State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

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The Fifth National Climate Assessment: Change Is Here, but There Is Hope

Damage from Hurricane Ian. Photo: Florida Fish and Wildlife.

The Fifth National Climate Assessment was released this morning, with dire messaging around the need for the immediate reduction of greenhouse gas emissions—but also hope, with advances in technology and increased rates of adoption of renewable energy since the last report was issued in 2018.

The bad: Human-caused climate change is already wreaking havoc in every region of the United States, with a record 25-billion-dollar weather disasters in 2023 so far—and with the most severe impacts felt by historically underserved and marginalized communities. According the report, immediate over incremental action must happen to avert the worst impacts of climate change.

The good: U.S. emissions of heat-trapping gases fell by 12% between 2005 and 2019, as the country moved away from coal and toward natural gas and renewable energy. Tools and technologies now exist to significantly reduce our contribution to climate change, and awareness of the importance of protecting natural carbon in our wetlands and forests is growing.

Cities like New York, once synonymous with fossil-fuel consumption and hazardous air pollution, are leading the way. “While the human impact on our climate is now unequivocal, the positive momentum on climate action is also undeniable,” says Daniel Zarrilli, Columbia University’s special advisor on climate and sustainability and an author on the new climate assessment’s Northeast chapter. “Over the past decade, New York City has aggressively invested in adaptation and clean energy, passed legislation to slash carbon pollution, and enacted new environmental justice rules, creating jobs and regional economic opportunities in the process,” he says. Read the report and learn about work being done at institutions like Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory to preserve vital carbon sinks like New York’s local wetlands.



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