How climate change affects us: A local look at a global issue

  • Greenpeace members gather while the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, hold a press conference in Incheon, South Korea, Monday, Oct. 8, 2018. AP PHOTO/Ahn Young-joon

Staff Writer
Published: 2/13/2019 2:04:15 PM

Two major climate reports, one through the United Nations and the other through the federal government, were released last year, and local climate researchers say they have implications for western Massachusetts.

In October, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report on the impacts of 1.5 Celsius of warming above pre-industrial levels, a goal set by the Paris Agreement, a global plan to address climate change. The report concluded that as soon as 2030, temperatures are likely to reach 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels if the status quo is maintained.

The report mentioned changes in precipitation, specifically in the Northeast, which has increased between 1950 and 2012, said Shaina Rogstad, a Ph.D. candidate at UMass Amherst’s Climate Research Center.

Key to the UN report is a message about emissions. “The main conclusion of the report,” Rogstad said, “is that we have to do whatever we can to limit emissions by half in the next 12 years or we will pass 1.5 degrees.”

Rogstad, who studies how the melting of the Antarctic ice sheet will influence global climate, added that economic damage in the U.S. is estimated to be 1.2 percent of GDP for a degree increase in temperature above pre-industrial levels.

Massachusetts has made some progress — between 1990 and 2016 the state reduced emissions, Rogstad said. Emissions state-wide dropped by 21 percent in that time period, according to the state EPA.

“The way we’ve done it is by increasing natural gas use. Now the thing for us to do in Massachusetts is move away from natural gas use,” she said, pointing out that natural gas is still a fossil fuel.

“Another thing that we really need in Massachusetts is better public transit systems because that’s our largest emission use by sector,” she added.

Transportation accounts for 43 percent of emissions in the state, the largest percentage of any sector, according to the state EPA. Expanding the PVTA electric buses could be a way to address that, Rogstad said.

Another major climate report from 2018 is the Fourth National Climate Assessment, which looks at the impacts of climate change across the country and is written by the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP).

The report found heavy precipitation in the Northeast has increased in frequency and intensity, said Ambarish Karmalkar, assistant professor of geosciences at UMass and a research fellow at the Department of Interior’s Northeast Climate Adaptation Science Center.

“That trend is projected to go into the future,” he said, pointing to 2018, which he said was one of the wettest years on record the Northeast. In Amherst, for example, last year was the wettest since 1888. Increasing rainfall is what scientists would predict with increasing temperatures, but the trend hasn’t been formally attributed to climate change, Karmalkar explained.

With increasing temperatures and rainfall, winters could change.

“You would get more precipitation as rain instead of snow … That has implications for the skiing industry, for example,” he said.

Karmalkar said there’s still a hopeful message: the outcomes will be less severe if emissions are cut.

“If we do take action then we can avoid some of the worst impacts of climate change,” he said.

Greta Jochem can be reached at

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