US Government Report Warns Stampede of Climate Disasters to Continue Without Strong Actions to Cut Emissions

Statements by Drs. Rachel Cleetus and Kristina Dahl, Union of Concerned Scientists

Published Nov 14, 2023

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WASHINGTON—The Fifth National Climate Assessment (NCA5)—a quadrennial report mandated by Congress since 1990—was released today. Thirteen federal agencies develop the NCA using the best available science to help the nation “understand, assess, predict and respond to” climate change. The report, which is more than a thousand pages in length, assesses the climate and economic impacts U.S. residents are already experiencing and could expect to endure in the future under different climate change scenarios. It also examines—in greater detail than previous iterations—environmental inequities and climate change’s broader economic impact.

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) has experts available to comment on the main findings of the report, as well as various report chapter subject matters, including adaptation, agriculture, climate trends, economic impacts, effects on cities and coasts, energy use, human health, international interests, solutions to help cut heat-trapping emissions, regional impacts within the United States and its territories, impacts on Tribal communities, social systems, justice, infrastructure, and transportation. The report is not policy prescriptive, however the policy implications of its findings are starkly clear.

Below is a statement by Dr. Kristina Dahl, a principal climate scientist at UCS and a contributor to the NCA5 report.

“This scientific assessment on the harms climate change is posing across the country is the latest in a series of alarm bells and illustrates that the changes we’re living through are unprecedented in human history. During the past half century, the United States has warmed faster than the planet as a whole. Our nation is also enduring billion-dollar climate and weather disasters every three weeks, on average, with total costs averaging nearly $120 billion annually since 2018.

“The science is irrefutable: we must swiftly reduce heat-trapping emissions and enact transformational climate adaptation policies in every region of the country to limit the stampede of devastating events and the toll each one takes on our lives and the economy. While the United States has made progress on both fronts in recent years, policymaker efforts to reduce global warming emissions and help people prepare for the mounting risks remain woefully insufficient and incremental.

“Heartbreakingly, the latest NCA report also calls attention to the worry and anxiety our nation’s youth are feeling about the climate crisis. Kids in the United States are rightfully scared, angry, and uncertain about how livable this planet will be for them in the future, leading them to take to the streets in protest or to file lawsuits with the courts. The failure of U.S. political leaders to adequately address the deadly and costly climate crisis cannot stand; our children deserve better.”

Below is a statement by Dr. Rachel Cleetus, the policy director and lead economist for the Climate and Energy Program at UCS.

“This most recent government report resoundingly affirms how worsening climate harms will reverberate throughout the U.S. economy if policymakers continue to fail to take swift and resolute action to address the decades-long crisis. Without a rapid transition to a clean energy economy alongside massive investments in increasing the country’s resilience to climate change, people’s health and livelihoods, vital infrastructure, and critical ecosystems will face accelerating harms and risks. Additionally, communities of color and low-income communities will continue to bear a harsh and deeply inequitable toll from climate change impacts and its ripple effects.

“To get back on track and meet its climate goals, U.S. heat-trapping emissions will need to decline substantially, per the report. While policies like the Inflation Reduction Act are a significant downpayment, such an endeavor requires federal and states policymakers to incorporate climate action into all major policy initiatives across all sectors going forward. Accelerating the ramp-up of renewable energy, energy storage, and energy efficiency, while electrifying as much energy use as possible, are the best ways to cut heat-trapping emissions and deliver tremendous economic and public health benefits. Communities also need solutions to cope with heatwaves, storms, droughts, wildfires, sea level rise and other growing climate change impacts. Policymakers must ensure global warming solutions are implemented in an equitable and just way.

“The United States is responsible for about one-fifth of all accumulated global carbon emissions. As the leading contributor to historical heat-trapping emissions and the wealthiest nation, our country should be leading, not lagging, on climate action. Rather than allowing a continued expansion of long-lived oil and gas infrastructure, policymakers should implement a fast, fair phaseout of fossil fuels and scale up the readily available, reliable and affordable clean energy solutions we have at hand. The largest uncertainty driving our country’s future emission trajectory is whether U.S. policymakers will take bold action and whether they are willing to stand up to powerful and deep-pocketed fossil fuel interests. Our success or failure rests squarely on their shoulders.”

In addition to Drs. Cleetus and Dahl, UCS also has the following experts available to comment on the report:

  • Dr. Juan Declet-Barreto, a senior social scientist for climate vulnerability at UCS. He is based in Washington, D.C. and is fluent in English and Spanish. Click here to view his biography.
  • Jeff Deyette, the director of state policy and analysis in the Climate and Energy Program at UCS. He is based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Click here to view his biography.
  • Dr. Brenda Ekwurzel, the director of climate science at UCS and a co-author of the Fourth National Climate Assessment. She is based in Washington, D.C. Click here to view her biography.
  • Dr. Omanjana Goswami, an interdisciplinary scientist with the Food and Environment Program at UCS and a reviewer of the NCA5 chapter on agriculture, food systems and rural communities. A new blogpost by Goswami offering her key report takeaways and highlighting the need for a food and farm bill that fights climate change is available here (link will be live shortly after the report's release). She is based in Washington, D.C. Click here to view her biography.
  • Dr. Rachel Licker, a principal climate scientist at UCS. She is based in Madison, Wisconsin. Click here to view her biography.
  • Darya Minovi, a senior analyst for the Center for Science and Democracy at UCS. She is based in Washington, D.C. Click here to view her biography.

Please contact UCS Climate and Energy Media Manager Ashley Siefert Nunes to speak with a UCS scientist or analyst.

UCS tracked extreme weather alerts in the United States daily from May through October 2023. Click here to see an animated map showing how “danger season” impacted nearly every person and every county in the country.