Position statement from WHRC President Philip Duffy on Climate Science Special Report

The federal government today released a new climate change report, which is in direct opposition to the Trump Administration’s statements and policies on this issue.

The Climate Science Special Report (CSSR), released in final form today, summarizes current understanding of climate science, with an emphasis on changes that affect the US. This report, which is part of the quadrennial, congressionally-mandated National Climate Assessment, was released by the US Global Change Research Program, an coalition of thirteen federal agencies overseen by the White House.

This report strongly affirms both the reality of human-caused climate change and the human role in those changes. It also indicates that without strong action severe consequences—including up to 8.5 feet of sea level rise—are possible by 2100.

The report says that without strong actions the annual average global temperature (relative to pre-industrial times) could increase 9º F (5º C) or more by 2100. This would be far outside of the goals set in the Paris climate agreement of limiting warming to 1.5 or 2º C and would result in catastrophic global consequences.

What’s remarkable about this, of course, is that these findings, by government scientists, completely undercut this administration’s policies on climate change, including the cancellation of the Clean Power Plan and withdrawal from the Paris agreement. The findings are also utterly irreconcilable with numerous statements by top administration officials like Rick Perry, Scott Pruitt, Ryan Zinke, and others.

Why would the administration release a report that is at odds with their own policies? In this case they have no better option. The CSSR is part of the National Climate Assessment (NCA), which is mandated by law. The George W. Bush administration tried to not release an NCA, and was successfully sued as a result. So not releasing anything is a bad option. An earlier draft of the CSSR was released for public comment—before the inauguration—and was downloaded and saved by journalists, among others. So if the administration rewrote the CSSR to support their policies, the press would have a field day pointing out every change — and there would need to be many. Ultimately, it seems, the Trump Administration thought it best to release this report on a Friday afternoon and hope it receives little attention.

It is difficult to credibly challenge the findings or the pedigree of the report released today. It was written by top government and private sector scientists, with leadership from a team of head authors and a steering committee, both of which were made up of federal government employees. An earlier draft was made available for public comment, and was reviewed by the National Academy of Sciences. (Full disclosure: I was a member of the NAS committee that did this review.) The final report was cleared for release by the federal agencies participating in the US Global Change Research Program.

The complete contradiction between the CSSR and administration policies begs the question: if the government’s own scientists and science agencies think that climate change is a problem, and if Trump has not appointed a science advisor, then where exactly are Trump and his advisors getting their information on climate change, and what makes them so sure it’s right? The White House owes the public an explanation as to why their statements and policies are completely at odds with the best available science on climate change. We deserve an answer.