Climate change already hurting economy

Climate change is having a present-day, negative impact on Americans' everyday lives and damaging the economy, according to an assessment by 300 experts overseen by 60 scientists.

Dow Jones Newswires

Climate change is having a present-day, negative impact on Americans' everyday lives and damaging the US economy as extreme weather brings flooding, droughts and other disasters to every region in the country, a federal advisory committee has concluded.

The congressionally mandated National Climate Assessment, produced by more than 300 experts overseen by a panel of 60 scientists, concludes that the nation has already suffered billions of dollars in damages from severe weather-related disruptions, which it says will continue to get worse.

The document, considered the most comprehensive analysis of the effects of climate change on the US, is to be released by the climate advisory panel after a final vote Tuesday morning. President Barack Obama is planning to promote it in a series of events this week calling for action to combat the trend, and using the report to bring public attention to climate change-related problems.

"The findings in this National Climate Assessment underscore the need for urgent action to combat the threats from climate change, protect American citizens and communities today, and build a sustainable future for our kids and grandkids," the White House said.

The report, by the Federal National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee, details the effects of climate change on every state in the country and every sector of the economy, from rapidly receding ice in Alaska to heat waves and coastal flooding in the Northeast. Rising seas in the South put major cities such as Miami at risk, it says.

The report says it isn't too late to implement policies to reduce the carbon emissions that cause greenhouse gases, and calls on governments at all levels to find ways to lower emissions, particularly from energy production. The report also emphasises adaptation -- the notion that society needs to find ways to prepare for and adjust to some of the changes.

The report pins much of the increase in climate change on human behaviour and resource usage patterns designed to highlight problems even at the community level. Superstorm Sandy which destroyed much of northern New Jersey's beaches in 2012, and the heat wave in the Midwest are among examples the administration will use this week to try to raise concerns among average Americans about climate change.

"Every American will find things that matter to them in this report," said one of the lead authors, Donald Wuebbles, a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Illinois.

The last climate assessment, released in 2009, said generally that climate change is affecting the country. The new report, Mr Wuebbles said, shows how further shifts in each area could hurt sectors of the economy such as transportation or force local populations to move.

The White House campaign to publicise the report will include eight television meteorologists. Americans feel "comfortable" with local weather reporters, who can discuss climate change warnings without being politicised, said an administration official.

The president will do one-on-one interviews Tuesday with NBC Today Show co-anchor Al Roker and ABC Good Morning America's Ginger Zee, as well as some regional weathercasters, said the official.

Several authors said the strong warnings in the assessment weren't presented to "scare" people, but to convey the importance of preparation and mitigation in, for example, US ports.

But the report will almost certainly generate pushback from conservatives, some who say that proposed mitigation measures cost business too much and will hurt the nation's economic recovery, and others who say it exaggerates the problem altogether.

The Heartland Institute, a conservative think tank that questions climate change, said in a statement on its website Sunday that the administration's report "consistently reaches overly pessimistic conclusions." Its senior environmental expert, James Taylor, said in an interview Tuesday morning, "Keep in mind that this is a report produced for and with the Obama White House."

Those concerned about climate changes applauded the assessment. The authors, "show the urgency of climate change issues in major cities and small towns across the country," said Daniel J Weiss, senior fellow at the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress. He said the report is too specific about effects such as droughts, eroding shore lines and flooding to be ignored.

The national climate assessment was mandated by Congress in 1990 as a quadrennial review. Environmental issues haven't been among recent administrations' hottest issues. There have only been two other reports, in 2000 and in 2009. It doesn't offer specific remedies because of its limited scope but does suggest a need for urgency.

The report bolsters tough air and water pollution limits promoted by Mr Obama, administration officials said. Its release could help buffer backlash from new regulations restricting carbon emissions from the US existing coal-fired power plants, due to be unveiled the beginning of June.

Climate change also presents an election-year conundrum for the president, as global warming ranks low among the public's priorities and poses problems for Democratic candidates aligned with the energy industry.

A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll in January found that climate change ranked last on a list of 15 issues when people were asked what the administration should make its priorities. Only 27 per cent of respondents said addressing climate change should be an absolute priority this year, with 41 per cent saying that it could be delayed until next year and 29 per cent saying it shouldn't be pursued.

"The issue has ranked relatively low, because the threat is abstract," said Daniel J Weiss, senior fellow at the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress. The White House will argue that the impacts are real and immediate, he added.

John Podesta, a top White House adviser on climate change, said there was overwhelming evidence it already is affecting people's lives.

"If you...want to try to side with the polluters and argue to the American public that climate change is not happening today, tomorrow and certainly in the future, that's going to be a losing argument," he said.

But many Republicans believe the focus on climate change is wrong. "This report is part of the game the president is playing to distract Americans from his unchecked regulatory agenda that is costing our nation middle-class jobs, new economic opportunities and our ability to be energy independent," said Senator James Inhofe, criticizing what he called alarmism on global warming.

The new assessment is getting very different treatment than its predecessor, released in June 2009, with almost no fanfare.

The report's rollout also serves as the curtain-raiser for new regulations limiting carbon emissions from existing coal-fired power plants, which will be released in early June by the Environmental Protection Agency.

GOP lawmakers and coal-state Democrats already tried to derail emission limits for new coal plants, which were released earlier this year. For months, coal-industry lawyers have been preparing maneuvers to stop rules for existing plants.

The rules might prove tricky for Democratic candidates in conservative and coal-rich states.

Mr Podesta said Democrats should argue they have bolstered oil and gas production while backing clean energy. Kevin Book, managing director at analysis firm ClearView Energy Partners, said Mr Obama's focus on climate may help red-state Democrats as an issue on which they can distance themselves from the president.