global warming-induced extinction, including the polar bear, American pika, Kittlitz’s murrelet, ribbon seal and numerous penguin species. At least a third of all species on Earth are projected to be committed to extinction over the coming century thanks to the ravages of climate change.
Currently, the U.S. government is required by law to stay in the loop about global warming’s impacts. According to the 1990 Global Change Research Act, every four years the executive branch must provide Congress and the public with a National Assessment of climate change impacts on the United States, a comprehensive summary of global-warming-caused changes to our country’s environment, economy, and human health and safety. The assessment is used by federal agencies and Congress in setting policy and responding to global warming, and its Research Plan, which guides federal climate research, must be updated every three years. But the Bush administration suppressed the National Assessment conducted by the Clinton administration, and failed to complete another. The Bush administration also failed to update the Research Plan on time.
In 2006, the Center joined forces with Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace to demand that the administration produce the long-overdue National Assessment and an updated Research Plan. We filed suit in November, and a few months later, Senator John Kerry and Representative Jay Inslee filed an amicus brief in our support. Rick Piltz, a former senior staffer at the Climate Change Science Program (CCSP), and now director of Climate Science Watch — who resigned from the CCSP in March 2005 over political interference from the Bush administration in climate change research — filed a declaration in support of our arguments in the case. In August 2007, the court found the Bush administration to be in violation of the Global Change Research Act for failing to produce the required scientific reports, ordering the administration to issue a draft of the overdue Research Plan update by March 1, 2008, and the National Assessment by May 31, 2008. Two days before the May 31 deadline, the Bush administration actually followed through and released the National Assessment — but not without attempting to downplay the enormous implications of its findings.
Under the Center’s watchful eye, since our suit the feds have continued to issue reports in climate change’s impacts. In 2009, the U.S. Global Change Research Program released Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States, which details devastating effects on ecosystems, human health, water, agriculture, transportation, and infrastructure.
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