What is the National Climate Assessment (NCA)?

The NCA report is the official US Government’s “state of the Union” about climate change, vetted by 13 Federal Agencies.

  • Informs the nation about already observed changes, the current status of the climate, and anticipated trends for the future
  • Integrates scientific information from multiple sources and sectors to highlight key findings and significant gaps in our knowledge
  • Establishes consistent methods for evaluating climate impacts in the U.S. in the context of broader global change
  • Provides input to Federal science priorities and are used by U.S. citizens, communities, and businesses as they create more sustainable and environmentally sound plans for the nation’s future.
  • Focuses on the United States exclusively, providing solid information on each of eight geographic regions, coasts, and ocean and marine resources
  • Informs us about already-observed changes, the current status of the climate, and anticipated trends for the future
  • Is provided as an interactive online document containing many useful, free downloadable images and graphics and has associated materials and tools
  • Provides links to the original research that underlies every key point
  • Will be continually updated as new data becomes available
  • Includes “sectoral” information on the effects of climate change on topics such as, biodiversity, forestry, agriculture, health, rural communities, coastal zone development and ecosystems, water resources, energy, land use, etc.
  • Provides authoritative, vetted, reliable, trustworthy information for understanding and communicating climate change science and impacts in the United States


What are assessments?

The assessment is a process in which scientists survey existing scientific studies and peer-reviewed literature. They then integrate, and synthesize science, within and between scientific disciplines and across sectors and regions.

Why do we need assessments?

Assessments support the critical analysis of issues, highlighting key knowledge that can improve policy choices and identifying significant gaps that can limit effective decision making. Assessment activities also track progress by identifying changes in the condition of the integrated Earth system over time, advances in the underlying science, and changes in human response.

The Assessment is Much More Than a Report

The 2013 NCA report and the process underlying its assembly will set the stage for more comprehensive assessments and a sustained assessment process. It is envisioned as an ongoing effort, rather than a periodic report-writing activity, and will focus considerable attention on building long-term partnerships with organizations in both the public and private sectors and on establishing a strong stakeholder engagement process throughout the development, production, and release of NCA products. One very active area of partnering is in education and outreach.

There are many national, regional and local groups working to help spread the word about the findings of the NCA. These groups have many activities planned for the next several months, most of which are open to anyone.

The NCA is also working with scientists from various agencies to establish consistent methods (Indicators) for evaluating climate impacts in the US in the context of broader global change. These indicators are expected to be piloted later this year, finalized one year later and re-evaluated as new research warrants.  Proposed indicators include measures of streamflow indicators, lake ice, dissolved oxygen, snowmelt runoff, grazing livestock numbers, disaster and emergency declarations by FEMA, fossil and industrial CO2 emissions, and more. These indicators will be broadly available, continually updated, and cross-linked to the regions and sectors in the NCA report. So, if you need new information on trends in lake ice or snowmelt or CO2 emissions you will have a ready resource from which to obtain them.

Who Wrote the Report?

Assessments have been integral components of U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) since its inception. Along with its strategic role as coordinator of Federal global change research, USGCRP is required by the Global Change Research Act of 1990 to conduct a National Climate Assessment (NCA). A team of more than 300 experts (see page 98), guided by a 60-member National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee produced the full report – the largest and most diverse team to produce a U.S. climate assessment. Stakeholders involved in the development of the assessment included decision-makers from the public and private sectors, resource and environmental managers, researchers, representatives from businesses and non-governmental organizations, and the general public. More than 70 workshops and listening sessions were held, and thousands of public and expert comments on the draft report provided additional input to the process.


Teaching Climate and Climate Change?

The cumulative weight of the scientific evidence contained in the 2014 National Climate Assessment report confirms that climate change is affecting the American people now, and that choices we make will affect our future and that of future generations.

"To protect fragile ecosystems and to build sustainable communities that are resilient to climate change—including extreme weather and climate events—a climate‐literate citizenry is essential. Being climate literate improves our ability to make decisions about activities that increase vulnerability to the impacts of climate change and to take precautionary steps in our lives and livelihoods that would reduce those vulnerabilities."

Climate Literacy Guide, 2009

Why is it important for educators?

Key concepts for teaching this Climate change include the following relevant issues:

  • Although human-caused climate change is a global problem, its root cause lies in the sum of our actions.
  • Types of actions to reduce climate change can take many forms, such as emissions avoidance, land use changes, or sequestration of greenhouse gases.
  • The scale of actions can range from an individual to a community, to a nation or a grouping of nations.
  • Climate and energy policies are currently being crafted by various nations and communities.
  • The formation of new policies can involve input from citizens; the resulting policies are likely to have an effect on all of us.
  • Actions can be spurred by policy, economic incentives, a sense of environmental or social responsibility, or a combination of each of these.
  • The impacts of human-caused climate change are already being seen, from polar regions, to our backyards, to communities around the world.
  • Consequences of climate change will affect the biosphere on many levels, from coral bleaching, to dying forests, to species extinction.
  • Human infrastructure is threatened by a changing climate, such as encroachment of coastlines, stress to the energy grid, and shifting structures as a result of melting permafrost.
  • A warming climate threatens mountain snowpacks, fresh water supplies and hydropower that serve millions of people.
  • Changes in climate and precipitation patterns will impact agriculture and food security.
  • Populations that are already vulnerable in terms of sea level rise and food security are poised for the greatest hardships. Political unrest, migration of refugees and global economic impacts are all possible outcomes.

How can you use this assessment in your teaching?

The National Climate Assessment is designed to support informed climate decisions that touch on many disciplines: earth science, biology, human health, engineering, technology, economics, and policy. Thus there are many pieces of the curriculum into which these topics can be woven. Students and learners can engage in projects that focus on their own communities or on international case studies. Topics can involve lifestyle changes, innovative solutions, emerging technology, or policy negotiations. Subject areas can include energy, transportation, food, agriculture, commerce, or land use.

A pedagogic technique that is particularly effective is to have students take a quantitative approach to discover the scale of the problem and thus the scale of potential solutions. For example, how many light bulbs would need to be changed in order to offset rising carbon emissions? Often the best way for students to reach an understanding is to engage them in a problem-solving activity that allows them to discover answers for themselves.

Integrating Solutions

This is a key area to incorporate solutions into one's pedagogic approach. It can be very easy for students and learners to succumb to despair over the world's problems. Some possibilities include:

  • Drawing on case studies showing successful emissions reduction strategies.
  • Examining adaptation strategies for humans, plants and animals.
  • Creating an atmosphere of creativity and problem-solving as we all strive to meet this grand challenge.

Key Educator Supporting Resources

Earth to Sky (http://earthtosky.org/)

The Earth to Sky Interagency Partnership (ETS) fosters a community of practice about effective science communication, interpretation and environmental education, focused primarily on climate change. Join their community (free) to access these sessions, and an abundance of associated materials, including action plans developed by course participants.

Key Supporting Resource: The Earth to Sky website archives of our professional development sessions include presentations by over 50 NASA scientists, a raft of accomplished interpreters, several social scientists, and NPS, USFWS and NASA leadership.

Key Supporting Resource: Earth to Sky “Starter Kit” for Climate Change Communication


Climate Interpreter (http://climateinterpreter.org)

Do you work or volunteer with an aquarium, zoo, national park, national marine sanctuary, or other informal science education center that is addressing climate change? Connect and share with a national community of colleagues and peers. 

Key Supporting Resource: BOAT - Building Ocean Awareness Together

The NOAA-funded Building Ocean Awareness Together (BOAT) project is utilizing an interpretive training and certification program offered through the National Association for Interpretation (NAI). The intent of the BOAT project is to train trainers and interpreters in three regions of the country to apply their skills specifically to interpreting climate change and energy literacy.

Key Supporting Resource: NNOCCI Study Circles

NNOCCI’s goal is to establish a national network of professionals who are skilled in communicating climate science to the American public. There are many ways to join the community filled with passionate, creative people working to communicate positive messaging about climate change.  NNOCCI is funded by a grant from the National Sciences Foundation (NSF).


Climate Literacy Zoo Education Network (http://www.clizen.org/)

The overarching purpose of the Climate Literacy Zoo Education Network is to develop and evaluate a new approach to climate change education that connects zoo visitors to polar animals currently endangered by climate change, leveraging the associative and affective pathways known to dominate the decision-making of the general public. Climate Literacy Zoo Education Network was funded by a grant from the National Sciences Foundation (NSF).

Key Supporting Resource: Climate Change Education: A Primer for Zoos and Aquariums (http://www.clizen.org/e-book.html)