WASHINGTON (January 8, 2012) – The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) today affirmed that 2012 was the hottest year on record for the continental United States. Globally, the past 36 years have been warmer than the 20th century average and each of the past five decades has been warmer than the last. “Unfortunately, this won’t be the last time we break records like this,” said Angela Anderson, the director of the Climate and Energy Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “The longer we delay reducing emissions, the more climate change we’re going to lock in. The president has promised to make climate change a priority in his second term, but he needs to turn those words into action. The price tag for dealing with unchecked climate change makes the fiscal cliff look like a crack in the sidewalk.”
NOAA also announced this month that 2012 was the second most expensive year on record for U.S. weather disasters that cost more than $1 billion. Its list of states affected by severe weather shows that most of the country suffered from climate change-related extremes, including this year’s extensive heat and drought, western wildfires, and the destruction from Sandy, which rode in on a super-high tide due to rising sea levels.
Scientists see the clearest links between climate change and severe weather when it comes to coastal flooding, extreme heat, heavy precipitation and regional drought. Elected leaders such as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, California Governor Jerry Brown, and county officials in Southeast Florida are working to prepare their cities, regions and states for a changing climate. President Obama has committed to a national conversation on climate change, “with scientists, engineers and elected officials to find out what more can we do to make short-term progress in reducing carbons, and then working through an education process that I think is necessary.”
Anderson pointed to the consequences of climate change affecting the debate about how society should respond. “Climate change is starting to hit us in our own backyards,” Anderson said. “As dealing with it becomes more expensive locally, denying it is going to become more expensive politically. The revolt we just saw in the House of Representatives over disaster relief for Sandy is a taste of what’s to come if climate policy amounts to little more than cleaning up after disasters. We need a grown up debate about what climate change really means for the future of our country.”
While the United States has made significant progress in reducing emissions through laws such as improved fuel efficiency standards and state renewable electricity standards, it’s falling short of its emissions reduction goals. The United Nations Environment Program estimates that the world is on track to warm more by the end of the century than the 3.6 degree Fahrenheit global leaders have pledged to achieve by reducing emissions and stabilizing the amount of heat-trapping emissions in the atmosphere.
The U.S. National Academy of Sciences has concluded that, “Climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for—and in many cases is already affecting—a broad range of human and natural systems.”