The National Climate Assessment
The Global Change Research Act of 1990 mandates that the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) deliver a report to Congress and the President no less than every four years that “1) integrates, evaluates, and interprets the findings of the Program…; 2) analyzes the effects of global change on the natural environment, agriculture, energy production, and use, land and water resources, transportation, human health and welfare, human social systems, and biological diversity; and 3) analyzes current trends in global change, both human-induced and natural, and projects major trends for the subsequent 25 to 100 years.”1
The Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4) fulfills that mandate in two volumes. This report, Volume II, draws on the foundational science described in Volume I, the Climate Science Special Report (CSSR).2 Volume II focuses on the human welfare, societal, and environmental elements of climate change and variability for 10 regions and 18 national topics, with particular attention paid to observed and projected risks, impacts, consideration of risk reduction, and implications under different mitigation pathways. Where possible, NCA4 Volume II provides examples of actions underway in communities across the United States to reduce the risks associated with climate change, increase resilience, and improve livelihoods.
This assessment was written to help inform decision-makers, utility and natural resource managers, public health officials, emergency planners, and other stakeholders by providing a thorough examination of the effects of climate change on the United States.
Climate Science Special Report: NCA4 Volume I
The Climate Science Special Report (CSSR), published in 2017, serves as the first volume of NCA4. It provides a detailed analysis of how climate change is affecting the physical earth system across the United States and provides the foundational physical science upon which much of the assessment of impacts in this report is based. The CSSR integrates and evaluates current findings on climate science and discusses the uncertainties associated with these findings. It analyzes trends in climate change, both human-induced and natural, and projects major trends to the end of this century. Projected changes in temperature, precipitation patterns, sea level rise, and other climate outcomes are based on a range of scenarios widely used in the climate research community, referred to as Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs). As an assessment and analysis of the physical science, the CSSR provides important input to the development of other parts of NCA4 and their primary focus on the human welfare, societal, economic, and environmental elements of climate change. A summary of the CSSR is provided in Chapter 2 (Our Changing Climate) of this report; the full report can be accessed at science2017.globalchange.gov.
Report Development, Review, and Approval Process
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) served as the administrative lead agency for the preparation of this report. A Federal Steering Committee, composed of representatives from USGCRP agencies, oversaw the report’s development.
A team of more than 300 federal and non-federal experts—including individuals from federal, state, and local governments, tribes and Indigenous communities, national laboratories, universities, and the private sector—volunteered their time to produce the assessment, with input from external stakeholders at each stage of the process. A series of regional engagement workshops reached more than 1,000 individuals in over 40 cities, while listening sessions, webinars, and public comment periods provided valuable input to the authors. Participants included decision-makers from the public and private sectors, resource and environmental managers, scientists, educators, representatives from businesses and nongovernmental organizations, and the interested public.
NCA4 Volume II was thoroughly reviewed by external experts and the general public, as well as the Federal Government (that is, the NCA4 Federal Steering Committee and several rounds of technical and policy review by the 13 federal agencies of the USGCRP). An expert external peer review of the whole report was performed by an ad hoc committee of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM).3Additional information on the development of this assessment can be found in Appendix 1: Report Development Process.
Sources Used in This Report
The findings in this report are based on an assessment of the peer-reviewed scientific literature, complemented by other sources (such as gray literature) where appropriate. In addition, the authors used well-established and carefully evaluated observational and modeling datasets, technical input reports, USGCRP’s sustained assessment products, and a suite of scenario products. Each source was determined to meet the standards of the Information Quality Act (see Appendix 2: Information in the Fourth National Climate Assessment).
Sustained Assessment Products
The USGCRP’s sustained assessment process facilitates and draws upon the ongoing participation of scientists and stakeholders, enabling the assessment of new information and insights as they emerge. The USGCRP led the development of two major sustained assessment products as inputs to NCA4: The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States: A Scientific Assessment4 and the Second State of the Carbon Cycle Report.5In addition, USGCRP agencies contributed products that improve the thoroughness of this assessment, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s scientific assessment Climate Change, Global Food Security, and the U.S. Food System;6 NOAA’s Climate Resilience Toolkit, Climate Explorer, and State Climate Summaries; the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s updated economic impacts of climate change report;7 and a variety of USGCRP indicators and scenario products that support the evaluation of climate-related risks (see Appendix 3: Data Tools and Scenario Products).
USGCRP Scenario Products
As part of the sustained assessment process, federal interagency groups developed a suite of high-resolution scenario products that span a range of plausible future changes (through at least 2100) in key environmental parameters. This new generation of USGCRP scenario products (hosted at https://scenarios.globalchange.gov) includes
- changes in average and extreme statistics of key climate variables (for example, temperature and precipitation),
- changes in local sea level rise along the entire U.S. coastline,
- changes in population as a function of demographic shifts and migration, and
- changes in land use driven by population changes.
USGCRP scenario products help ensure consistency in underlying assumptions across the report and therefore improve the ability to compare and synthesize results across chapters. Where possible, authors have used the range of these scenario products to frame uncertainty in future climate and associated effects as it relates to the risks that are the focus of their chapters. As discussed briefly elsewhere in this Front Matter and in more detail in Appendix 3 (Data Tools and Scenario Products), future scenarios referred to as RCPs provide the global framing for NCA4 Volumes I and II. RCPs focus on outputs (such as emissions and concentrations of greenhouse gases and particulate matter) that are in turn fed into climate models. As such, a wide range of future socioeconomic assumptions, at the global and national scale (such as population growth, technological innovation, and carbon intensity of energy mix), could be consistent with the RCPs used throughout NCA4. For this reason, further guidance on U.S. population and land-use assumptions was provided to authors. See Appendix 3: Data Tools and Scenario Products, including Table A3.1, for additional detail on these scenario products.