Free Interactive Report
Climate Action and Climate Justice in the US
SDG 13: Climate Action aims to take urgent action to successfully combat climate change and its impacts. This includes taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase the use of renewable energy sources, and energy-efficient technologies. It also means supporting the communities and populations most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change – like the extreme weather events and increased frequency of natural disasters.
Climate Action in Context
“Global warming” refers to the increase of the Earth’s average surface temperature due to a build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, while “climate change”refers to the impacts resulting from global warming – such as more frequent and intense extreme weather events and changes in local climate conditions. Both of these can damage infrastructure, ecosystems, and social systems that provide essential benefits to all communities.
Climate change is now affecting every country on every continent, with significant consequences for economies, environmental health, and human wellbeing. Greenhouse gas emissions (like carbon dioxide and methane) from human activities are the main drivers of climate change.
The Paris Agreement is the most concrete global attempt to take action on climate change, and is essential to achieve SDG 13. It is a legally binding international treaty adopted in 2015 with the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 – 2 degrees Celsius primarily through the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. It also emphasizes the need to increase the capacity of countries to develop strategies and solutions to deal with the impacts of climate change. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its latest report in 2021 estimating that global warming has already reached 1.1 degrees Celsius.
The U.S. briefly withdrew from the Paris Agreement before rejoining in 2021. In response, a bipartisan coalition of governors called the U.S. Climate Alliance was created to ensure the US remained committed to the goals of the Paris Agreement. Centered around environmental justice and equity, the 24 member states, and Puerto Rico aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, promote clean energy, and increase resilience to climate change.
As of March 2021, the European Union and 194 states have signed the Agreement, including the U.S. and China, which together account for almost 40% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
“Global warming” refers to the increase of the Earth’s average surface temperature due to a build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, while “climate change” refers to global warming’s impact – such as more frequent and intense extreme weather events and changes in local climate conditions. Both of these can damage infrastructure, ecosystems, and social systems that provide essential benefits to all communities.
Global Warming in the US:
- There were record-breaking 22 billion-dollar disasters that caused a total of $95 billion in damages in 2020
- 2020 was the fifth warmest year on record. All five-warmest years in the U.S. have occurred since 2012
- 1 in 3 Americans now live in a state or city that is committed to 100 percent clean electricity
Drivers of Climate Change in the US
The greenhouse effect is the natural warming of Earth as a result of gases in the atmosphere that traps heat from the sun (greenhouse gases). The greenhouse effect is normally a good thing – it keeps the planet warm enough to support life.
However, human activities have dramatically increased the amount of these greenhouse gases in the atmosphere causing extra heat to be trapped and global temperatures to rise (global warming).
Greenhouse gases are produced from the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas). The US is the second-largest contributor of total greenhouse gas emissions after China, and also leads the world in per capita emissions. In 2020, the US emitted approximately 7 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases.
On these 7B metric tons of emissions:
- Carbon dioxide was the largest percentage (80%)
- Methane (10%)
- Nitrous oxide (7%), and
- Other gases (3%)
Transportation (29%), Electricity (25%), Industry (23%) are the top three sources of greenhouse gas emissions, followed by Commercial/Residential (13%) and Agriculture (10%).
Switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources is one of the most important steps we can take to reduce emissions and global warming.
Currently around 60% of electricity is generated with fossil fuels—coal, natural gas, petroleum, and other gases. About 20% is from nuclear energy, and 20% is from renewable energy sources. 1 in 3 Americans lives in a city or state that has pledged to reach 100% clean electricity.
Extreme Weather and Natural Disasters in the US
Extreme weather and climate-related impacts on one system can have far-reaching consequences on other important systems, including food and water resources, energy and transportation, public health, international trade, and national security.
Between 1980–2020 the annual average is 7.1 events. However, if we look at just the last 5 years (2016–2020) the annual average increases to 16.2 events.
Extreme heat events resulting from global warming are of particular concern because they cause a variety of serious health-related conditions such as dehydration and heatstroke, and can also exacerbate respiratory and cardiovascular disorders. Exposure to extreme heat kills more people in the U.S. than any other weather-related threat, and over 80% of victims are over 60.
Heat-related illness and death are not distributed evenly across the population, with the very old and very young, pregnant women, the chronically ill, minorities, low-income families, people experiencing homelessness, and people who work outdoors the most at risk.
The National Weather Service (NWS) uses a metric called the heat index, which estimates what the temperature feels like to the human body. Negative impacts on the human body start at a heat index of 90 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s estimated that by midcentury there could be more than 4x the amount of days with a heat index over 105 degrees Fahrenheit across the country.
Explore more using our interactive report
This interactive report is continuously updated and it is free thanks to X4Impact Founding Partners. The report highlights some selected climate change and climate justice-related indicators.
You can view the number of natural disasters that cause losses over $1 billion, states that pledged to the Climate Alliance, energy sources to generate electricity, per capita CO2 emissions, and extreme heat days statistics nationally, or by state. You can also understand the flow of money to fund nonprofits working on Climate Justice and Climate Change, as well as exploring by state the list of nonprofits that work on this issue.
The Negative Effects of Climate Change in the US
- Cold-related deaths are projected to decrease and heat-related deaths are projected to increase (and outpace reductions in cold-related deaths)
- The frequency and severity of illnesses like asthma are expected to increase
- The geographic range and distribution of disease-carrying insects and pests will shift, exposing more people to Lyme disease, Zika, West Nile, and dengue
- Yields from major U.S. crops are expected to decline
- Existing challenges regarding aging and deteriorating infrastructure stressed ecosystems, and economic inequality will be further complicated
Prioritizing climate adaptation actions for the most vulnerable populations would contribute to a more equitable future within and across communities.
The Economic Impact of Climate Action
The U.S. has sustained 298 weather and climate disasters since 1980 totaling more than $1.975 trillion in damages and associated costs. In addition to the immediate financial costs as a result of the damage sustained from natural disasters, extreme weather events are expected to increasingly disrupt energy and transportation systems, leading to power outages, fuel shortages, and service disruptions. Sea level rise alone threatens the trillion-dollar coastal property market and public infrastructure
Heat-related illness adds additional financial burdens to the U.S. healthcare system. One heatwave can cost as much as $179 million. There are also significant risks to seasonal and outdoor economies in communities across the United States, ranging from reduced ski tourism as a result of changing snow levels, less income from hunting and fishing permits as a result of changing habitats that can no longer support certain species
The United Nations Impact Indicators related to UN SDG 13: Climate Action
The United Nations has defined 5 Targets and 8 Indicators to track progress towards reaching the Sustainable Development Goal of Climate Action by 2030. Key indicators in the U.S. relate to carbon emissions and other greenhouse gases, natural disaster management, commitments made through the Paris Agreement, disaster risk reduction, and more.
The indicators for success outlined by the U.N. include (SDG Tracker):
- Reduce the number of deaths, missing persons, and directly affected persons attributed to disasters per 100,000 population
- Strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disasters at the national and local level
- Integrate climate change into national policies
- Implement the commitment undertaken by developed-country parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to a goal of mobilizing jointly $100 billion annually by 2020 from all sources
Interactive Report Notes:
* Extreme heat days in this report represent days in the relative 90th temperature percentile calculated by the CDC
** Billion-dollar disasters are weather and climate disasters where overall damages/costs reached or exceeded $1 billion. These include droughts, floods, freezes, severe storms, tropical cyclones, wildfires, and winter storms
- Billion-dollar disasters: NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) U.S. Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters (2021)
- Energy sources for electricity generation: X4impact analysis of U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) 2002 to 2020.
- Total and per capita CO2 emission: EIA, State Energy Data System 2021
- Extreme Heat Days: The Center for Disease Control (CDC) National Environmental Public Health Tracking Network
- Nonprofit-related data: X4Impact analysis of over one million forms 990 filed with the Internal Revenue Service -IRS 2018-2020
- United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – The Paris Agreement
- The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions – Climate Science Q&A
- The Center for American Progress – States Are Laying a Road Map for Climate Leadership
- U.S. Global Change Research Program – Fourth National Climate Assessment
- The Hill – Killer climate
- Bloomberg – Heat and Inequality
- Climate Central – Seniors At Risk: Heat & Climate Change
- Union of Concerned Scientists – Vulnerable Populations
- NOAA – Record number of billion-dollar disasters
- NOAA – Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters: Overview
- National Weather Service – Heat Index
- NRDC – Race to 100% Clean
- EIA – U.S. electricity generation by energy source
- EPA – Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks
- NRDC – Greenhouse Effect 101
- SDG Tracker – SDG 13