There's Little Evidence That Trump Will Delay a Major U.S. Climate Report

“It appears we continue to be on track for publication at the beginning of November,” says one of the study’s authors.

Donald Trump and Melania Trump walk down stairs leading off of an airplane.
Carlos Barria / Reuters

In November of this year, the Trump administration will have the opportunity to cancel the release of a major summary of climate-change science—and it appears, so far, that it will not take it.

The Climate Science Special Report, a years-in-the-making U.S.-government project that aims to provide an “authoritative assessment of the science of climate change,” is on schedule to be published in November, and its authors see few signs that it will be delayed, The Atlantic has learned.

“We are still planning to release in November,” said Don Wuebbles, one of the coordinating lead authors of the report and a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Illinois.

Other authors, speaking anonymously so as to avoid generating controversy around the report, do not see evidence that the Trump administration is trying to delay its release by raising unproductive questions during the review process.

The 669-page Climate Science Special Report identifies how a “global, long-term, and unambiguous warming trend” is throwing environments across the United States and the world into disorder.

The special report aims to supply the current consensus of climate scientists on every major topic in the discipline, from melting Arctic ice sheets to intensified tropical cyclones. It also offers unusually detailed sea-level rise predictions for every region of the United States.

The special report is the product of years of work by more than two dozen authors, who are drawn from NASA, NOAA, the Naval Postgraduate School, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Columbia University, Texas Tech University, and other institutions. The National Academy of Sciences also created a new editorial-review board explicitly for the purpose of reviewing this report.

This summer, some environmental groups said they feared that the Trump administration might seek to delay or alter the report in the final approval process, either by explicitly delaying its release or waylaying its completion by raising extraneous questions.

According to some of the study’s authors, there is little evidence of that happening. The vast majority of the federal government’s final comments about the Climate Science Special Report were standard, they say, and in line with the kind of issues raised by agencies in previous presidential administrations.

“It appears we continue to be on track for publication at the beginning of November. The comments received so far have been productive comments, consistent with previous interagency comments in December and May,” said Robert Kopp, a coauthor of the report and the director of the Institute of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences at Rutgers University.

In early August, The New York Times reported that some government scientists worried the Trump administration would try to suppress the long-planned report. That story generated its own mini-kerfuffle: The Times published a draft version of the special report that it said it had obtained exclusively; in fact, that same draft version was already freely available on the Internet Archive.

The Times later corrected its original story. It also posted an updated draft version of the Climate Science Special Report, which was an exclusive.

In the days after its story, Sarah Huckabee Sanders slammed the Times for the story. Scott Pruitt, the administration of the Environmental Protection Agency, also told a Texas radio show that he would now review the report before its publication.

“Frankly this report ought to be subjected to peer-reviewed, objective-reviewed methodology and evaluation,” he said. “Science should not be politicized. Science is not something that should be just thrown about to try to dictate policy in Washington, D.C.”

Eventually, this year’s report will inform the Fourth National Climate Assessment, which is due to come out in 2018. National Climate Assessments are supposed to turn climate science into usable policy information for state and local officials. Though the Global Change Research Act of 1990 mandates that those assessments should come out every four years, only three have ever been released.

In August, the federal government disbanded a 15-person scientific review board meant to help write a new climate assessment and convert the Climate Science Special Report into concrete policy.

Earlier this year, Pruitt questioned a bedrock finding of climate science when he doubted that carbon dioxide, emitted by human industrial activity, has warmed Earth’s climate. He will not find solace in this report, which summarizes the findings of hundreds of peer-reviewed scientific papers published in journals like Nature, Science, and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“This report concludes that ‘it is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century,’” write the Climate Science Special Report authors in its executive summary. “For the warming over the last century, there is no convincing alternative explanation supported by the extent of the observational evidence.”