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Mitigation & Adaptive Actions Are Working — But Climate Threats Continue To Intensify

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This month the Fifth National Climate Assessment (NCA5) shows a decline in US greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions even as the population and gross domestic product (GDP) have grown. Yet the news is not fully positive. Every region of the country is experiencing climate threats and impacts at the same time that ambitious climate action is underway.

Today marks the second anniversary of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act that invested $1.2 trillion—$550 billion of it new spending—in roads, water systems, electrical grids, broadband, bridges, and so on. As Heather Cox Richardson notes in her Substack today, “That act has seen the start of more than 37,000 projects across the country. Bridges, airports, and supply chain projects are underway, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs.”

Investments in mitigation and adaptive actions represent quite a different philosophy than the US experienced just a few years ago, with common sense approaches now the norm so that science guides climate decision-making. The result? Companies have announced hundreds of billions of dollars in clean energy investments, and the US is on a path towards cutting carbon pollution in half by 2030.

Yet climate threats continue and are profound.

People across the US are experiencing warmer temperatures and longer heatwaves. Many other extremes, including heavy precipitation, droughts, floods, wildfires, and hurricanes, are increasing in frequency and/or severity. Extreme events cost the US close to $150 billion each year, according to NCAS5 —and this number does not account for loss of life, health care-related costs, or damages to ecosystem services.

This year set a record for the number of climate disasters that cost the United States over $1 billion. The US now experiences a billion-dollar disaster approximately every 3 weeks on average, compared to once every 4 months during the 1980s. Every degree of global warming avoided matters, because each increment of warming is expected to lead to more damage and greater economic losses in the US and across the globe.

Each climate action taken to reduce and avoid warming reduces those risks and harmful impacts.

It’s a new era of forward thinking to address climate threats. NCA5 comes to public attention with a backdrop of wind energy costs dropping 70% and solar energy costs reducing 90% just over the last decade. In 2020, 80% of the new energy generation capacity came from clean energy. The Biden administration signed into law the largest investment in climate action ever in the US with the Inflation Reduction Act— $50 billion in climate resilience is substantial; it is taking hold to reduce climate pollution across multiple sectors of the economy.

NCA5, which assesses changes in the climate, its national and regional impacts, and options for reducing present and future risk, offers some hope for the future.

  • Federal, state, local, and Tribal mitigation and adaptation actions have significantly increased.
  • Zero carbon and low carbon energy options are rapidly becoming more affordable.
  • More than $6 billion in investments are now making communities across the country more resilient to climate threats.
  • The US aging electric grid infrastructure is being strengthened with $3.9 billion directed to dedicated projects through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. This investment supports projects that use innovative approaches to transmission, storage, and distribution infrastructure to enhance grid resilience and reliability.
  • The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is announcing $300 million to help communities that have been impacted by catastrophic flooding during the 2022-2023 flood season become more resilient to future flood events and to make mitigation assistance rapidly available for those who have suffered the effects of flooding disasters.
  • Conservation efforts include protecting more than 21 million acres of public lands. The Department of the Interior will announce $166 million from the Inflation Reduction Act to meet critical ecosystem resilience, restoration, and environmental planning needs for the National Park Service over the next 9 years.
  • $50 million will improve the reliability of water resources and support ecosystem health in Western states, along with an additional $50 million funding opportunity for water conservation projects and hydropower upgrades.
  • $2 billion of funding will support community-driven projects that deploy clean energy, strengthen climate resilience, and build community capacity to respond to environmental and climate justice challenges.

Led by the US Global Change Research Program and its 14 member agencies, NCA5 was developed over 4 years by approximately 500 authors and 250 contributors from every state as well as Guam, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands. NCA5 includes input from extensive public engagement and an external peer review conducted by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

The report is not just a rah! rah! list of Biden administration accomplishments. It also shows that extreme weather events still pose rapidly intensifying climate threats that cost the US at least $150 billion each year. Moreover, the administration is working diligently to address how climate threats disproportionately affect underserved and overburdened communities.

Climate Threats & a New US/ China Agreement

This week President Biden met with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Their tête-à-tête took place subsequent to a new climate agreement between the two countries. This is an important political step, as these two countries hold the distasteful honor of being the world’s two largest climate polluters — together, they’re responsible for 38% of the world’s GHG emissions.

The agreement laid out the following points, among others:

  • Both countries agreed to “pursue efforts to triple renewable energy capacity globally by 2030.”
  • Such renewable energy levels are designed “so as to accelerate the substitution for coal, oil and gas generation.”
  • Both countries look ahead to “meaningful absolute power sector emission reduction” in this decade.

While China did not agree to phase out the dirtiest fossil fuel, coal, both countries will move forward to increase renewable energy capacity at home and abroad as well as to reduce emissions in their power sectors overall. China’s emissions rebound in 2023 has been accompanied by record installations of low carbon electricity generating capacity, particularly wind and solar.

China has never before agreed to cut emissions.

The US/ China agreement emerged 2 weeks prior to COP28. That is the event in which representatives from nearly 200 countries come together in Dubai for United Nations climate talks. The US and China will be called upon to assume leadership roles at COP28 as nations debate whether to phase out fossil fuels.

“The United States and China recognize that the climate crisis has increasingly affected countries around the world,” the Sunnylands Statement on Enhancing Cooperation to Address the Climate Crisis says. “Both countries stress the importance of COP 28 in responding meaningfully to the climate crisis during this critical decade and beyond” and pledge in the statement “to rise up to one of the greatest challenges of our time for present and future generations of humankind.”

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Carolyn Fortuna

Carolyn Fortuna (they, them), Ph.D., is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavy Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a Model Y as well as a Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Twitter and Facebook.

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