2014 National Climate Assessment key findings, Part 2: Sectors


The 2014 National Climate Assessment provides the most comprehensive current analysis of the observed and projected consequences for the U.S. of global climate disruption. Here, extracted from the 30 chapters in the final report, we look at the key findings and messages of Chapters 3-15 on Water Resources; Energy Supply and Use; Transportation; Agriculture; Forests; Ecosystems, Biodiversity, and Ecosystem Services; Human Health; Energy, Water, and Land Use; Urban Systems, Infrastructure, and Vulnerability; Indigenous Peoples, Lands and Resources; Land Use and Land Cover Change; Rural Communities; and Biogeochemical Cycles.

The following information is extracted from the final draft of the 2014 National Climate Assessment (full report). Download the full report or individual chapters at http://nca2014.globalchange.gov/downloads. This major report was prepared by several hundred scientific and technical experts under the oversight of the National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee and was released by the U.S. government on May 6. A complete listing of key findings and messages in the report is available here in PDF format.

Also see:

2014 National Climate Assessment key findings, Part 1: Overview and Our Changing Climate

2014 National Climate Assessment key findings, Part 3: Regions

2014 National Climate Assessment key findings, Part 4: Response Strategies




Chapter 3. Water Resources

Key Messages

Climate Change Impacts on the Water Cycle

  1. Annual precipitation and river-flow increases are observed now in the Midwest and the Northeast regions. Very heavy precipitation events have increased nationally and are projected to increase in all regions. The length of dry spells is projected to increase in most areas, especially the southern and northwestern portions of the contiguous United States.
  2. Short-term (seasonal or shorter) droughts are expected to intensify in most U.S. regions. Longer-term droughts are expected to intensify in large areas of the Southwest, southern Great Plains, and Southeast.
  3. Flooding may intensify in many U.S. regions, even in areas where total precipitation is projected to decline.
  4. Climate change is expected to affect water demand, groundwater withdrawals, and aquifer recharge, reducing groundwater availability in some areas.
  5. Sea level rise, storms and storm surges, and changes in surface and groundwater use patterns are expected to compromise the sustainability of coastal freshwater aquifers and wetlands.
  6. Increasing air and water temperatures, more intense precipitation and runoff, and intensifying droughts can decrease river and lake water quality in many ways, including increases in sediment, nitrogen, and other pollutant loads.

Climate Change Impacts on Water Resources Use and Management

  1. Climate change affects water demand and the ways water is used within and across regions and economic sectors. The Southwest, Great Plains, and Southeast are particularly vulnerable to changes in water supply and demand.
  2. Changes in precipitation and runoff, combined with changes in consumption and withdrawal, have reduced surface and groundwater supplies in many areas. These trends are expected to continue, increasing the likelihood of water shortages for many uses.
  3. Increasing flooding risk affects human safety and health, property, infrastructure, economies, and ecology in many basins across the United States.

Adaptation and Institutional Responses

  1. In most U.S. regions, water resources managers and planners will encounter new risks, vulnerabilities, and opportunities that may not be properly managed within existing practices.
  2. Increasing resilience and enhancing adaptive capacity provide opportunities to strengthen water resources management and plan for climate change impacts. Many institutional, scientific, economic, and political barriers present challenges to implementing adaptive strategies.

Chapter 4. Energy Supply and Use

Key Messages

  1. Extreme weather events are affecting energy production and delivery facilities, causing supply disruptions of varying lengths and magnitudes and affecting other infrastructure that depends on energy supply. The frequency and intensity of certain types of extreme weather events are expected to change.
  2. Higher summer temperatures will increase electricity use, causing higher summer peak loads, while warmer winters will decrease energy demands for heating. Net electricity use is projected to increase.
  3. Changes in water availability, both episodic and long-lasting, will constrain different forms of energy production.
  4. In the longer term, sea level rise, extreme storm surge events, and high tides will affect coastal facilities and infrastructure on which many energy systems, markets, and consumers depend.
  5. As new investments in energy technologies occur, future energy systems will differ from today’s in uncertain ways. Depending on the character of changes in the energy mix, climate change will introduce new risks as well as opportunities.

Chapter 5. Transportation

Key Messages

  1. The impacts from sea level rise and storm surge, extreme weather events, higher temperatures and heat waves, precipitation changes, Arctic warming, and other climatic conditions are affecting the reliability and capacity of the U.S. transportation system in many ways.
  2. Sea level rise, coupled with storm surge, will continue to increase the risk of major coastal impacts on transportation infrastructure, including both temporary and permanent flooding of airports, ports and harbors, roads, rail lines, tunnels, and bridges.
  3. Extreme weather events currently disrupt transportation networks in all areas of the country; projections indicate that such disruptions will increase.
  4. Climate change impacts will increase the total costs to the nation’s transportation systems and their users, but these impacts can be reduced through rerouting, mode change, and a wide range of adaptive actions.

Chapter 6. Agriculture

Key Messages

  1. Climate disruptions to agricultural production have increased in the past 40 years and are projected to increase over the next 25 years. By mid-century and beyond, these impacts will be increasingly negative on most crops and livestock.
  2. Many agricultural regions will experience declines in crop and livestock production from increased stress due to weeds, diseases, insect pests, and other climate change induced stresses.
  3. Current loss and degradation of critical agricultural soil and water assets due to increasing extremes in precipitation will continue to challenge both rainfed and irrigated agriculture unless innovative conservation methods are implemented.
  4. The rising incidence of weather extremes will have increasingly negative impacts on crop and livestock productivity because critical thresholds are already being exceeded.
  5. Agriculture has been able to adapt to recent changes in climate; however, increased innovation will be needed to ensure the rate of adaptation of agriculture and the associated socioeconomic system can keep pace with climate change over the next 25 years.
  6. Climate change effects on agriculture will have consequences for food security, both in the U.S. and globally, through changes in crop yields and food prices and effects on food processing, storage, transportation, and retailing. Adaptation measures can help delay and reduce some of these impacts.

Chapter 7. Forests

Key Messages

  1. Climate change is increasing the vulnerability of many forests to ecosystem changes and tree mortality through fire, insect infestations, drought, and disease outbreaks.
  2. U.S. forests and associated wood products currently absorb and store the equivalent of about 16% of all carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted by fossil fuel burning in the U.S. each year. Climate change, combined with current societal trends in land use and forest management, is projected to reduce this rate of forest CO2 uptake.
  3. Bioenergy could emerge as a new market for wood and could aid in the restoration of forests killed by drought, insects, and fire.
  4. Forest management responses to climate change will be influenced by the changing nature of private forestland ownership, globalization of forestry markets, emerging markets for bioenergy, and U.S. climate change policy.

Chapter 8. Ecosystems, Biodiversity, and Ecosystem Services

Key Messages

  1. Climate change impacts on ecosystems reduce their ability to improve water quality and regulate water flows.
  2. Climate change, combined with other stressors, is overwhelming the capacity of ecosystems to buffer the impacts from extreme events like fires, floods, and storms.
  3. Landscapes and seascapes are changing rapidly, and species, including many iconic species, may disappear from regions where they have been prevalent or become extinct, altering some regions so much that their mix of plant and animal life will become almost unrecognizable.
  4. Timing of critical biological events, such as spring bud burst, emergence from overwintering, and the start of migrations, has shifted, leading to important impacts on species and habitats.
  5. Whole system management is often more effective than focusing on one species at a time, and can help reduce the harm to wildlife, natural assets, and human well-being that climate disruption might cause.

Chapter 9. Human Health

Key Messages

  1. Climate change threatens human health and well-being in many ways, including impacts from increased extreme weather events, wildfire, decreased air quality, threats to mental health, and illnesses transmitted by food, water, and disease-carriers such as mosquitoes and ticks. Some of these health impacts are already underway in the United States.
  2. Climate change will, absent other changes, amplify some of the existing health threats the nation now faces. Certain people and communities are especially vulnerable, including children, the elderly, the sick, the poor, and some communities of color.
  3. Public health actions, especially preparedness and prevention, can do much to protect people from some of the impacts of climate change. Early action provides the largest health benefits. As threats increase, our ability to adapt to future changes may be limited.
  4. Responding to climate change provides opportunities to improve human health and well-being across many sectors, including energy, agriculture, and transportation. Many of these strategies offer a variety of benefits, protecting people while combating climate change and providing other societal benefits.

Chapter 10. Energy, Water, and Land Use

Key Messages

  1. Energy, water, and land systems interact in many ways. Climate change affects the individual sectors and their interactions; the combination of these factors affects climate change vulnerability as well as adaptation and mitigation options for different regions of the country.
  2. The dependence of energy systems on land and water supplies will influence the development of these systems and options for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, as well as their climate change vulnerability.
  3. Jointly considering risks, vulnerabilities, and opportunities associated with energy, water, and land use is challenging, but can improve the identification and evaluation of options for reducing climate change impacts.

Chapter 11. Urban Systems, Infrastructure, and Vulnerability

Key Messages

  1. Climate change and its impacts threaten the well-being of urban residents in all U.S. regions. Essential infrastructure systems such as water, energy supply, and transportation will increasingly be compromised by interrelated climate change impacts. The nation’s economy, security, and culture all depend on the resilience of urban infrastructure systems.
  2. In urban settings, climate-related disruptions of services in one infrastructure system will almost always result in disruptions in one or more other infrastructure systems.
  3. Climate vulnerability and adaptive capacity of urban residents and communities are influenced by pronounced social inequalities that reflect age, ethnicity, gender, income, health, and (dis)ability differences.
  4. City government agencies and organizations have started adaptation plans that focus on infrastructure systems and public health. To be successful, these adaptation efforts require cooperative private sector and governmental activities, but institutions face many barriers to implementing coordinated efforts.

Chapter 12. Indigenous Peoples, and Lands and Resources

Key Messages

  1. Observed and future impacts from climate change threaten Native Peoples’ access to traditional foods such as fish, game, and wild and cultivated crops, which have provided sustenance as well as cultural, economic, medicinal, and community health for generations.
  2. A significant decrease in water quality and quantity due to a variety of factors, including climate change, is affecting drinking water, food, and cultures. Native communities’ vulnerabilities and limited capacity to adapt to water-related challenges are exacerbated by historical and contemporary government policies and poor socioeconomic conditions.
  3. Declining sea ice in Alaska is causing significant impacts to Native communities, including increasingly risky travel and hunting conditions, damage and loss to settlements, food insecurity, and socioeconomic and health impacts from loss of cultures, traditional knowledge, and homelands.
  4. Alaska Native communities are increasingly exposed to health and livelihood hazards from increasing temperatures and thawing permafrost, which are damaging critical infrastructure, adding to other stressors on traditional lifestyles.
  5. Climate change related impacts are forcing relocation of tribal and indigenous communities, especially in coastal locations. These relocations, and the lack of governance mechanisms or funding to support them, are causing loss of community and culture, health impacts, and economic decline, further exacerbating tribal impoverishment.

Chapter 13. Land Use and Land Cover Change

Key Messages

  1. Choices about land-use and land-cover patterns have affected and will continue to affect how vulnerable or resilient human communities and ecosystems are to the effects of climate change.
  2. Land-use and land-cover changes affect local, regional, and global climate processes.
  3. Individuals, businesses, non-profits, and governments have the capacity to make land-use decisions to adapt to the effects of climate change.
  4. Choices about land use and land management may provide a means of reducing atmospheric greenhouse gas levels.

Chapter 14. Rural Communities

Key Messages

  1. Rural communities are highly dependent upon natural resources for their livelihoods and social structures. Climate change related impacts are currently affecting rural communities. These impacts will progressively increase over this century and will shift the locations where rural economic activities (like agriculture, forestry, and recreation) can thrive.
  2. Rural communities face particular geographic and demographic obstacles in responding to and preparing for climate change risks. In particular, physical isolation, limited economic diversity, and higher poverty rates, combined with an aging population, increase the vulnerability of rural communities. Systems of fundamental importance to rural populations are already stressed by remoteness and limited access.
  3. Responding to additional challenges from climate change impacts will require significant adaptation within rural transportation and infrastructure systems, as well as health and emergency response systems. Governments in rural communities have limited institutional capacity to respond to, plan for, and anticipate climate change impacts.

Chapter 15. Biogeochemical Cycles

Key Messages

  1. Human activities have increased atmospheric carbon dioxide by about 40% over pre-industrial levels and more than doubled the amount of nitrogen available to ecosystems. Similar trends have been observed for phosphorus and other elements, and these changes have major consequences for biogeochemical cycles and climate change.
  2. In total, land in the United States absorbs and stores an amount of carbon equivalent to about 17% of annual U.S. fossil fuel emissions. U.S. forests and associated wood products account for most of this land sink. The effect of this carbon storage is to partially offset warming from emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases.
  3. Altered biogeochemical cycles together with climate change increase the vulnerability of biodiversity, food security, human health, and water quality to changing climate. However, natural and managed shifts in major biogeochemical cycles can help limit rates of climate change.

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Thanks to Nick Sundt at WWF for this compilation.

Earlier posts:

2014 National Climate Assessment key findings, Part 1: Overview and Our Changing Climate

U.S. National Climate Assessment: Resources and media

U.S. National Climate Assessment to be released May 6

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1 Response to 2014 National Climate Assessment key findings, Part 2: Sectors

  1. Doug Heiken says:

    The National Climate Assessment analysis of forestry is fraught with errors and misleading information. It promotes aggressive intervention in natural processes, when the science pretty clearly indicates that forests will store more carbon if they are allowed to grow, change, and adapt on their own.

    Here is a slide show clarifying many misconceptions about forests, logging, and carbon:

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