The Trump administration released a dire scientific report Friday calling human activity the dominant driver of global warming, a conclusion at odds with White House decisions to withdraw from a key international climate accord, champion fossil fuels and reverse Obama-era climate policies.
To the surprise of some scientists, the White House did not seek to prevent the release of the government’s National Climate Assessment, which is mandated by law. The report affirms that climate change is driven almost entirely by human action, warns of a worst-case scenario where seas could rise as high as eight feet by the year 2100, and details climate-related damage across the United States that is already unfolding as a result of an average global temperature increase of 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit since 1900.
“It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century,” the document reports. “For the warming over the last century, there is no convincing alternative explanation supported by the extent of the observational evidence.”
The report’s release underscores the extent to which the machinery of the federal scientific establishment, operating in multiple agencies across the government, continues to grind on even as top administration officials have minimized or disparaged its findings. Federal scientists have continued to author papers and issue reports on climate change, for example, even as political appointees have altered the wording of news releases or blocked civil servants from speaking about their conclusions in public forums. The climate assessment process is dictated by a 1990 law that Democratic and Republican administrations have followed.
The White House on Friday sought to play down the significance of the study and its findings.
“The climate has changed and is always changing. As the Climate Science Special Report states, the magnitude of future climate change depends significantly on ‘remaining uncertainty in the sensitivity of Earth’s climate to [greenhouse gas] emissions,’ ” White House spokesman Raj Shah said in a statement.
Shah added that the Trump administration will continue to “promote access to the affordable and reliable energy needed to grow economically” and to back advancements that improve infrastructure and ultimately reduce emissions.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and President Donald Trump have all questioned the extent of humans’ contribution to climate change. The EPA’s website posted scientific conclusions similar to those in the new report until earlier this year, when Pruitt’s deputies ordered the pages removed.
The report comes as Trump and members of his Cabinet are working to promote U.S. fossil-fuel production and repeal several federal rules aimed at curbing the nation’s carbon output, including ones limiting greenhouse-gas emissions from existing power plants, oil and gas operations on federal land, and carbon emissions from cars and trucks. Trump has also announced he will exit the Paris climate agreement, under which the United States has pledged to cut its overall greenhouse-gas emissions between 26 percent and 28 percent compared with 2005 levels by 2025.
The report could have considerable legal and policy significance, providing new and stronger support for the EPA’s greenhouse-gas “endangerment finding” under the Clean Air Act, which lays the foundation for regulations on emissions.
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