by Hank Boerner – Chair & Chief Strategist, G&A Institute
Another in the About the Climate Crisis series
November 7, 2019
In November 2018 the government of the United States of America published the fourth climate change assessment by key U.S. government agencies — this is the “Climate Science Special Report” as prepared by the U.S. Global Change Research Program of the Federal government.
The contents are of significance if you are an investor, a company executive or board member, an issue advocate, officer holder or civic leader, consumer — or other type of stakeholder.
There are volumes of data and descriptions for a range of “high probability” outcomes in this the 21st Century.
The foundation of the report: Literally hundreds of studies conducted by researchers around the world that clearly document increases in temperatures at Earth’s surface as well as in the atmosphere and oceans — and projections of what that means to the planet and its occupants.
What is clear: Human activities are the primary driver of climate changes observed in the three-plus centuries of the modern industrial era (i.e., GHG emissions, deforestation, land-use changes).
Think about the impacts of these events and developments on your business and personal life:
- we can expect many more superstorms;
- and more drought in more areas of the U.S., Africa, other parts of the globe;
- greatly increased risk of forest fires;
- more floods;
- melting glaciers melting resulting in steadily rising sea levels;
- the news of still more melting glaciers; ocean acidification;
- death of species;
- increasing atmospheric water vapor (thus, more powerful rainstorms, especially accompanying superstorms)…and more.
And — what about a potential drop of 10% in the U.S.A. Gross Domestic Product by end of this century? What impact will that have on you? On your children and their children?
The impacts of climate change will be felt in such activities as human health, agriculture and food security, water supply, transportation, energy, trade, migration, and ecosystems…becoming increasingly disruptive in coming years.
These are some of the subjects explored in depth in the “Climate Science Special Report” released the day after Thanksgiving 2018 by the U.S. Global Change Research Program.
(The Trump Administration released that day to hide the report, critics immediately charged; the report directly and emphatically challenges the “climate change is a hoax” claim of the administration. Friday after the Thanksgiving holiday is usually a very slow news day. However, the release of the report resulted in broad media coverage on “a slow day”.)
Influential Authors: The Global Change Program
The program is a mandated collaborative effort of more than a dozen Federal departments of the United States of America government — such as NOAA, NASA, US EPA, and executive branch cabinet offices of Commerce, Agriculture, Energy, State, Transportation, and Defense; plus the Office of Management & Budget (OMB – this is part of the Office of the President).
The many experts gathered from these departments of the U.S. government, plus a universe of university-based experts, reported (in more than 1600 pages of related content) on the “state of science relating to climate change and its physical impacts.”
The CSSR (“Climate Science Special Report”) serves as a foundation for efforts to assess climate-related risks and inform decision-makers…it does not include policy recommendations.
The results are not encouraging – at least not in November 2018 and here in October 2019 as we look out to the rest of the 21st Century, given the s-l-o-w pace of actions taken to date to address climate change challenges.
Highlights of The Report:
NOAA — The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — is the lead agency working with NASA and other Federal governmental bodies to develop the report.
The collaborative effort analyzes a wide body of scientific research and observations of current trends in climate change — and projects a number of major trends out to the end of this 21st Century.
The focus of the work is on impacts to human welfare, societal, economic, and environmental elements of climate change.
Each of the 15 chapters of the report focuses on key findings; authors have assigned a “confidence statement” for scientific uncertainties. (There are numerous statements of “Confidence Levels” and “Likelihoods” for various trends and events.)
There are 10 regional analyses of climate change — such as the Northeastern region of the U.S., and sprawling Southern Great Plains. The report was 18 months in preparation and the final report is the sixth draft developed over that time.
Chapters include such themes as: Physical Drivers of Change; Climate Models, Scenarios and Projections; Droughts, Floods and Wildfires; Extreme Storms; Changes in Land Cover; Sea Level Rise.
Some takeaways to consider:
1. This period is now the warmest in the history of modern civilization. Since the publication of the last Assessment, 2014 became the warmest year on record globally; 2015 was even warmer and 2016 surpassed that; 16 of the warmest years on record occurred during the last 17 years.
2. Thousands of scientific and technical studies have documented changes in surface, atmospheric and oceanic temperatures.
3. Land and sea ice glaciers are continuing to melt; there is acceleration in ice sheet loss with up to 8.5 feet of global sea rise possible by 2100. (Think about that impact on major population areas on the edge of the seas, such as New York, Boston, Miami, Liverpool, Hamburg, Naples and Bari, Lisbon, Rio de Janeiro, Hong Kong, and Shanghai, and more.)
4. Ice melts and then Sea levels continues rising; global average sea level has risen 7-to-8 inches since 1900, half of that since 1993.
5. Related: the incidence of daily tidal flooding is accelerating in more than 25 Atlantic and Gulf coast cities – watch out New Orleans and Houston.
6. Heat waves are more frequent and cold waves are less frequent.
7. Forest fires have steadily increased since the early 1980s (look at the disaster in California in recent years – and in 2018 and 2019!).
8. Carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration has passed 400 PPM — a level that last existed some 3 million years ago, when both global average temperatures and sea level were higher than today.
9. Since 1980, extreme weather events for the U.S. has exceeded costs of US$1.1 trillion.
There are hundreds of references to scientific studies throughout the report.
The various findings, the authors point out, are based on a large body of scientific, peer-reviewed research, evaluated observations and modeling data sets.
In this report, we should note, experts and not politicians and speak to us in clear terms that we can all understand.
Important Key Findings:
- Global climate is projected to change over this century (and beyond) – the report is complete with “likelihoods”) and with major effort, temps could be limited to 3.6°F / 2°C or less – or else.
- Without action, average global temperatures could reach to 9°F / 5°C relative to pre-industrial times – disaster at the end of the 2100s.
- Human activity continues to significantly affect the Earth’s climate and is the dominant cause of climate warming. Aerosols are a key activity with profound and complex roles.
There are 12 Reporting Findings with important results here: https://nca2014.globalchange.gov/highlights#section-5683
Related to this: The TCFD Scenario Testing Recommendations
Formed after the 2008 financial crisis, The Financial Stability Board (organized by the central banks and treasury ministries of the G20 nations) appointed a Task Force on Climate-related Financial Risk Disclosure (the “TCFD”), which in Fall 2017 strongly recommended that the financial sector companies and (initially) identified four business sectors begin to examine the effects of climate change on their businesses, and as part of the analysis test scenarios against (to begin with) 2-degrees Centigrade (3.5°F) temp rise — and increase scenario testing from there over time.
This important assessment (the Federal government’s 2018 report described here) should be a valuable resource for investors, bankers, insurance carriers and public and private company boards and managements in their analysis and scenario planning (alternative scenarios are suggested in the TCFD report).
And these assessment can be especially useful for publicly-traded company managements who are being urged by investors and stakeholders to begin scenario testing and disclose the results.
This will be an important issue in the engagements of investors/companies and in the 2020 corporate proxy season – and beyond.
There are various scenarios in the Assessment that can be referenced by companies in their own scenario testing.
A wide range of experts helped to prepare the report; these included: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; the U.S. national laboratories; scientists at such universities as Illinois-Urbana-Champaign, Maryland, Texas Tech, Pennsylvania State, North Carolina State, Iowa State; Rutgers-NJ, California-Davis, and, Alaska. In all, more than 300 experts contributed to the report.
The full report is available at:
The Exec Summary at: https://science2017.globalchange.gov/downloads/CSSR2017_PRINT_Executive_Summary.pdf
The U.S. Global Change Research Program, based in Washington, D.C., is a Federal program mandated by the U.S. Congress – the first branch of government identified in the U.S. Constitution, Article One — to coordinate Federal research and investments in understanding the forces shaping the global environment both human and natural, and their impacts on society.
The USGCRP was established in 1989 and mandated by the U.S. Congress in 1990…to understand, assess, predict, and respond to human-induced and natural processes of global change.
There are 13 Federal agencies involved that conduct or use research on global change. Among these there are Interagency Working Groups to implement and coordinate research activities (within and across the agencies).
The critical guidance: Thirteen Agencies, One Vision: Empower the Nation with Global Change Science.
The Governance Aspects:
The USGCRP is steered by the Subcommittee on Global Change Research of the National Science and Technology Council’s Committee on the Environment, overseen by the White House Office of Science and Technology.
Executive Cabinet offices involved: U.S. Departments of State; Health and Human Services; Defense; Commerce; Agriculture; Energy; Transportation; Interior.
Federal Agencies: NASA; US EPA; National Science Foundation; Smithsonian Institution; U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID); the White House (OMB and NSTC).
Positioning statement (on the web site): Earth’s climate is now changing faster than at any point in the history of modern civilization, primarily as a result of human activities. Global climate change has already resulted in a wide range of impacts across every region of the country and many sectors of the economy that are expected to grow in the coming decades.
This Fourth assessment (known as “NCA4” to insiders) developed by USGCP is a state-of-the-science synthesis of climate knowledge, impacts and trends across U.S. regions to inform decision-making and resilience-building.
It is the most comprehensive and authoritative assessment to date on the state of knowledge of current and future impacts of climate change on society in the U.S.
You can access the full report at: https://nca2018.globalchange.gov/
Reporting requirements for the Assessment comply with Section 106 of the U.S. Global Change Research Act of 1990 and other federal requirements.
There is regional information from Global Change at: https://www.globalchange.gov/explore
The current report takes into consideration the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – of which the United States is a participating country.
IPCC issued its Fifth Assessment Report (“AR5”) in 2014 and issued a Special Report (“SR15”) – Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5-degrees C – in October 2018.
The latest IPCC report and related information is at: http://www.ipcc.ch/
There are scholarly assessments of the Fourth Climate Change Assessment at: https://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=fourth+climate+change+assessment&hl=en&as_sdt=0&as_vis=1&oi=scholart
We will be sharing more thoughts on IPCC in separate commentaries.
Note: This originally was drafted for G&A Institute’s “To the Point!” management briefs (now archived) in November 2018 and updated here in November 2019.