Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Obama unveils hard-hitting climate report

Adam Morton and Suzanne Goldenberg

The Age, June 18, 2009

AN OBAMA Administration report into the impact of climate change on the US is being seen as a politically charged attempt to convince Americans of the enormous cost of inaction.

Produced by more than 30 scientists working across 13 government agencies, the report said Americans have already been living with 30 years of heavy downpours, rising sea levels and blistering summer heat waves caused by rising greenhouse gas emissions.

Titled "Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States", it is part of a carefully crafted White House strategy to help build public support for a climate-change bill that has run into opposition from some Democrats as well as Republicans.

Its release was overseen by a San Francisco-based media consulting company.

Michael Molitor, the chief executive of the Sydney-based consultancy CarbonShift, said the US was doing something that the Rudd Government had failed to do — convince key stakeholders of the danger of doing nothing.

"This report is all about saying the cost of inaction is absolutely dramatic, that we're in a bus without brakes about to hit the wall," said Mr Molitor, who has links within the Obama Administration.

Erwin Jackson, a close observer of international climate talks as policy director with the Climate Institute, said the Administration knew it had to build political momentum to get agreement on a strong domestic target to reduce emissions.

"Probably more than anywhere else on the planet, the US has been mired in misinformation campaigns from big polluters on scientific uncertainty," he said.

He said attention would now turn to President Barack Obama's position at the Major Economies' Forum on climate change in Italy next month. "The key test of the US's credibility will be whether it will support limiting global warming to less than two degrees," Mr Jackson said.

The economies' forum is seen as a key part of the attempt to get a strong global deal to tackle climate change at Copenhagen in December.

Releasing the report, the head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Jane Lubchenco, said its key message was "happening now … in our own backyard".

"I really believe this report is a game-changer. I think that much of the foot-dragging in addressing climate change is a reflection of the perception that climate change is way down the road in the future and it affects only remote parts of the world," she said. The report said average temperatures in the US had risen by about 0.8 degrees over the past 50 years.

Rainfall in major storms had increased 20 per cent over the past 100 years, while sea levels have risen up to 20 centimetres along some parts of the east coast.

It said the consequences were rippling through every region of the US — from the disruption of salmon stocks and shift in butterfly migrations to rising incidence of asthma and signs such as increasingly deadly hurricanes and melting ice-caps in the Arctic.

Failure to reduce emissions could mean catastrophic consequences for human health and the economy, with ferocious hurricanes in coastal regions, punishing droughts in the south-west and increasingly severe winter storms in the north-east and around the Great Lakes.

The study initially started under president George Bush as part of a regular exercise mandated by Congress.

It was finalised in late April, but Obama Administration officials spent several weeks planning the release, honing the language and graphics to make it accessible to non-scientists.

The Democratic speaker, Nancy Pelosi, wants to hold a vote before the House breaks up for the July 4 Independence Day holiday.


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