Fed Report Affirms Effects of Climate Change Already Visible

As people continue to contribute to global warming, extreme weather, sea-level rise will become more pressing problems

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A draft report on climate change from the federal government affirms that impacts of a warming planet are occurring across the globe and warns that the extent of those consequences will be determined by what is done now.

“Choices today will determine the magnitude of climate-change risks beyond the next few decades,’’ according to Volume II of the “National Climate Assessment,” an analysis of current and future effects of a changing climate by 13 federal agencies.

The report echoes previous assessments that humans are causing climate change, sea levels are rising, including at a faster pace along the Eastern Seaboard, and heat waves are becoming more frequent and intense.

“The ‘Climate Science Special Report’ is the most up-to-date comprehensive report on climate science available right now anywhere on the planet,’’ said Rutgers Professor Robert Kopp, an expert in climate change and sea-level rise who helped write the report.

Rough weather ahead

“It finds that, over the course of this century, global average sea level will very likely rise by 1 to 4 feet, with the possibility of a much as 8 feet for high-emission futures,’’ he said. “And the further we push the climate away from historical conditions, the greater the probability that it will surprise us — whether through simultaneous extreme weather events, large-scale shifts in the climate system, or pathways yet to be discovered.’’

In the first instance, such scenarios could result in occurrences like this past summer, when three major hurricanes came ashore in the United States and severe forest fires burned tens of thousands of acres in California, Kopp said.

Climate shifts that potentially could occur would include the melting of the permafrost or rapid ice losses in the Arctic.

The report emphasizes some changes already are occurring. Global sea-level rise already is affecting the United States; the incidence of tidal flooding is accelerating in more than 25 Atlantic and Gulf Coast cities. Heavy rainfall will be more frequent; the largest observed changes have occurred in the Northeast, according to the report.

At odds with Trump administration

The release of the report on Friday came despite its overwhelming consensus that climate change is occurring and is mostly caused by humans — positions at odds with most of the policy decisions of the Trump administration. Since taking office earlier this year, the administration has pulled the United States out of an international agreement to curb greenhouse-gas emissions and taken steps to scrap the key Obama initiative to fight climate change.

The report emphasizes the magnitude of climate change in the future will largely depend on efforts to reduce carbon pollution contributing to global warming. Without a significant reduction in emissions, the report said temperature by the end of the century would climb 9 degrees Fahrenheit or more relative to preindustrial times.

The sober tone of the report did not surprise clean-energy advocates or state officials who have been pushing the state to take a more aggressive stance in curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

“The inconvenient truth about climate-change science is that it keeps telling us things are getting worse,’’ said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey.

Sen. Bob Smith (D-Middlesex), the chairman of the Senate Environment and Energy Committee, noted the report only echoes about “what a couple hundred other reports’’ have documented. “As things get worse, the country will ultimately figure this out.’’

For New Jersey, Smith said his big focus in the first year of the new legislative term will be an emphasis on reducing carbon pollution in the transportation sector, the largest source of greenhouse-gas emissions in the state. “The big discussion will be on electric vehicles,’’ he predicted.