Global annually averaged surface air temperature has increased by about 1.8°F (1.0°C) over the last 115 years (1901–2016). This period is now the warmest in the history of modern civilization. The last few years have also seen record-breaking, climate-related weather extremes, and the last three years have been the warmest years on record for the globe. These trends are expected to continue over climate timescales.
For example, global average sea level has risen by about 7–8 inches since 1900, with almost half (about 3 inches) of that rise occurring since 1993. Human-caused climate change has made a substantial contribution to this rise since 1900, contributing to a rate of rise that is greater than during any preceding century in at least 2,800 years. Global sea level rise has already affected the United States; the incidence of daily tidal flooding is accelerating in more than 25 Atlantic and Gulf Coast cities.
Global average sea levels are expected to continue to rise—by at least several inches in the next 15 years and by 1–4 feet by 2100. A rise of as much as 8 feet by 2100 cannot be ruled out. Sea level rise will be higher than the global average on the East and Gulf Coasts of the United States.
Changes in the characteristics of extreme events are particularly important for human safety, infrastructure, agriculture, water quality and quantity, and natural ecosystems. Heavy rainfall is increasing in intensity and frequency across the United States and globally and is expected to continue to increase. The largest observed changes in the United States have occurred in the Northeast.
The incidence of large forest fires in the western United States and Alaska has increased since the early 1980s and is projected to further increase in those regions as the climate changes, with profound changes to regional ecosystems.
Annual trends toward earlier spring melt and reduced snowpack are already affecting water resources in the western United States and these trends are expected to continue. Under higher scenarios, and assuming no change to current water resources management, chronic, long-duration hydrological drought is increasingly possible before the end of this century.
Since 1980, the cost of extreme events for the United States has exceeded $1.1 trillion; therefore, better understanding of the frequency and severity of these events in the context of a changing climate is warranted.
Natural variability, including El Niño events and other recurring patterns of ocean–atmosphere interactions, impact temperature and precipitation, especially regionally, over timescales of months to years. The global influence of natural variability, however, is limited to a small fraction of observed climate trends over decades.
The frequency and intensity of extreme high temperature events are virtually certain to increase in the future as global temperature increases (high confidence). Extreme precipitation events will very likely continue to increase in frequency and intensity throughout most of the world (high confidence).
The frequency and severity of landfalling “atmospheric rivers” on the U.S. West Coast (narrow streams of moisture that account for 30%–40% of the typical snowpack and annual precipitation in the region and are associated with severe flooding events) will increase as a result of increasing evaporation and resulting higher atmospheric water vapor that occurs with increasing temperature. (Medium confidence) (Ch. 9)
Both physics and numerical modeling simulations generally indicate an increase in tropical cyclone intensity in a warmer world, and the models generally show an increase in the number of very intense tropical cyclones. For Atlantic and eastern North Pacific hurricanes and western North Pacific typhoons, increases are projected in precipitation rates (high confidence) and intensity (medium confidence). The frequency of the most intense of these storms is projected to increase in the Atlantic and western North Pacific (low confidence) and in the eastern North Pacific (medium confidence). (Ch. 9)
Emerging science regarding Antarctic ice sheet stability suggests that, for higher scenarios, a GMSL rise exceeding 8 feet (2.4 m) by 2100 is physically possible, although the probability of such an extreme outcome cannot currently be assessed. Regardless of emission pathway, it is extremely likely that GMSL rise will continue beyond 2100 (high confidence). (Ch. 12)
For high GMSL rise scenarios, relative sea level rise is likely to be higher than the global average along all U.S. coastlines outside Alaska. Almost all U.S. coastlines experience more than global mean sea level rise in response to Antarctic ice loss, and thus would be particularly affected under extreme GMSL rise scenarios involving substantial Antarctic mass loss (high confidence). (Ch. 12)
The impacts of climate change are already being felt in communities across the country. More frequent and intense extreme weather and climate-related events, as well as changes in average climate conditions, are expected to continue to damage infrastructure, ecosystems, and social systems that provide essential benefits to communities. Future climate change is expected to further disrupt many areas of life, exacerbating existing challenges to prosperity posed by aging and deteriorating infrastructure, stressed ecosystems, and economic inequality. Impacts within and across regions will not be distributed equally. People who are already vulnerable, including lower-income and other marginalized communities, have lower capacity to prepare for and cope with extreme weather and climate-related events and are expected to experience greater impacts. Prioritizing adaptation actions for the most vulnerable populations would contribute to a more equitable future within and across communities. Global action to significantly cut greenhouse gas emissions can substantially reduce climate-related risks and increase opportunities for these populations in the longer term.
Regional economies and industries that depend on natural resources and favorable climate conditions, such as agriculture, tourism, and fisheries, are vulnerable to the growing impacts of climate change. Rising temperatures are projected to reduce the efficiency of power generation while increasing energy demands, resulting in higher electricity costs. The impacts of climate change beyond our borders are expected to increasingly affect our trade and economy, including import and export prices and U.S. businesses with overseas operations and supply chains. Some aspects of our economy may see slight near-term improvements in a modestly warmer world. However, the continued warming that is projected to occur without substantial and sustained reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions is expected to cause substantial net damage to the U.S. economy throughout this century, especially in the absence of increased adaptation efforts. With continued growth in emissions at historic rates, annual losses in some economic sectors are projected to reach hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century—more than the current gross domestic product (GDP) of many U.S. states.
Rising air and water temperatures and changes in precipitation are intensifying droughts, increasing heavy downpours, reducing snowpack, and causing declines in surface water quality, with varying impacts across regions. Future warming will add to the stress on water supplies and adversely impact the availability of water in parts of the United States. Changes in the relative amounts and timing of snow and rainfall are leading to mismatches between water availability and needs in some regions, posing threats to, for example, the future reliability of hydropower production in the Southwest and the Northwest. Groundwater depletion is exacerbating drought risk in many parts of the United States, particularly in the Southwest and Southern Great Plains. Dependable and safe water supplies for U.S. Caribbean, Hawai‘i, and U.S.-Affiliated Pacific Island communities are threatened by drought, flooding, and saltwater contamination due to sea level rise. Most U.S. power plants rely on a steady supply of water for cooling, and operations are expected to be affected by changes in water availability and temperature increases. Aging and deteriorating water infrastructure, typically designed for past environmental conditions, compounds the climate risk faced by society.
Changes in temperature and precipitation are increasing air quality and health risks from wildfire and ground-level ozone pollution. Rising air and water temperatures and more intense extreme events are expected to increase exposure to waterborne and foodborne diseases, affecting food and water safety. With continued warming, cold-related deaths are projected to decrease and heat-related deaths are projected to increase; in most regions, increases in heat-related deaths are expected to outpace reductions in cold-related deaths. The frequency and severity of allergic illnesses, including asthma and hay fever, are expected to increase as a result of a changing climate. Climate change is also projected to alter the geographic range and distribution of disease-carrying insects and pests, exposing more people to ticks that carry Lyme disease and mosquitoes that transmit viruses such as Zika, West Nile, and dengue, with varying impacts across regions. Communities in the Southeast, for example, are particularly vulnerable to the combined health impacts from vector-borne disease, heat, and flooding. Extreme weather and climate-related events can have lasting mental health consequences in affected communities, particularly if they result in degradation of livelihoods or community relocation. Populations including older adults, children, low-income communities, and some communities of color are often disproportionately affected by, and less resilient to, the health impacts of climate change.
While some regions (such as the Northern Great Plains) may see conditions conducive to expanded or alternative crop productivity over the next few decades, overall, yields from major U.S. crops are expected to decline as a consequence of increases in temperatures and possibly changes in water availability, soil erosion, and disease and pest outbreaks. Increases in temperatures during the growing season in the Midwest are projected to be the largest contributing factor to declines in the productivity of U.S. agriculture. Projected increases in extreme heat conditions are expected to lead to further heat stress for livestock, which can result in large economic losses for producers.
Climate change and extreme weather events are expected to increasingly disrupt our Nation’s energy and transportation systems, threatening more frequent and longer-lasting power outages, fuel shortages, and service disruptions, with cascading impacts on other critical sectors. Infrastructure currently designed for historical climate conditions is more vulnerable to future weather extremes and climate change. The continued increase in the frequency and extent of high-tide flooding due to sea level rise threatens America’s trillion-dollar coastal property market and public infrastructure, with cascading impacts to the larger economy. In Alaska, rising temperatures and erosion are causing damage to buildings and coastal infrastructure that will be costly to repair or replace, particularly in rural areas; these impacts are expected to grow without adaptation. Expected increases in the severity and frequency of heavy precipitation events will affect inland infrastructure in every region, including access to roads, the viability of bridges, and the safety of pipelines. Flooding from heavy rainfall, storm surge, and rising high tides is expected to compound existing issues with aging infrastructure in the Northeast. Increased drought risk will threaten oil and gas drilling and refining, as well as electricity generation from power plants that rely on surface water for cooling.
Rising water temperatures, ocean acidification, retreating arctic sea ice, sea level rise, high-tide flooding, coastal erosion, higher storm surge, and heavier precipitation events threaten our oceans and coasts. These effects are projected to continue, putting ocean and marine species at risk, decreasing the productivity of certain fisheries, and threatening communities that rely on marine ecosystems for livelihoods and recreation, with particular impacts on fishing communities in Hawai‘i and the U.S.-Affiliated Pacific Islands, the U.S. Caribbean, and the Gulf of Mexico. Lasting damage to coastal property and infrastructure driven by sea level rise and storm surge is expected to lead to financial losses for individuals, businesses, and communities, with the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts facing above-average risks. Impacts on coastal energy and transportation infrastructure driven by sea level rise and storm surge have the potential for cascading costs and disruptions across the country.