Half U.S. Population at Risk of More Severe Weather, Report Says

09:49AM May 06, 2014
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More than half the U.S. population lives in coastal areas that are "increasingly vulnerable" to the effects of climate change, which will ripple throughout the U.S. economy, a White House advisory group’s report concluded.

The report released today enumerates the impact across the U.S., including a 71 percent increase in heavy rain and snow in the Northeast during the past half-century and an increased risk from hurricanes linked to higher sea levels.

The warming climate will affect broad sectors of the economy, from infrastructure along the densely populated corridor from Washington to New York to Boston, to crops in the Midwest farm belt to water supplies in growing cities of the Southwest, the authors concluded.

"Global climate change is projected to continue to change over this century and beyond, but there is still time to act to limit the amount of change and the extent of damaging impacts," the report said.

The findings may bolster President Barack Obama’s energy and environmental agenda, as well as his proposals to prepare the U.S. to deal with global warming. The administration is focusing on climate change policies this week in conjunction with the release of the report, according to John Podesta, an Obama adviser who’s overseeing the president’s climate plans.

"This assessment is about presenting actionable science," Podesta told reporters yesterday. The intent is to give officials in state and local governments the information they need to plan for the impact of climate change.


‘Catastrophic Impacts’


"We obviously need all hands on deck if we’re going to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change," Podesta said.

In his last budget, Obama asked Congress to approve a $1 billion Climate Resilience Fund. It would pay for research to better understand the effect of climate change on rural areas, cities and their public works programs, and help them prepare to reduce future risks such as rising water, higher-than-average temperatures and more frequent severe weather.

Some of the effects of climate change can be reduced by enhancing coastal wetlands and supporting urban forests, according to budget documents.

Republicans in Congress, some of whom have questioned whether the climate is warming because of human activity, have rejected many of the new spending proposals Obama has presented in past budgets.


Action Plan


In 2012, nations including the biggest emitters of carbon pollution -- the U.S. and China -- agreed to negotiate a new climate change treaty by 2015 that would limit fossil fuel emissions starting in 2020. The accord would succeed the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which set pollution-reduction targets for more than 30 developed countries.

Obama last year released his Climate Action Plan that seeks to reduce carbon pollution in the U.S. about 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. In February, he announced plans to increase fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas standards for large trucks by March 2016.

Podesta tied the climate goals to the administration’s energy policy. He said the policy, combined with new technology in the drilling industry, has helped the U.S. become the biggest global producer of natural gas.

Podesta said tapping gas reserves through a process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, will continue to be supported by the administration and largely regulated by states rather than the federal government. He said using cleaner natural gas is an environmental improvement.


‘Fossil Fuels’


"For the most part there’s been upside as we’ve seen cleaner natural gas replacing dirtier fossil fuels in the electricity system in particular," he said.

Fracking is opposed by environmental groups that typically support Obama and other Democrats. The panel’s report was released as the administration weighs whether to approve TransCanada Corp.’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport heavy crude from Canada to refineries along the U.S. coast of the Gulf of Mexico.

Obama has said he would reject Keystone if it were found to significantly worsen global warming, as environmental groups contend. A U.S. State Department review of the $5.4 billion project has been delayed until a legal challenge to the existing route in Nebraska is resolved, and a decision isn’t likely before the November election.

Environmental groups consider Keystone a threat to the climate because it would encourage development of Alberta’s oil sands, which releases more greenhouse gases than other forms of oil. They have pressed Democratic lawmakers to vote against a Senate bill set for consideration as soon as this week that would bypass Obama and approve the pipeline.

In connection with the climate change assessment, Obama will sit for interviews with eight television meteorologists from network and local programs. Separately, Podesta will be joined by other administration officials including John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, at an event to discuss the assessment.