Climate change impacts increasing for Americans

Report highlights adaptation, carbon reduction strategies for reducing risks.

A recent report finds that the impacts of weather extremes — exacerbated by climate change — are far-reaching across every region of the United States.

However, the report also finds that rapidly reducing greenhouse gas emissions and accelerating adaptation can limit further warming and protect lives and property from many climate risks. 

The Fifth National Climate Assessment (NCA5), released by the Biden-Harris Administration and the US Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), also notes that across the country, efforts to adapt to climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions have expanded since the last National Climate Assessment in 2018, and US emissions have fallen since peaking in 2007. But without deeper cuts in global and US net greenhouse gas emissions and accelerated adaptation efforts, climate risks to the US will continue to grow.

“The Fifth National Climate Assessment can help every community, every business and every American prepare for and respond to climate change,” said US Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo. “While the report clearly shows the immense challenges of climate change, it also outlines the opportunity to create a more resilient nation and a stronger, more sustainable economy. Thanks to President Biden’s leadership, we have been addressing the climate crisis with the urgency that it deserves, including through historic investments that will make every community more climate resilient.”

“The key findings of this Fifth National Climate Assessment showcase the science-based information NOAA provides for the nation by observing and predicting climate change and working with communities to build resilience to its effects,” added National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Administrator Dr Rick Spinrad.

“The report details the far-reaching effects of human-caused climate change on the U.S. and concludes that every additional increment of warming that we avoid — every action to reduce warming — matters for reducing harmful impacts. This report with its strong emphasis on mitigation and adaptation can empower the nation to scale up these efforts as the Biden-Harris Administration accelerates the reduction of greenhouse emissions to limit devastating climate impacts.”

Key findings:

  • Actions taken now to accelerate net emissions reductions and adaptation to ongoing changes can reduce risks for current and future generations;
  • Climate change exacerbates long-standing social inequities experienced by underserved and overburdened communities, contributing to persistent disparities in the resources needed to prepare for, respond to, and recover from climate impacts. Low-income and communities of colour face higher risks of illness and death from extreme heat, climate-drive floods and air pollution compared with white people, and often lack access to adequate flood infrastructure, green spaces, safe housing and often lack protective resources;
  • Climate change is harming physical, mental, spiritual and community health and well-being;
  • The impacts of extreme climate events are costing the nation an estimated $150 billion each year. With every increment of global warming, costly damages are expected to accelerate. For example, 2 degrees Fahrenheit of warming is projected to cause more than twice the economic harm induced by 1 degree F of warming. High annual temperatures and tropical cyclones are associated with lower growth in GDP;
  • Climate action can result in near-term benefits that outweigh the costs, with the potential to improve well-being, strengthen resilience, benefit the economy and redress legacies of racism and injustice.

Blue Carbon

Acre for acre, ‘Blue Carbon’ ecosystems such as sea grasses, mangroves and saltmarshes, are estimated to store about twice as much carbon below ground than terrestrial vegetation. With conservation and restoration, these ecosystems could sequester enough carbon each year to offset about 3 percent of global emissions (based on 2019 and 2020 emissions), the report suggests.

By 2050 and by 2100, sea level rise under the Intermediate Sea Level Scenario, is projected to be higher along the Atlantic (about 1.25 and 4 feet, respectively) versus Pacific coast (0.75 and 3 feet), and greatest along the western Gulf coast(2 and 5 feet).

Hurricanes have been intensifying more rapidly since the 1980s and causing heavier rainfall and higher storm surges due to climate change. There is no long-term trend in the frequency of landfalling hurricanes in the US since the late 19th century, but there has been an increase in hurricane activity in the North Atlantic since the early 1970s.

Marine fisheries

Climate change has impacted commercial marine fisheries in every region of the US by altering the availability and quality of harvested species, destabilising fisheries-related revenue and employment, and causing new management challenges.

While climate change is not the sole driver affecting fish populations, it is an added stressor that exacerbates other negative impacts.

Over the next century, climate change is also expected to reduce fish and shellfish catch in all US regions, including some of the highest-valued fisheries.

To access the full report and find other background information, please visit the USGCRP website

Hurricanes have been intensifying more rapidly since the 1980s and causing heavier rainfall and higher storm surges due to climate change.