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New study says climate change already here, about to get worse

Not only is climate change real, but current policies aren't enough to deal with the magnitude of changes to come, scientists warn. 

Images from Hurricane Sandy

“Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present,” said scientists in the National Climate Assessment, a major new report assessing the situation in the U.S.

The report was unveiled in Washington today. It said the impact of human-induced climate change are now being felt everywhere, whether it be  in the form of water scarcity or severe storms. 

Although some climate change skeptics have characterized the rise in carbon emissions as a 'correlation' and not a 'causation' for the earth's increased temperatures, the new report concludes that human activity is definitely a primary cause.

"The conclusion that human influences are the primary driver of recent climate change is based on multiple lines of independent evidence," the report states, pointing to how greenhouse gases caused by human activity influence climate.

It also points to reconstructions of past climate using evidence such as tree rings, ice cores and corals.

"These show that global surface temperatures over the last several decades are clearly unusual, with the last decade (2000-2009) warmer than any time in at least the last 1300 years and perhaps much longer," scientists said. 

The report also shows the differences between two different scenarios: one in which emissions are rapidly reduced over the next few decades (70 per cent reduction by 2050), and another showing what would happen if emissions continued to rise globally. 

Annual rainfall, for example, in the case of dramatic reductions of carbon emissions: 

Source: National Climate Assessment 

And with no emissions reductions:

Source: National Climate Assessment 

Currently, several major projects including the controversial Keystone XL pipeline are underway. The proposed pipeline would carry 830,000 barrels of bitumen per day from Alberta's tar sands to refineries in the Gulf Coast for U.S. and Asian markets. 

Climate advocates argue that if the infrastructure for more bitumen extraction and fossil fuel consumption is created, it could 'lock in' around 40 more years of high carbon pollution and bitumen extraction. However, the project is strongly favoured by Republicans and some Democrats in the U.S., who argue that the pipeline would create energy independence from countries like Saudi Arabia and generate jobs.

The report noted that the U.S. currently has no comprehensive climate legislation, but that individual states and cities have started to implement policies to limit emissions. But it warned that state-level legislation wouldn't be enough to deal with the magnitude of changes that are underway. 

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