Every four years, the U.S. federal government commissions a body of research known as the U.S. National Climate Assessment to examine the effects of climate change on the environment, agriculture, energy production and use, land and water resources, human health and welfare, and biological diversity, among other topics. In May 2014, the most recent report, which is the third edition, was released.
This year’s report is co-authored by two researchers from Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. Professor Brent Sohngen an environmental economist in the Department of Agricultural, Environmental and Development Economics and director of Ohio State’s Environmental Policy Initiative co-authored the forestry chapter of the publication, while Professor Rattan Lal, a soil scientist in the School of Environment and Natural Resources and director of Ohio State’s Carbon Management and Sequestration Center served as an advisory member for the publication.
The massive undertaking is conducted under the auspices of the U.S. Global Change Research Act of 1990 and brings together a wide variety of researchers and scholars from the government, the private sector and academia with the United States Global Change Research Program overseeing the report process. A team of more than 300 experts, who are guided by a 60-member advisory committee, produce the report.
The publication is extensively reviewed by the public and experts, including federal agencies and a panel from the National Academy of Sciences. The final product is delivered to the President and Congress and is used by policymakers at all levels to formulate national, regional and local policy.
The U.S. National Climate Assessment not only analyzes current trends in global climate change, but it includes a number of projections for major climate change trends for the next 25 to 100 years. Additionally, the report aims to highlight significant gaps in our current knowledge of climate change, impacting federal science priorities.
In this year’s report, the authors recognized that the global climate is changing, which is evident across the U.S. based on a wide range of observations, such as extreme weather, which are documented in detail by the report’s authors.
The report concludes that the past 50 years of global warming have been caused primarily by human activities, mainly the burning of fossil fuels. The authors warn that human-induced climate change will continue and accelerate significantly if global emissions of heat-trapping gases continue to increase.
The report also looks at the widespread negative impacts that climate change has had, and will continue to have, on human health, infrastructure, the world’s water supply, agriculture, and our ecosystems and biodiversity.
In particular, the forestry chapter co-authored by Sohngen finds that climate change is increasing the vulnerability of many U.S. forests through fire, insect infestations, drought, and disease outbreaks. Additionally, though forests play an important role in absorbing and storing carbon dioxide, their rate of uptake is anticipated to decline due to the impacts of climate change.
The authors note that planning for adaptation and mitigation of climate change is becoming more widespread, however, current implementation efforts are insufficient to avoid increasingly negative social, environmental, and economic consequences.
The report also analyzes the impact of climate change in regards to U.S. regions, noting that in the Midwest, over the next few decades we will see longer growing seasons and rising carbon dioxide levels that will increase yields of some crops. However, the assessment warns that these yield benefits will be offset by extreme weather events. The authors note that though adaptation options can reduce some of the detrimental effects, in the long term, the combined stresses associated with climate change are expected to decrease agricultural productivity in the region.
To access the report, visit http://nca2014.globalchange.gov.
May 21, 2014