U.S. Advisory Committee Releases Draft Climate Change Report for Public Consultation

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On January 11, 2013, the U.S. National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee (NCADAC) released a draft Climate Assessment Report (the draft Report) open for public review and commentary until April 12, 2013.  The comprehensive report covers almost thirty different topics, is over one thousand pages long, and was written by more than 240 authors.  It is expected that this report will shape the policy discourse for years to come, both in the U.S. and Canada.  For Canadian businesses, the Report may provide insight not only into future government policy but also the potential challenges and opportunities that may arise in the context of a changing climate.

Background

The U.S. Global Change Research Act (1990) requires that a report be submitted to the President and to the Congress every four years summarizing the current scientific understanding regarding climate change and its potential impacts.  To date, only two reports have been published pursuant to this mandate: the First U.S. National Assessment was released in 2000.  The second report, Global Climate Change Impacts in the U.S., was published in 2009.

The draft Climate Assessment Report was released on January 11, 2013 and is open for public consultation until April 12, 2013.  The draft Report is expected to form the basis of the Third National Climate Assessment Report following the period of public consultation and further review by the NCADAC.

Summary

A Report Outline was published on December 8, 2011 listing specific topics for discussion and inclusion in the 2013 National Climate Assessment Report.  These topics included human health, water, energy, transportation, agriculture, forests, ecosystems and biodiversity, along with specific regional profiles.

The draft Report ultimately concludes that some degree of climate change, caused in large part by human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels, is unavoidable.  However, the draft Report emphasizes that mitigation efforts - such as reducing emissions - and adaptation efforts are part of a comprehensive strategy to reduce the overall impact of climate change. 

The draft Report focuses on the economic and health challenges that climate change will pose, and stresses that changes will need to be made in order to cope with extreme weather and climate events.  The draft Report also notes that climate change can present new economic opportunities for those who are able to recognize and overcome the challenges posed by climate change.  Finally, the draft Report acknowledges that the international context must be considered in any comprehensive climate change plan.

Discussion

It is expected that both this draft Report and the eventual 2013 National Climate Assessment Report will profoundly influence policy discussions in the U.S., Canada and around the world.  The Report may make it more difficult to credibly assert that climate change is not real, and may shift the discourse toward short-term and long-term mitigation and adaptation efforts.

The Report makes it plain that the legislative status quo is not enough:

          

Even absent a comprehensive national greenhouse gas policy, both voluntary activities and a variety of policies and means at federal, state and local levels are currently in place that lower emissions.  While these efforts represent significant steps towards reducing greenhouse gases, and often result in additional co-benefits, they are not close to sufficient to reduce total U.S. emissions to a level consistent with the [rapid emissions reduction] scenario. 

   

The Report identifies current state and federal initiatives designed to reduce greenhouse gases or increase energy efficiency.  As certain initiatives emerge as “best practices,” further legislative changes at the state and federal level should be expected in the wake of this Report.

The Government of Canada has thus far said that it is adopting a “continental approach” towards climate change and if the Government continues along that path, the policy ramifications of the Report will be felt not only in the U.S. but in Canada as well.  It is critical to note that the policy issues raised by the draft Report are not limited to “the environment”, but identify municipal (roads, bridges, storm drains), health (the spread of disease), leisure (lakes and rivers), and farming issues.

For Canadian businesses, this Report may provide useful insight about the challenges and opportunities raised by climate change.  Companies that are able to recognize and react to the effects of climate change will be in the best position to take advantage of new opportunities in a changing world.  The full draft Report is available here.