White House to launch National Climate Assessment with fanfare today

Source: Jean Chemnick, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The White House and federal agencies are planning a public outreach blitz today to coincide with the release of a high-profile scientific review of the effects climate change is already having on the United States.

The president will give interviews to broadcast meteorologists at the White House to discuss the National Climate Assessment, and members of his Cabinet will make appearances inside and outside the Beltway to drive home the report’s point that climate change is already occurring and warrants aggressive action.”The release of the National Climate Assessment will be an all-hands-on-deck event for the administration,” said Daniel Weiss, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. “Cabinet officers will be giving interviews around the country to help educate the public and press about the damage from climate change that is here and that is coming.”

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell will highlight the report during a trip to California, and U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy will address the National Association of Farm Broadcasters about the impact of climate change on agriculture tomorrow before traveling later in the week.

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz is currently in Rome for an international gathering of energy ministers.

The report is steeped in science, but it also makes a plea for policies to address climate change — which administration officials are likely to focus on.

“As climate change and its impacts are becoming more prevalent, Americans face choices,” said the draft version of the report, released last year. The final version of the periodic assessment by about 300 scientists and other experts is still undergoing review at the White House ahead of tomorrow’s release.

While some effects of climate change are now unavoidable due to past emissions, the report said, the severity of that change can be controlled if the world acts quickly to bend the curve on heat-trapping emissions.

“Lower emissions mean less future warming and less severe impacts; higher emissions would mean more warming and more severe impacts,” it said.

The U.S. Global Change Research Program developed the report, which is designed “to support decision-making processes within and across regions of the U.S.” It has been vetted by the National Academy of Sciences and undergone a period of public comment. It will be the third such report to be released since Congress enacted the Global Change Research Act of 1990; previous versions were published in 2000 and 2009.

Paul Bledsoe of the German Marshall Fund, who worked in the Clinton White House when the first assessment report was released, said he was surprised that the growing scientific understanding of climate change had not yielded a political environment where carbon legislation could be enacted.

“You would assume that as impacts become more manifest that the issue would become less partisan,” he said. “And that hasn’t happened.”

Instead, the economic recession and escalating partisan deadlock on other issues had eroded the Republican support that once existed for efforts to reduce greenhouse gases, he said.

But voters around the country who have experienced the effects of more frequent and severe storms, wildfires and droughts that may be linked to climate change have begun to come around to Democrats’ view that climate change is happening. A poll of American adults released last week by The Washington Post and ABC News showed respondents siding with Democrats over Republicans on climate change by an 18-point margin (47 percent to 29 percent). It was conducted in April and had a 3.5-point margin of error.

“The question is, will the Democrats begin to use the Republican intransigence on climate change as a political weapon?” Bledsoe said.

The administration’s high-profile launch of the report might signal that it is ready to raise the issue in this fall’s midterm election, he added.

Weiss said that by making climate change relevant to local communities, tomorrow’s assessment will help make the case for federal policies — specifically EPA’s proposal to limit carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants, due in June.