CFANS experts contribute to NCA5, preeminent national climate assessment

Two CFANS experts contributed to the newly published 5th National Climate Assessment (NCA5). The NCA5, released on November 14, 2023, is the US Government's preeminent report on climate change impacts, risks and responses that assesses current and future risks posed by climate change to all U.S. regions, including the Midwest. It is designed to help decision-makers at all levels of government understand and respond to climate change. 

Mike Dockry

Michael Dockry

Assistant Professor at the University of Minnesota and the Tribal Relations Lead for the MW CASC. Michael contributed to the Tribes and Indigenous Peoples Chapter of the 5th National Climate Assessment. He discussed the report in a Q&A with the Midwest Climate Adaptation Science Center (MCASC)

MCASC: What’s something you’re especially proud of in this chapter?

DOCKRY: I'm really excited about the way we framed the Indigenous Tribes and Indigenous Peoples chapter. We do highlight the risks that Indigenous peoples face, but that's not the majority of what we put down. We really looked at solutions and innovation in leadership from the Tribes around climate change.

One of our key messages is that self-determination is key to Indigenous people's resilience to climate change. That means supporting the Tribes and ensuring Tribes have the resources to make decisions that benefit their communities, adapt to climate change, and become more resilient. Adapting to climate change is something that we as Indigenous people have been doing for thousands of years. Here in the Midwest, when the glaciers retreated, we were there. 20,000 years ago, 15,000 years ago – we have been here and this climate and the landscape in general has been changing. Then with colonization, we faced massive climate, economic, and social changes. We've been through that. And now we're here at another massive shift in climate. We've been adaptable and resilient through these many, many, many generations. Highlighting that is important.

The other key message is that Indigenous leadership really needs to guide climate change response. I think we're at a point in history that Indigenous people should be taking the lead in responses to climate change and we highlight a number of examples across the country where Indigenous leadership is having a real impact. 

MCASC: What kind of impact do you hope the report will have? 

DOCKRY: I hope this report in general inspires our society and the world to finally deal with this pressing issue of climate change. We are not doing enough, I think that's what the report says. We need to do more. And with Indigenous leadership, truly honoring the sovereignty and the self-determination of Indigenous peoples. Putting them in the lead can really help us get through this next phase of transition to a more sustainable  energy, ecological, and social future.


Heidi Roop

Heidi Roop

Heidi Roop, director of the University of Minnesota Climate Adaptation Partnership, assistant professor and Extension specialist, is one of the authors of the Midwest Chapter of the latest National Climate Assessment. She discussed the report during an interview with Cathy Wurzer at MPR News:

WURZER: I'm wondering here, Dr. Roop, can we help nature heal herself? Are there nature-based solutions to this? Are there some adaptation steps using nature herself that you're excited about?

ROOP: Yes, absolutely. And I think it's really important to note a first step in doing that I think is acknowledging that as humans, we are reliant upon and interconnected with our natural environment. And so in many cases, we've started to disconnect that deep, meaningful connection between the natural world, and quote-unquote, "the human world." We are intimately connected to and dependent upon the natural environment. And as we think about the opportunity and the imperative to act to address climate change, those natural climate solutions are incredibly important. They're important for not just things like you sort of alluded to there like improving tree cover to reduce the urban heat island effect in our urban communities, but there are adaptations that help across the agricultural sector.

Things like perennial cover crops are really important sort of, quote-unquote, "natural climate solutions," yes in a system that's modified by humans, but they bring multiple benefits. So we talk a lot about climate smart agricultural practices in the report as being a critical investment, one where there's active investment, but where we need to do more investments like cover crops and thinking about how to reduce emissions from the landscape, as well as improve, say, soil carbon sequestration and the overall health of our soils.

That can yield lots of benefits, including increased agricultural production, but also water quality for downstream communities. We talk also about things like preparing for those extreme precipitation or flood events that you mentioned at the top, which is things like thinking about how we manage our forest landscapes, thinking about how we restore rivers and the connectivity of river systems.

How we support what we call riparian buffers, which are essentially the natural lands around the edges of rivers. That become really important, not just for reducing flood risk, but provide critical habitat for cold water fishes and other species that are at risk from a warming world and a warming state.

WURZER: Who's reading this report, Dr. Roop?

ROOP: Oh, well, certainly as an author, we hope everyone's reading this report. But the report itself is really intended, yes, to increase public awareness of the relevance of climate change in different communities across the country, but it's really intended to be a tool as well to help natural resource managers, tribal resource managers, state agencies, and federal agencies and others making decisions about how we manage our landscapes, our natural environment, the human environment, and how we manage, say, our economy.

We're really hoping that the report is written in a way and structured in a way that enables all sorts of decision-makers and community leaders to take on this information and critically understand the role that they can play in being part of the solution.