Clark Corbin

(Idaho Capital Sun) A new national climate report warns that increased wildfires, extreme heatwaves and drought will have widespread impacts on the people, industries and ecosystems in Idaho and across the Northwest.

Released last week, the Fifth National Climate Assessment, or NC5, describes itself as “the U.S. government’s preeminent report on climate change impacts, risks and response.”

The assessment includes a national overview as well as regional breakdowns that use data to show the impact and response to climate change in different places across the country.

“Extreme heat, flooding, wildfires and other climate hazards threaten human health, sense of place, ecosystems, infrastructure and industries in the Northwest,” the assessment found.

For the purposes of the climate assessment, the report defined the Northwest as the states of Idaho, Oregon and Washington.

Report shows climate change’s impact on Idaho’s growing seasons

In particular, the assessment warns that climate impacts will have a disproportionate impact on low income communities, rural communities, Native American Tribes and people of color.

Ryan McGoldrick, a program director for Conservation Voters for Idaho, said the new assessment adds to existing science and data to show how much of an impact climate change will have in Idaho. It also demonstrates the interconnected relationships between the environment, people, industries and land.

Drought and scarcity of water will change growing seasons, which will change the schedules of harvests, which will affect farms, food production and entire industries, McGoldrick said.

“My biggest takeaway with national and local reports is how comprehensive the changes brought on by climate change are going to be,” McGoldrick said in a telephone interview. “The more you dig into the specific areas, the more you realize the immense challenges created by climate change in every aspect of our lives.”

Although the report is sobering, McGoldrick said it underscores the importance of taking swift and widespread action.

“While a lot of reports found that it is an uphill battle, there is still a path to avoid the worst-case scenario impacts from climate change,” he said.

The National Climate Assessment is a series of climate science reports mandated by Congress through the Global Change Research Act of 1990. The U.S. Global Change Research Program produces each report using peer-reviewed literature, Indigenous knowledge, local experts and climate data produced by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, according to the assessment’s introduction.

The first National Climate Assessment was released in 2000. The fourth National Climate Assessment, the most recent previous report, was released in 2017.

What are some of the responses to climate change in Idaho?

The city government of Idaho’s capital and most populated city has ramped up its efforts to confront climate change and prepare for a more resilient community to respond to those changes.

The effort intensified after Mayor Lauren McLean was elected to her first term in 2019 and created a climate team that set to work developing a climate action plan for the city, said Steve Hubble, climate action manager for the city of Boise.

In 2021, the city released Boise’s Climate Action Roadmap, which is available to download online. The report references the previous National Climate Assessment and includes several climate goals for the city government and the community itself. Those goals include:

  • Carbon neutral city government operations by 2035.
  • 100% clean electricity for the community by 2035.
  • Carbon neutral community by 2050.

In its climate plan, Boise officials define carbon neutral as “the removal, to the extent possible, of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere through reduction and removal measures.”

One of the biggest local concerns is water.

The city of Boise’s climate risk assessment identified eight key areas of impact –  six of which were related to water, Hubble said. Now, the city is focused on an advanced water treatment project where the city will collect used water from industries and businesses, purify the water through advanced treatments and then send the water back to be used again.

The city is also upgrading its fleet to electric vehicles and purchasing renewable energy to power its city buildings and facilities – with hopes of expanding that effort to the airport, Hubble said.

The city of Boise isn’t going it alone either. The cities of Nampa, Hailey, Rexburg, Pocatello, Malad, Soda Springs and Boise received funding for tree planting or tree canopy projects that are designed to reduce heat, keep water cleaner and reduce air pollution. The funding comes from the federal Inflation Reduction Act, which Congress passed and President Joe Biden signed in 2022.

Different agencies of Idaho’s state government are also working to implement sustainable, efficient programs powered by federal funding.

Three agencies are working on a long term, $29 million project to create a network of electric vehicle charging stations situated near Idaho highways.

Idaho school districts have applied for and received federal funding to upgrade their fleet of diesel school buses to new zero-emission electric buses.

Hubble says climate change is a big problem that will require a big response and big solutions.

“The city is leading, but ultimately the long-term success of achieving climate goals will really be driven by residents and businesses, and we need their help and participation,” Hubble said in an interview Tuesday.