Bush Administration submits evasive Climate Action Report to the UN

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The Bush administration’s long overdue U.S. Climate Action Report – 2006, given a stealth release on Friday afternoon July 27, lacks a forthright discussion of a range of likely adverse climate change impacts on the U.S. and fails to draw on the IPCC 2007 impacts assessment report and the substantial scientific literature on which it is based, including the assessment of North America impacts. The failure to use this material, and the overall evasiveness of the impacts and vulnerability chapter of the report, was clearly a political decision. Administration officials have once again defaulted on an opportunity to address a crucial challenge for national preparedness.

In a major report delivered on July 27 to the Secretariat of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Bush Administration says that, since 2001, it has dedicated nearly $29 billion to advance climate-related science, technology, international assistance, and incentive programs.  However, that considerable investment has apparently not been enough to purchase a full, clear, and unambiguous acknowledgment from the Administration in U.S. Climate Action Report -- 2006 (CAR4) that human activity is rapidly changing climate, that impacts are now being observed, that the consequences will grow steadily throughout the 21st century and beyond, and that the U.S. is vulnerable and must prepare for those impacts.  In contrast, reports submitted to the UNFCCC Secretariat by other national governments show no such reluctance to accept and acknowledge the international scientific consensus on the causes and consequences of climate change, and the implications for their countries.

A Stealth Release

The Department of State submitted the report on Friday July 27, marking the event only with a brief media note from the department’s Office of the Spokesman.   The media note includes a link to the report.  The report was not mentioned in the department’s daily briefing that day; nor did the White House Council on Environmental Quality mention the report’s release on its Web site.  Under climate treaty guidelines the report was due December 31, 2005, and thus was submitted 19 months past the deadline.

The very low profile release suggests that the Administration would like to avoid the kind of press coverage it attracted when it released the previous edition in this series, U.S. Climate Action Report -2002 (the Third National Communication).  Andrew Revkin of the New York Times kicked off a political storm for the Administration with a front page story on June 3, 2002 ("U.S. Sees Problems in Climate Change"), focusing on the report’s Chapter 6 on Impacts and Adaptation.  Revkin’s article asserted that the 2002 report’s discussion of climate change impacts presented a sharp contrast to previous statements on climate change by the administration, which had always spoken in generalities and emphasized the need for much more research to resolve scientific questions.  (Note: See the Council on Environmental Quality’s Online Reading room for White House documents related to the Revkin piece, in the Climate Action Report section of the CEQ FOIA Responses).
 
According to guidelines [PDF] approved by the U.S. and other parties to the UNFCCC, Chapter 6 of each country’s report is supposed to discuss the expected impacts of climate change, vulnerability and adaptation measures. 

Yet the report's coverage of expected impacts is haphazard and incomplete, with a lot of major impacts not even mentioned. A notable exception to CAR4’s dismal discussion of expected impacts is a box in Chapter 6 that was added after the public review period.  It summarizes in bullet form the major conclusions of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA).  According to the box, the ACIA authors found that:

  • Arctic climate is now warming rapidly, and much larger changes are projected.
  • Arctic warming and its consequences have worldwide implications.
  • Arctic vegetation zones are very likely to shift, causing wide-ranging impacts.
  • Animal species' diversity, ranges, and distribution will change.
  • Many coastal communities and facilities face increasing exposure to storms.
  • Reduced sea ice is very likely to increase marine transport and access to resources.
  • Thawing ground will disrupt transportation, buildings, and other infrastructure.
  • Indigenous communities are facing major economic and cultural impacts.
  • Elevated ultraviolet radiation levels will affect people, plants, and animals.
  • Multiple influences interact to cause impacts to people and ecosystems.
  • Current information on impacts on polar regions and on the North American region

The ACIA findings are not discussed in further detail in the text of Chapter 6.  Nor are they mentioned in CAR4’s Executive Summary (Chapter 1). 

Lack of forthright discussion of full range of likely climate change impacts and failure to use available IPCC North America impacts assessment

While CAR4 notes U.S. involvement with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment report (specifically the IPCC Working Group II contribution, Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability), it fails to exploit the content of that report (see Summary for Policymakers [PDF]), instead relying on the IPCC’s dated Third Assessment report published in 2001.  The North America chapter [PDF] of that report was accepted in April 2007 by the U.S. and other governments and certainly was available to draw upon, though it has not yet been released in its final copyedited and published form. 

The IPCC report’s Summary for Policymakers (SPM) [PDF], however, was approved in final form in April 2007 and was made publicly available at that time.  The IPCC Summary highlights major expected impacts for North America for the range of (unmitigated) climate change projected by the IPCC during the 21st century, as follows:

  • Moderate climate change in the early decades of the century is projected to increase aggregate yields of rainfed agriculture by 5-20%, but with important variability among regions. Major challenges are projected for crops that are near the warm end of their suitable range or depend on highly utilized water resources. [high confidence]
  • Warming in western mountains is projected to cause decreased snowpack, more winter flooding, and reduced summer flows, exacerbating competition for over-allocated water resources. [very high confidence]
  • Disturbances from pests, diseases, and fire are projected to have increasing impacts on forests, with an extended period of high fire risk and large increases in area burned. [very high confidence]
  • Cities that currently experience heat waves are expected to be further challenged by an increased number, intensity and duration of heat waves during the course of the century, with potential for adverse health impacts. The growing number of the elderly population is most at risk. [very high confidence]
  • Coastal communities and habitats will be increasingly stressed by climate change impacts interacting with development and pollution. Population growth and the rising value of infrastructure in coastal areas increase vulnerability to climate variability and future climate change, with losses projected to increase if the intensity of tropical storms increases. Current adaptation is uneven and readiness for increased exposure is low.. [very high confidence]

The report fails to report on these findings reported by the IPCC Working Group II Summary for Policymakers, and offers no explanation for failing to acknowledge them

The Administration may claim that it does not reference the IPCC 2007 Fourth Assessment Report on climate change impacts because CAR4 was issued before the IPCC report became available.  The State Department media note says that "The report takes into account activities up to and including 2006."  Similarly, the report itself (Chapter 1) says:  "This review was undertaken to account for activities up to and including 2006."  Chapter 6 adds that the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report "will be completed in November 2007."

That argument would be evasive in several respects. First, important portions of the IPCC 2007 report were in fact completed and  citable prior to July 27 when CAR4 was released. This includes all three working group Summary for Policymaker documents and the full text of both the Working Group I and Working Group III reports.

Second, the report could have cited the literature upon which the IPCC relied -- none of which was published in 2007.  There is no reason why CAR4 could not have drawn fully on the same body of literature to draw conclusions similar to those of the IPCC. In fact, it did not draw on much of the key literature published since CAR3 -- despite a boom in the literature since then. The North America chapter of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (Working Group II on Impacts) specifically notes the "[a]vailability of much more literature on all aspects of impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability in North America."

Third, Chapter 6 in fact does refer to several other 2007 reports, including two that are listed as "in press" in the appendix of CAR4. If these publications are cited, why is IPCC 2007 not also discussed?

We conclude that the Administration and the Climate Change Science Program leadership have failed to draw on the conclusions of the IPCC 2007 report because to do so would require acknowledging the likelihood of a wide range of adverse societal and environmental consequences of climate change that the Administration is unwilling to discuss forthrightly. This was clearly a political decision, without scientific justification.

Other countries are more forthright in discussing climate change impacts

Comparison of key statements on expected impacts drawn from the Executive Summaries of Fourth National Communications reports   submitted to the UNFCCC Secretariat by different countries

In contrast to reports submitted by other countries, the executive summary of the U.S. report does not cite any specific expected impacts.   It contains only one line related to impacts. In contrast, other countries typically acknowledge and cite specific impacts; and are more detailed in their discussion.

U.S.:  
http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/89646.pdf

"Since 2002, U.S. research has led to new insights into the impacts of climate change and variability on key physical processes (e.g., snowpack, streamflow, extreme events) that have implications for a range of socioeconomic sectors.”

Canada:
http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/natc/cannc4.pdf

“… the magnitude, timing and regional impacts of climate change could have serious repercussions on Canada’s natural resources, social and economic systems, and infrastructure, and possibly on the health and general well-being of Canadians.   As a consequence of climate change, weather variability could in turn generate damaging consequences for the health of Canadians. While there may be limited positive impacts associated with global warming, Canada’s vulnerability to extreme weather events such as droughts, floods, hurricanes and violent thunderstorms and windstorms could also increase. Impacts of climate change on precipitation and evapo-transpiration could affect soil moisture levels and erosion, water quality and safety, surface and ground water levels, hydrologic cycle variability and predictability, and wetland area extent. Consequently, these could have serious ramifications for agriculture, tourism, municipal water supplies, water transportation and wildlife habitat. The forestry and fisheries sectors could also be threatened by possible changes in climate.”

European Community
http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/natc/eunce4.pdf

  • Predicted sea level rises could impact up to 68 million people in the EU.
  • Temperatures are expected to increase leading to more deaths due to high temperatures during summer but fewer cold related deaths in the winter.
  • Northern Europe is expected to have increased precipitation, Southern Europe less with potentially more droughts.

New Zealand
http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/natc/nzlnc4.pdf

The broad expected pattern of climate change effects in New Zealand is:

  •   increased temperatures (with greater increases in the winter season, and in the north of New Zealand )
  •   decreased frost risk but increased risk of very high temperatures
  •   stronger west–east rainfall gradient (wetter in the west and drier in the east)
  •   increased westerly winds
  •   increased frequency of extreme (heavy) daily rainfalls
  •   increased sea level.

Japan
http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/natc/japnc4.pdf

“Research to date indicates that climate change may have a major effect on Japan’s agriculture, forestry, fisheries, water resources, coastal management, natural ecosystems, and human health.   For example, it is estimated that, due to global warming, the number of typhoons will decrease and their maximum intensity will increase slightly. In terms of rice cultivation in paddy fields, it is estimated that the production volume will increase in upper latitudes while problems may occur with growth due to higher temperatures in lower latitudes. It is thought that demand for water supply will increase by approximately 1.2 to 3.2 percent per 3°C increase in temperature.   Furthermore, it is thought that heat stress will increase due to higher temperatures in summer, with effects also seen on human health due to increased vectors and improved growth conditions for pathogenic organs and parasites.”

Questions for the Bush Administration about the Report

  • In April 2007, the U.S. and other countries accepted Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, the contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  In addition, the U.S. and other governments approved the Summary for Policymakers (SPM) [PDF] of that report.   Approval of the WG II SPM preceded the CAR4 public review period (4 May – 1 June 2007) and submission of the final CAR4 report to the UNFCCC Secretariat (27 July 2007).   Why does the CAR4 report cite only the IPCC’s dated Third Assessment Report (published in 2001) while failing to cite the IPCC’s most recent report and the North America climate change impacts identified in that report – particularly the SPM, which was publicly available in final form in April?
  • The IPCC WG II Summary for Policymakers describes the main expected impacts for North America “for the range of (unmitigated) climate changes projected by the IPCC over this century.”   Are these impacts specifically cited or discussed in Chapter 6?   If not, why not?
  • In their National Communications to the UNFCCC Secretariat, other governments address a wide range of expected impacts. In contrast, the Administration discusses only a limited set of expected impacts and fails to even mention most of the North American impacts specifically highlighted in the IPCC Working Group II Summary for Policymakers (SPM). That SPM was approved line-by-line in April by the U.S. and other governments. Does the Administration in fact expect impacts beyond the limited set identified in CAR4? If so, what are those impacts and why does the report not specifically acknowledge them?
  • The Department of State issued a Federal Register notice on April 8 2005 that said it “intends to make available for public review a draft national communication in summer of 2005.”   That review was delayed nearly two years --until May 2007.   Why?
  • The Third U.S. Climate Action Report was due no later than November 30, 2001 and was submitted 6 months late in May 2002.   In contrast, the Fourth report was due no later than December 31, 2005, and was submitted 19 months past the deadline on July 27, 2007.   What accounted for the extraordinary delay in submitting the 4 th Climate Action Report?
  • What was the role of the Council on Environmental Quality in producing the report?   Which individuals at CEQ were actively involved with reviewing and approving it?  
  • Who wrote Chapter 6 of the fourth Climate Action Report?   Who reviewed drafts of the Chapter?
  • Will the Department of State release the comments that were submitted in response to its Federal Register notice on April 8 2005?
  • Will the Department of State release the comments that were submitted during the public review period from May 4 2007 to 1 June (in response to its Federal Register notice of 4 May 2007)?
  • Did any U.S. government agencies, including the U.S. Climate Change Science Program Office, submit comments to the Department of State on drafts of Chapter 6 of the Climate Action Report?   What were those comments? Will the Department of State release those comments?

Earlier Climate Science Watch postings

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