The Global Climate Crisis Leaves High Costs 5:36
(CNN) -- The effects of a rapidly warming climate are being felt in every corner of the U.S. and will worsen over the next 10 years with the continued use of fossil fuels, according to a grim new report from federal agencies.
The Fifth National Climate Assessment, a congressionally mandated report that must be submitted approximately every five years, warned that although planet-warming pollution in the country is slowly decreasing, it is not happening fast enough to meet the goals set, nor is it in line with the United Nations' (UN)-approved goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C. a threshold beyond which scientists warn that life on Earth will have serious difficulty inhabiting it.
This year's assessment reflects the reality that Americans can increasingly see and feel climate impacts in their own communities, said Katharine Hayhoe, a distinguished climate scientist at Texas Tech University and a contributor to the report.
"Climate change is affecting every aspect of our lives," Hayhoe told CNN.
Some of the report's lengthy conclusions still sound painfully familiar: No part of the U.S. is truly safe from climate disasters. Drastically reducing the use of fossil fuels is critical to limiting the consequences, but we are not doing it fast enough and every fraction of a degree of warming causes more intense impacts.
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In addition, there are some important developments: Scientists can now say with more confidence when the climate crisis has made storms, hurricanes, and wildfires stronger or more frequent, long-term droughts more severe, and heat deadlier.
This summer alone, the Phoenix area experienced a record 31 consecutive days above 110°, a shocking heat wave that was partly responsible for more than 500 heat-related deaths in Maricopa County in 2023, its deadliest heat-related year on record.
In July, a torrential storm flooded parts of Vermont with deadly flooding. Then, in August, Maui was devastated by a fast-moving wildfire and Florida's Gulf Coast was hit by its second major hurricane in two years.
President Joe Biden is expected to announce the investment of more than $6 billion in funding to strengthen climate resilience by "bolstering the U.S. electric grid, investing in water infrastructure improvements, reducing flood risk for communities, and advancing environmental justice for all." a government official said.
The country needs "a transformation of the global economy on a size and scale that has never happened in human history" to "create a livable future for ourselves and our children," White House climate adviser John Podesta told reporters.
Here are five important takeaways from the federal government's wide-ranging climate report.
It's easier to identify which disasters have been made worse by climate change
The latest report contains an important breakthrough in what's called "attribution science": Scientists can show more definitively how climate change is affecting extreme weather events, such as heat waves, droughts, hurricanes and severe storms.
Climate change doesn't cause hurricanes or wildfires, but it can make them more intense or frequent.
For example, warmer oceans and air temperatures mean hurricanes get stronger faster and dump more rain when they hit the coast. And warmer, drier conditions stemming from climate change can help vegetation and trees become tinderboxes, with wildfires turning into megafires that spiral out of control.
"Now, thanks to the field of attribution, we can make specific statements," Hayhoe said. He added that attribution can help identify certain areas of a city that are now more likely to flood due to the effects of climate change. "The field of attribution has advanced significantly in the last five years and that really helps people connect the dots."
All regions are feeling climate change, but some more intensely
No place is immune to climate change, Biden administration officials and the scientists who authored the report emphasized, and this summer's extreme weather was a deadly reminder.
Some states — including California, Florida, Louisiana and Texas — are facing major storms and extreme variations in precipitation.
Landlocked states won't have to adapt to rising sea levels, though some — including Appalachian states like Kentucky and West Virginia — have suffered devastating flooding caused by storms.
And northern states are grappling with a surge in tick-borne diseases, less snow, and stronger storms.
"There's nowhere that's not at risk, but there are some that are more or less at risk," Hayhoe told CNN. "That's a factor of both the increasingly frequent and severe weather and the weather extremes you're exposed to, as well as how prepared (cities and states) are for."
Climate change is taking a huge economic toll
According to the report, climate shocks to the economy are occurring more frequently, as evidenced by this year's record number of extreme weather disasters costing at least $1 billion. And disaster experts have spent the past year warning that the U.S. is just beginning to see the economic fallout from the climate crisis.
Climate risks are impacting the housing market in the form of skyrocketing homeowners insurance rates. Some insurers have pulled out of high-risk states entirely.
Stronger storms that wipe out certain crops or extreme heat that kills livestock can cause food prices to skyrocket. And in the Southwest, the report's researchers found that higher temperatures in the future could lead to a 25% loss of farmworkers' physical work capacity from July to September.
The U.S. Is Reducing Planet-Warming Pollution, But Not Fast Enough
Unlike the world's other big polluters — China and India — planet-warming pollution in the U.S. is declining. But it's not happening fast enough to stabilize global warming or meet the country's international climate commitments, the report explains.
The country's annual greenhouse gas emissions fell 12% between 2005 and 2019, driven in large part by the power sector's shift away from coal toward renewables and methane gas, the latter of which remains a fossil fuel that has a major global warming effect.
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The decline is good news for the climate crisis, but if you look at the fine print, the picture is mixed.
The report concludes that planet-warming U.S. emissions "remain substantial" and would need to decline dramatically by 6% annually on average to be in line with the international goal of 1.5 degrees. To put that cut in perspective, U.S. emissions declined less than 1% annually between 2005 and 2019, a small annual drop.
Water (too much and too little) is a big problem for the U.S.
One of the report's most important findings focuses on the precarious future of water in the U.S. and how parts of the country face a future with extreme drought and water insecurity, or more flooding and sea level rise.
Drought and reduced snowpack are huge threats, particularly to communities in the Southwest. The chapter on that region, by Arizona State University climate scientist Dave White, found that the Southwest was significantly drier between 1991 and 2020 than the previous three decades.
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White said it's an ominous sign as the planet continues to warm, with major threats to snowpack in California's Sierra Nevada Mountains and Rockies, both of which provide crucial freshwater in the West.
White added that the lack of fresh water in the region also has significant economic and agricultural impacts, as it supports Native American cities, farms and tribes.
"The mountains are our nature reserves in the region," White told CNN. "Climate impacts on that mountain snowpack have really significant negative effects on the way our infrastructure operates. It's just critical for us to protect those resources."
CNN's Donald Judd contributed to this report.
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