A tornado touches down in a field in Akron, Colo. during a severe weather outbreak on Wednesday, May 7, 2014. The National Weather Service says there have been no reports of injuries or damage after at least two tornadoes touched down briefly on Colorado's Eastern Plains. (AP Photo/The Indianapolis Star, Matt Detrich)

Cape Town - Climate change impacts are already evident across the US and are expected to become “increasingly disruptive” throughout this century and beyond, the most comprehensive US government report of its kind has warned.

The third national climate assessment, released this month, says climate change threatens US human health and well-being in many ways, including more extreme weather events and wildfires, decreased air quality, and diseases transmitted by insects, food and water.

Climate scientists, environmental activists and politicians – especially those in the Third World deemed most vulnerable to climate change impact, like many African countries – hope the report will mark a sea change in US attitudes to negotiations for a new global climate change treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol on curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

The US did not ratify the protocol and is seen as the major spoiler in negotiations at successive Conference of Parties (COPs) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Convention. Current negotiations are due to culminate in the signing of a major new climate agreement at COP2 in Paris in December next year.

Professor Bruce Hewitson, holder of a research chair in climate change at UCT and a lead author of the 5th Assessment Report of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, says the US report is “perhaps one of the most strongly worded documents to emerge from within the formal US processes”.

“Coming on the back of the definitive IPCC reports, which are likewise more strongly phrased than ever before, this shows that at last the message seems to have penetrated. Whether it’s too late remains an open question, pending what COP21 does in Paris 2015.”

Hewitson says while the US assessment reflects a stronger scientific robustness on the regional consequences of climate change, it’s been released into “a highly polarised (US) society”.

“The initial responses to the report seem to indicate that the polarisation in the US society has, if anything, dug in even deeper, if the mocking tone of the minority denialist community’s responses are anything to go by.”


Professor Harald Winkler of UCT’s Energy Research Centre and a lead author on IPCC reports, says the assessment is “an impressive publication, presenting clear information that climate change is real”.

“To any rational person, this will strongly reinforce that solutions are needed from all countries, including the US as the most powerful nation on Earth, and therefore able to take more ambitious action than others. However, it seems unlikely further information will change entrenched views among a wide range of actors in the US in favour of climate action.

While the national climate assessment should be a game changer, my expectation is that it probably won’t be, certainly not to the extent of the US taking the drastic cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions required by science and equity.” - Cape Argus

l On the web: www.globalchange.gov/

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