Editor’s Note: John D. Sutter is a CNN contributor, climate journalist and independent filmmaker whose work has won the Livingston Award, the IRE Award and others. He recently was appointed the Ted Turner Professor of Environmental Media at The George Washington University.
That’s one of the benefits of the National Climate Assessment, a new draft of which was released this week ahead of President Joe Biden’s trip to the UN’s climate summit in Egypt.
The federal report paints a dire picture of what life is now like in America amid the climate crisis, and the incredible changes in store in the future. And it outlines some painful truths about global warming we must confront, but so far have not.
The COP27 climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, along with recent advances in US climate policy, may give the impression the world is doing something about an existential crisis, and we’re taking it seriously. The truth is, global emissions continue to rise, and will continue to do so for at least the next several years, even as scientists warn fossil fuel use must be slashed immediately.
In the meantime, the report’s authors write, “the things Americans value most are at risk.”
The National Climate Assessment, which is a congressionally-mandated report the federal government releases every four or five years, summarizes all the latest science and research on climate change in the United States. The new draft, which will go through a long period of public review before it is officially published next year, provides vital context about the very real pain the climate crisis is causing in the United States today, and how far we are from creating a world safe for future generations.
It is both familiar – as we have lived with these impacts for years now – and devastating to see it laid out in such stark synthesis.
Here are the report’s key takeaways:
The US is warming faster than the global average
The world already has warmed a little more than 1 degree Celsius, according to the report, with the US warming faster than the global average.
The goal of the Paris Agreement — which is being discussed this week in Egypt — is to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, or at most to 2 degrees Celsius. To do it, the US needs to reach “net-zero” carbon emissions by about 2050, which will require a total clean energy transformation, and will likely require technology to suck our previous planet-warming emissions back out of the atmosphere.
For the United States to reach net-zero by 2050, the country’s emissions need to fall by a whopping 6% per year. US emissions fell just 12% over the course of nearly two decades between 2007 and 2019.