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USGS reportedly to limit climate model projections to 2040

The head of the United States Geological Survey ordered that the agency's future scientific assessment computer models project climate change impacts only through 2040 rather than through the end of the century, The New York Times reported.

USGS Director James Reilly, who is a former astronaut and petroleum geologist and was appointed to his current post by President Donald Trump, said the changes are an attempt to prepare more careful, accurate reports, according to the Times' May 27 article. "We're looking for answers with our partners and to get statistical significance from what we understand," he said.

But the article suggested that eliminating the worst-case, long-term scenario could present a falsely optimistic picture of the future because scientists have projected that the largest impacts will be felt after 2040 if global greenhouse gas emissions are not curbed. Trump has questioned the extent to which climate change is caused by human-induced emissions, pledged to pull the U.S. from the Paris Agreement on climate change and directed his administration to advance fossil fuel interests by rolling back environmental regulations.

The White House also is said to be mulling the creation of a federal advisory committee that would scrutinize the extent to which climate change could threaten national security. That initiative is being led by William Happer, a Princeton University physicist and National Security Council senior director on emerging technologies, who has suggested that an increase in carbon dioxide emissions could actually benefit the earth.

But the U.S. government's Fourth National Climate Assessment, released in November 2018, warned that without significant and sustained reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions, rising average worldwide temperatures could "cause substantial net damage to the U.S. economy throughout this century, especially in the absence of increased adaptation efforts." The assessment found that under a worst-case scenario, global temperatures could increase by up to 8 degrees F relative to pre-industrial levels by the end of the century, which would lead to much higher sea levels, an increase in extreme storms and droughts, crop failures, food losses and severe health consequences.

The next USGS national climate assessment is expected to be released in 2021 or 2022, the Times said.

A total of 13 agencies, including the Interior Department's USGS, participate in the council that produces the national climate assessment. The Times article indicated that not all agencies appear to have plans to copy the USGS's new policy. The law requires that the council of agencies produce an assessment every four years that analyzes current trends in global change, both human-induced and natural, and projects "major trends for the subsequent 25 to 100 years."

The agency did not immediately respond to requests to confirm the news report.