“Impacts and Adaptation” chapter of U.S. Climate Action Report 2007 is an evasive failure


The U.S. Fourth Climate Action Report (CAR), issued in draft on May 4 for a 2-week public comment period, contains a chapter on “Vulnerability Assessment, Climate Change Impacts, and Adaptation Measures” that simply does not come to grips with what is expected in satisfying the U.S. “national communication” commitment under the climate treaty. This chapter is a big step backward from its predecessor, Chapter 6 in the U.S. Third Climate Action Report (2002), which drew heavily on the now-suppressed National Assessment, and signals the administration’s fundamental evasiveness about engaging in a forthright discussion of climate change impacts on the United States.  [Editor’s Note: See also the 30 July 2007 posting, Bush Administration submits evasive Climate Action Report to the UN.]

See our previous May 6 post on the release of the review draft of CAR2007 and the procedure for submitting review comments.

We encourage interested readers to review the draft report and submit comments to the State Department. The administration and the U.S. Climate Change Science Program should hear from a variety of stakeholders, both scientists and nonscientists.  In this post we will focus on Chapter 6, “Vulnerability Assessment, Climate Change Impacts, and Adaptation Measures.” 

Keep in mind that the guidelines of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change say that the chapter should focus on:

A. Expected impacts of climate change
B. Vulnerability Assessment
C. Adaptation measures

A bit more specifically, the COP document “Review of the Implementation of Commitments and of Other Provisions of the Convention.  UNFCCC guidelines on reporting and review” in the section “II. Guidelines for the preparation of national communications by Parties included in Annex I to the Convention, Part II: UNFCCC reporting guidelines and national communications,” says the following about what national communications should include on the subject of Chapter 6:

VII. Vulnerability Assessment, Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation Measures

A national communication shall include information on the expected impacts of climate change and an outline of the action taken to implement Article 4.1(b) and (e) with regard to adaptation. Parties are encouraged to use the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Technical Guidelines for Assessing Climate Change Impacts and Adaptations and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Handbook on Methods for Climate Change Impacts Assessment Assessment and Adaptation Strategies.  Parties may refer, inter alia, to integrated plans for coastal zone management, water resources and agriculture.  Parties may also report on specific results of scientific research in the field of vulnerability assessment and adaptation.

We believe one of the principal failings of Chapter 6, and a key indicator of its evasiveness, is that it focuses primarily on description of ongoing research programs and unfinished reports, rather than summarizing substantive research and assessment findings on observed and projected climate change impacts on the United States, vulnerability of U.S. societal and environmental systems to potential adverse consequences of these impacts, and adaptation measures either currently underway or under consideration as response strategy options.  The overall report contains a separate chapter on “Research and Systematic Observation” (Chapter 8).  Descriptions of ongoing research programs belong in Chapter 8 and are not, per se, responsive to the mandate for the Vulnerability, Impacts, and Adaptation chapter.  Did the individuals who wrote this chapter familiarize themselves with the UNFCCC guidelines on what the chapter is supposed to contain?  It reads more like they are attempting to avoid a straightforward discussion. 

The report does not seriously acknowledge the findings of the National Assessment of Climate Change Impacts, which were summarized in some detail in Chapter 6 of the Third Climate Action Report, issued in 2002.  The National Assessment has not been superseded by more recent assessment work supported by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP).  In fact, more than six years into the Bush administration and almost three years since issuing its Strategic Plan, the CCSP has yet to issue a single assessment report touching on any issue of U.S. vulnerability to the impacts of climate change.

We do note that, in what may signal the beginning of the end of the administration’s heavy-handed suppression of offficial use of and references to the National Assessment, Chapter 6 actually cites the National Assessment synthesis report, as well as a couple of the National Assessment sector reports and some work following up on one of the regional assessment reports.  But that does not keep this chapter from being impoverished substantively in comparison with its predecessor.  The 2002 version of Chapter 6 contained more than 30 pages, much of it devoted to presenting the findings of serious climate change impacts assessment work.  The present 2007 Chapter 6 is nine pages long and, while it identifies a set of key issue areas for impacts assessment (including water resources, ecosystems, public health, coastal zones, transportation, and energy), it does not actually summarize key research and assessment findings on observed and likely impacts in these sectors.  Nor does it address seriously climate change impacts at the regional level.   

Chapter 6 also does not incorporate key assessments conducted since the National Assessment, in particular the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (which clearly relates to impacts in Alaska), a major study.  Chapter 6 refers to the IPCC Third Assessment Report (2001) but makes no use of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, which is in the process of being issued document-by-document since earlier this year.  When it is revised for publication, Chapter 6 should draw on the 2007 IPCC Working Group II chapter on climate change impacts, vulnerability, and adaptation in North America. 

Some questions reviewers might think about:

** Does Chapter 6 specifically and clearly indicate that climate is changing now?

** Does it adequately describe impacts that already are being observed?

** Does it adequately assess projected future impacts?

** Does it specifically recognize that the observed and projected climate change, and thus the impacts of climate change, are attributable primarily to human activities, in particular emissions of greenhouse gases from the energy system?

** Does it omit key areas of concern, including potential implications of climate change for national security?

** Does it identify adaptation measures that have been taken?

Reviewers can also see how other countries have treated Chapter 6 by viewing national communications reports posted on the climate treaty web site. See, for example, how Canada and the UK handle Chapter 6.

We suggest reviewers call attention to the brevity of the comment period.  With the Third Climate Action Report, issued in 2002, the public review period was 30 days. Reviewers might also call attention to the U.S. government already being more than 16 months overdue with the report.  The U.S is one of only three countries that have not yet submitted their reports (the other two are Italy and Luxembourg).


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