By Elisa Jiménez Alonso
Late last week, the fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4) for the United States was released by the US Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), a federal program mandated by Congress. The 1,600-page report finds that by 2100, climate change could harm the US economy even more than the Great Recession did costing roughly $500 billion per year under the most extreme scenario (RCP 8.5). But it also highlights that the impacts are already being felt.
“The impacts and costs of climate change are already being felt in the United States, and changes in the likelihood or severity of some recent extreme weather events can now be attributed with increasingly higher confidence to human-caused warming,” authors write in the first chapter of the NCA4.
Climate risk reduction and adaptation are especially important given that even under moderate scenarios (RCP 4.5) annual economic losses are still at several hundred billion per year.
In its 28th chapter, the NCA4 outlines 5 key messages about reducing climate risks through climate change adaptation.
1. Adaptation implementation is increasing
While the last NCA found that adaptation in the US was mainly in the planning stage, implementation has significantly picked up. Both the scale and scope of implementation have increased in federal, state, tribal, and local agencies. However, there is still no common reporting system on adaptation, making it difficult to tally the extent of implementation accurately. But due to increasing climate-risk awareness, especially in the private sector, the recognition that adaptation investment benefits exceed their costs, and the increasing number of extreme weather events, adaptation actions have increased in the US.
2. Climate change outpaces adaptation planning
While much headway has been made in climate adaptation, it still has a long way to go. Many organisations have yet to move away from the assumption that they can rely on historical data to make informed decisions about the future. Due to this slow evolution, climate change is worsening faster than the US are adapting to it.
3. Adaptation entails iterative risk management
In order to successfully adapt to climate change and build resilience, climate risk management needs to be an iterative process. The process includes steps for “anticipating, identifying, evaluating, and prioritizing current and future climate risks and vulnerabilities; for choosing an appropriate allocation of effort and resources toward reducing these risks; and for monitoring and adjusting actions over time while continuing to assess evolving risks and vulnerabilities.” Through this ongoing cycle of assessment, action, reassessment, learning, and response climate challenges can be grappled with and climate risks reduced significantly.
4. Benefits of proactive adaptation exceed costs
The NCA4 confirms what many climate adaptation practitioners have been promoting for a long time: the benefits of investing in adaptation often exceed the cost. By anticipating and preparing for future impacts, organisations can avoid large economic losses at the same time as providing many co-benefits. These can be especially extensive when adaptation actions include nature-based solutions.
5. New approaches can further reduce risks
Climate risks can be reduced by working climate considerations into existing organisational policies and practices. However, it will be necessary to create new approaches that alter regulatory and policy environments, cultural and community resources, economic and financial systems, technology applications, and ecosystems in order to build systemic resilience to climate change.