Climate changes underway in Iowa, commission report says

In 2007, Iowa Governor Chet Culver and the state’s General Assembly created the Iowa Climate Change Advisory Council (ICCAC). The group of academic and public sector leaders was charged with forecasting Iowa’s greenhouse gas (GHGs) emissions, identifying ways to reduce GHGs by 50 percent and 90 percent by 2050. Legislation passed in early 2009 codified a review of climate change impacts and policies in Iowa, led by ICCAC and the state’s Office of Energy Independence.

Released January 1 of this year, “Climate Change Impacts on Iowa 2010,” highlights the latest literature and research to define specific effects of climate change on the state’s economy. Among the report’s main findings is that changes to its economy and human welfare are well underway. The report identifies changes to Iowa’s climate, agriculture, environment, public health, and infrastructure – much of which affects most or all of these areas.

“Climate change is already affecting the way Iowans live and work,” the report says. “Without action to mitigate these effects, our future responses will become more complex and costly.”

For example, the state has experienced significant increases in flooding, more rainfall (8 percent increase in annual average participation over 136 years) and a long-term upward trend in temperature (a six fold increase in winter temperatures compared to summer temperatures).

These factors are sometimes met with contradictory conditions, such as a decrease in extreme high summer temperatures in the last 40 years. The report notes that this is “likely due to increased summer precipitation and moist soils, which suppress surface heating and daytime summer maximum temperatures.” It goes on to warn that “If severe drought were to return, the current slow and steady rise in annual mean temperature could abruptly produce extreme summer heat, comparable to that of 1983 and 1988.”

Focusing on climate change’s impacts on Iowa’s agricultural sector, the report notes that some changes are beneficial, while others have the potential to be ruinous. The report notes that farmers have steadily planted corn and soybean crops earlier in the year and yields have increased since 1940. But the state’s increased rainfall and humidity have allowed unwanted pests and pathogens to spread, leading to an increase in pesticides, which has negatively affected productivity and water quality. Increased flooding has cost the state and federal government billions in lost crops, displaced homes and damaged businesses. The 2008 flood cost Iowa $3.5 billion according to the Rebuild Iowa Advisory Commission 2008.

Major floods over the last ten years has not only affected native plant and animal life, causing many species to adapt or move, but they have caused multiple health hazards for humans. Increases in death or illness from heat waves, pulmonary and cardiac problems from air pollutants, the spread of infectious diseases and a prevalence of allergic rhinitis and allergic asthma have been linked to Iowa’s floods – seen most widely after the 2008 floods.

The report said changes in agricultural economy are expected to be the most prominent, with further declines in productivity.

“If climate change results in more serious weather events, then in addition to losses from [2008], disaster services and costs of mitigation and infrastructure maintenance will rise,” the report said. “More costly civil engineering innovations and designs that withstand infrastructure-damaging weather occurrences will be required.”

The report suggests that Iowa policymakers focus on the increased financial and human impacts of the state’s climate trends, implementing strong protections for Iowa’s soil, water quality and agricultural productivity. The report also suggests that the state’s Department of Public Health and Dept. of Transportation consider more directly how climate change affects their missions, as well as helping the Iowa Insurance Division to periodically issue reports of findings and policy recommendations concerning risks and costs of climate related claims.

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