Analysis: UK, US Climate Reports

Reporting On / by Elizabeth Cline /

New reports from the US and UK back scientists that climate change is happening now and project fallout down to the regional and citywide level.

Royal Society's James Wilsdon on the release of dire climate change impact reports from both the US and the UK.
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Last week, UK papers were streaked with headlines of scorching summer heat waves by the year 2080, following the release of their government’s wide-ranging climate impact report. The Obama administration released a similar report last Tuesday, putting climate change back on the tongues of many in the less eco-conscious States. Taken together, they are the most unequivocal, detailed, and localized climate projections issued by Western governments.

Their emphasis is squarely on climate impacts at the local and regional level. By finally painting a picture of how climate change will increase individuals’ energy bills, flood subway tunnels, damage highways by cracking them, wash away vacation homes, thaw out ski resorts, and increase the likelihood of insect-borne illnesses, these reports are designed to get us to take action. The UK’s Climate Projections website includes an online Weather Generator, as James Wilsdon explains in his latest podcast, where entering an area code results in climate predications for individual cities down to a scale of 5 kilometers. The US report is slightly less slick but does offer the first detailed look at rainfall and temperature predictions for each region of the country and breaks down for the first time how climate change is predicted to affect individual sectors of the economy—including energy, health, water supply, transportation, and ecosystems—and lays out the challenges for adaptation for each. These reports and their savvy websites are a small triumph for the psychological and framing challenges the environmental movement faces.

As TJ Kelleher lays out in his most recent Week in Review, it appears that the US report is less about trying to influence next week’s debate in the House over the American Clean Air and Security Act [download] and more about the Obama administration attempting to “nudge” public opinion on climate change. Both reports are persuasive in their presentation: They were both launched as interactive websites that present otherwise dense statistics in lay terms, a rarity for government websites. David Sax thoroughly explains the social science hurdles of the environmental movement in Seed’s latest cover story, “The Last Experiment,” in which he talks to behavioral economists working on “tricking ourselves into saving ourselves.”

The pressure now is on tricking the rest of the world into caring about global warming, as international decisions on emissions will be made in Copenhagen in December. Current strategy is focused on funding clean energy efforts in developing countries. The EU announced on Friday that its member nations will be required to fund clean energy efforts in poor nations, according to the wealth and volume of emissions, although it has failed to provide details on which countries will be exempt or how it plans to raise these funds. This news follows the recent announcement that Japan will be making marginal emissions improvements. As the fifth largest greenhouse gas emitter, Japan has agreed to cut emissions by 8 percent by 2020—lower than the 20 to 25 desired by many in the environmental community.

As this confluence of policy, funding, and educational tools at the governmental level moves forward, the feeling these past two weeks is that momentum is building around climate change, the kind needed to make strong policy in Copenhagen. Of course, there’s still cynicism from many sides. As Wilsdon notes, “Global negotiations may end up delivering too little, too late, and all of the worst of the projections may end up coming true.”

Originally published June 22, 2009

Tags climate policy

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