Climate Science Watch guide to climate reports

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The sheer number, depth, and breadth of the climate science assessments and U.S. government program reports released each year can be daunting, so we prepared an annotated guide to clarify the distinctions among some of the key reports: State of the Climate 2009; America’s Climate Choices; Fifth U.S. Climate Action Report; Our Changing Planet; Global Climate Change Impacts on the United States; U.S. National Assessment of the Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change; and Climate Change 2007: Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Post by Alexa Jay and Rebeka Ryvola

National Academy of Sciences Reports

America’s Climate Choices reports 2010 - four reports released as of 8/22/10

Organization: National Academy of Sciences.

Authors: U.S. scientists from diverse but interrelated fields.

About: America’s Climate Choices consists of four coordinated activities that examine the “serious and sweeping issues associated with global climate change, including the science and technology challenges involved, and provide advice on actions and strategies the nation can take to respond.”

Each of the four reports covers one of the following questions:

1) What can be done to limit the magnitude of future climate change?
2) What can be done to adapt to the impacts of climate change?
3) What can be done to better understand climate change and its interactions with human and ecological systems?
4) What can be done to inform effective decisions and actions related to climate change?

Significance: The America’s Climate Choices suite of studies was requested by Congress and aims to produce a broad, action-oriented, and authoritative set of analyses to inform and guide responses to climate change across the nation.

Major Conclusions: The four NAS reports confirm that climate change is underway, will have long-term consequences, and requires urgent efforts to reduce emissions and prepare for impacts that cannot be avoided.

Next Report: A final summary report simply entitled America’s Climate Choices will tie together main ideas and answer the main questions from the four existing reports. This final report will also answer the following questions:

5) What short-term actions can be taken to respond effectively to climate change?
6) What promising long-term strategies, investments, and opportunities could be pursued to respond to climate change?
7) What are the major scientific and technological advances needed to better understand and respond effectively to climate change?
8) What are the major impediments to responding effectively to climate change, and what can be done to overcome these impediments?

This is the first round of America’s Climate Choices studies to come out. It has not yet been announced whether there will be a second round of reports.

U.S. Government Reports

State of the Climate 2009, released 7/27/2010

Agency: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Climatic Data Center

Authors: More than 300 scientists from 160 research groups in 48 countries contributed to the report.

About: The report is a compilation of research creating a broad and comprehensive look at “the earth’s climate from the top of the atmosphere to depths of the ocean.” The primary goal of the annual report is to document weather and climate events from that year and put them in an historical perspective, with a particular focus on unusual or anomalous events.  Because 2009 marks the end of the decade, this year’s report also analyzes decadal trends.

Significance: The report brings together research done by many different institutions around the world gathering data in multiple ways - including weather balloons, satellites, buoys, and field surveys. While small differences exist between the diverse data sets, the overall picture is the same: that of a warming world.

Major Conclusions: The report confirms that the past decade has been the warmest on record, and that the Earth has warmed over the past 50 years.  The report used 10 measurable global indicators that observe changes in global temperature, all of which are consistent with a warming world.  Seven indicators are rising: air temperature over land, sea-surface temperature, air temperature over oceans, sea level, ocean heat, humidity and tropospheric temperature in the “active-weather” layer of the atmosphere closest to the Earth’s surface.  Three indicators are declining: Arctic sea ice, glaciers and spring snow cover in the Northern hemisphere.

Next Report: Reports come out annually: State of the Climate 2010 will be released in the summer of 2011.

Fifth U.S. Climate Action Report submitted under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (2010 CAR), 6/1/2010

Agency: U.S. Department of State

About: Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) must submit CARs reporting on the implementation of the Convention to the Conference of the Parties.  The U.S. has submitted CAR reports every 3 - 5 years since ratification of the convention in 1994.

Significance: The national reports typically contain information on national circumstances, vulnerability assessment, financial resources and transfer of technology, and education, training and public awareness; but reports from Annex I parties also contain information on policies and measures.  Accurate reporting is considered essential “for the international community to take the most appropriate action to mitigate climate change, and ultimately to achieve the objective of the Convention.  Communicating relevant information on the most effective ways to reduce emissions and adapt to the adverse effects of climate change also contributes towards global sustainable development.”

Major Conclusions: “At the federal level, since assuming office in January 2009, President Obama has renewed the U.S. commitment to lead in combating climate change. The Obama administration, together with the U.S. Congress, has taken major steps to enhance the domestic effort to promote clean energy solutions and tackle climate change.” Examples:

•  Through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, the U.S. allocated over $90 billion for investments in clean energy technologies.
•  President Obama announced a commitment to develop the first-ever joint fuel economy and carbon dioxide tailpipe emission standards for cars and light duty trucks in the U.S.  These standards will boost fuel efficiency on average 4.3% annually and approximately 21.5% over the term of the standards, starting in 2012 and ending in 2016.
•  The U.S. EPA issued findings under the Clean Air Act that the current and projected greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere threaten the health and welfare of current and future generations.  The EPA is currently preparing to regulate emissions from large stationary sources of greenhouse gases.

Next Report: Reports are submitted to the UNFCC every 3 - 5 years.

Our Changing Planet 2010 (OCP), 10/28/2009

Agency: United States Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), formerly the U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP)

Authors: Federal scientists and science program managers in USGCRP participating agencies, in coordination with the USGCRP Integration and Coordination Office, the Office of Science and Technology Policy, and the Office of Management and Budget.

About: An annual report to Congress on the activities of USGCRP participating agencies, produced since 1989.

Significance: The report is required under the Global Change Research Act of 1990 as a supplement to the President’s annual budget request and summarizes recent achievements, near-term plans, and progress in implementing long-term goals.  It also provides an overview of recent and near-term expenditures and requested funding.

Major Conclusions: The report highlights recent advances and progress supported by participating agencies in the USGCRP in each of the program’s research and observational elements, as called for by the 2003 Strategic Plan for the program.  The report also describes USGCRP’s contribution to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (AR4), progress in understanding Earth system components of the global climate system, how these components interact, and the processes and forces bringing about changes to the Earth system, and efforts to understand the ongoing and projected impacts of climate change on nature and society.

Next Report: Reports come out annually. Our Changing Planet: The U.S. Climate Change Science Program for Fiscal Year 2010, was released in October of 2009.  However, this year’s OCP report release has not yet been announced.

Global Climate Change Impacts on the United States, 6/16/2009

Agency: United States Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), formerly the U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP)

Authors: A panel of federal and nongovernmental scientists synthesized research findings under the Federal Advisory Committee Act.

About: The report summarizes research conducted by the USGCRP, founded upon a series of 21 synthesis and assessment reports on climate change produced under the Bush Administration intended to address key policy-relevant issues in climate science. The report discusses climate-related impacts on the level of various societal and environmental sectors and the different regions of the United States.  The report also draws from other peer-reviewed scientific assessments.

Significance:  Under the 1990 Global Change Research Act, the USGCRP is required to produce a report that evaluates, integrates, and interprets its research findings every four years. The last such report—the First U.S. National Assessment—was released in 2000. The Bush Administration delayed the production of the following report for years, avoiding acknowledgment of and responsibility for addressing the climate problem. Three environmental groups successfully sued the government to compel the release of the report, and the Bush Administration cobbled together a draft version issued on May 28, 2008.  The report was released in its final form under the Obama Administration.

Major Conclusions: The authors identified ten key findings:

1. Global warming is unequivocal and primarily human-induced.
2. Climate changes are underway in the United States and are projected to grow.
3. Widespread climate-related impacts are occurring now and are expected to increase.
4. Climate change will stress water resources.
5. Crop and livestock production will be increasingly challenged.
6. Coastal areas are at increasing risk from sea-level rise and storm surge.
7. Threats to human health will increase.
8. Climate change will interact with many societal and environmental stresses.
9. Thresholds will be crossed, leading to large changes in climate and ecosystems.
10. Future climate change and its impacts depend on choices made today.

Next Report: The next USGCRP assessment will be the second US National Assessment of the Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change, to be released in 2014.

U.S. National Assessment of the Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change (NCA) - to be released in 2014

Agency: U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP)

Authors: The NCA was developed within the Interagency National Climate Assessment (INCA) Task Force. The NCA task force is made up of representatives from 18 agencies and departments. Full list of participants and agencies here.

About: Created as a result of the Global Change Research Act of 1990, which called for a report detailing the findings of the federal program on climate change (USGCRP) be submitted to the President and Congress.  The purpose of the NCA is to “evaluate, integrate and interpret the findings of the $2.6 billion federal research program on global change.”

Significance: NCA reports are intended to provide summaries of the current state of climate change science and impacts. By collecting data from across the country and comparing it with projections from climate models, the NCA process aims “to incorporate advances in the understanding of climate science into larger social, ecological, and policy systems, and with this provide integrated analyses of impacts and vulnerability.”  A major goal of the NCA is to help the “federal government prioritize climate science investments” to inform sustainable and environmentally sound planning for the future.
Next Report: A NCA is currently underway, set to be released in 2014.

International Reports

Climate Change 2007: Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (AR4)

Organization: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the leading body for assessment of climate change, established by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

Authors: More than 500 Lead Authors and 2000 Expert Reviewers from over 100 countries.

About: IPCC reports contain 4 reports, one each from Working Groups I, II, and III, as well as a synthesis report.

Working Group I assesses the physical scientific aspects of the climate system and climate change.

Working Group II assesses the vulnerability of socio-economic and natural systems to climate change, negative and positive consequences of climate change, and options for adapting to it.

Working Group III assesses options for mitigating climate change through limiting or preventing greenhouse gas emissions and enhancing activities that remove them from the atmosphere.

Significance: The IPCC collects and assesses the most recent scientific, technical and socio-economic information produced worldwide relevant to the understanding of climate change. Because thousands of scientists from all over the world contribute to the work of the IPCC, differing viewpoints existing within the scientific community are reflected in the IPCC reports.

“The IPCC is an intergovernmental body, and it is open to all member countries of UN and WMO. Because of its scientific and intergovernmental nature, the IPCC embodies a unique opportunity to provide rigorous and balanced scientific information to decision makers. By endorsing the IPCC reports, governments acknowledge the authority of their scientific content. The work of the organization is therefore policy-relevant and yet policy-neutral, never policy-prescriptive.”

Major Conclusions: From the Synthesis Report:

•  Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice and rising global average sea level.
•  Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely (>90% confidence level) due to the observed increase in anthropogenic GHG concentrations.
•  Continued GHG emissions at or above current rates would cause further warming and induce many changes in the global climate system during the 21st century that would very likely (>90% confidence level) be larger than those observed during the 20th century.
•  Altered frequencies and intensities of extreme weather, together with sea level rise, are expected to have mostly adverse effects on natural and human systems.
•  Anthropogenic warming and sea level rise would continue for centuries due to the time scales associated with climate processes and feedbacks, even if GHG concentrations were to be stabilized.
•  Anthropogenic warming could lead to some impacts that are abrupt or irreversible, depending upon the rate and magnitude of the climate change.
•  There is high confidence (about an 8 out of 10 chance) that neither adaptation nor mitigation alone can avoid all climate change impacts; however, they can complement each other and together can significantly reduce the risks of climate change.
•  Responding to climate change involves an iterative risk management process that includes both adaptation and mitigation and takes into account climate change damages, co-benefits, sustainability, equity and attitudes to risk.

Next report: The Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) will be released in 2014. The Working Group I report will be finalized in September 2013, the Working Group II report in March 2014 and the Working Group III report in April 2014.

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