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New National Climate Assessment Shows America on Course for Unprecedented Warming

This post was co-written with Forbes Tompkins, an intern with WRI's Climate and Energy Program.

A new federal report reveals alarming statistics on climate change. According to the 3rd National Climate Assessment, released in draft form today from the U.S. Global Change Research Program, the world could warm by more than 12°F by the end of the century if action isn’t taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“The evidence is clear and mounting,” said WRI’s president, Andrew Steer, in response to the report. “The United States sits at the center of the climate crisis. Record heat is devastating crops, rivers are drying up, and storms are bearing down on our cities. Climate change is taking its toll on people and their economies, and will only become more intense without a strong and rapid response here in the United States and around the globe. It’s not too late to take action, but given lags in policy and geophysical processes, the window is closing.”

This assessment comes on the heels of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) announcement earlier this week that 2012 was the hottest year on record for the contiguous United States. According to NOAA’s National Climate Data Center, the country saw 356 all-time temperature highs (and only four all-time lows) tied or broken and experienced 11 extreme weather events each causing more than $1 billion in damages.

Here are a few of the report’s key findings:

For the United States:

  • From 2000 to 2010, there were twice as many high temperature records broken as cold temperature records.

  • Since 1895, the U.S. average temperature has increased about 1.5°F; more than 80 percent of the increase occurring since 1980.

Globally

  • Each successive decade in the last 50 years has been the warmest on record.

  • The decade of the 2000s was the warmest in the last 2,000 years.

  • With “virtual certainty,” global temperatures will continue to increase through the end of this century.

  • The warming of global temperatures can still be limited to 2°C, but doing so will require “rapid” and “significant” efforts to reduce carbon pollution. Without such efforts, temperature increases could exceed 12°F by the end of the century.

This assessment adds to the growing number of reports showing that the United States is currently and will continue to experience unprecedented warming in the absence of climate action.

“In his second term, President Obama has a chance to ensure his legacy as a leader on climate change,” said Steer. “Now is the time for the Administration to move forward with new standards on power plants and other actions to put America on course to a low-carbon future.”

WRI’s experts will be taking a more comprehensive look at the new National Climate Assessment over the next few days. Look for our deeper analysis of the report—and its potential implications—sometime next week.

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