A former Obama administration official with ties to a liberal advocacy group funded by Democratic megadonors George Soros and Tom Steyer helped prepare the Fourth National Climate Assessment, whose dire predictions have since been attacked as overblown.
Andrew Light, who worked on the 2015 Paris accord negotiations as a senior adviser to the U.S. Special Envoy on Climate Change under Secretary of State John F. Kerry, served as a review editor for the assessment, overseeing the pivotal final chapter that concluded under a worst-case scenario that global warming could wipe out as much as 10 percent of the U.S. economy by 2100.
Now a senior fellow at the World Resources Institute, Mr. Light also spent five years as senior fellow and director of international climate policy at the Center for American Progress, which was founded and now led by longtime Democratic insider John Podesta. The center is also financed by liberal billionaires such as Mr. Soros and Mr. Steyer.
The involvement of Mr. Light and other figures known for their climate change advocacy has raised questions about the credibility of the report, which has been widely depicted as a politically neutral, scientific document prepared by disinterested specialists from 13 federal agencies.
Roger A. Pielke Jr., University of Colorado Boulder environmental studies professor, criticized the decision to bring in Mr. Light, as well as the report’s reliance for the 10 percent figure on a 2017 study funded in part by Mr. Steyer’s Next Generation and Bloomberg Philanthropies.
“The question remains, whose idea was it to have John Podesta’s climate adviser and Obama political appointee be in charge of the review of the most important chapter, which leans heavily on Tom Steyer research?” Mr. Pielke said in an email.
Mr. Light directed questions about his role to the U.S. Global Change Research Program, which is required by Congress to prepare a new assessment no less than every four years. The program did not immediately return messages requesting comment.
“I was appointed in my capacity as a professor at George Mason University, where I have worked since 2008,” Mr. Light said in an email. “Any questions about decisions on who was or was not appointed to one of the chapter author teams should be directed to the U.S. Office of Global Change Research, because that is the office that put together those teams.”
Mr. Light has no formal academic scientific credentials — he earned his Ph.D. in philosophy — but noted that he completed a three-year postdoctoral research fellowship in environmental risk assessment.
“I believe I was selected as a Review Editor because for over fifteen years I have been working on domestic and international environmental, climate, and energy policy,” he said. “I have authored or co-authored over a dozen policy reports in this area, participated and led several important dialogues and projects in this field, and made substantial contributions to climate and energy agreements.”
Mr. Light denied being in charge of the chapter, saying it would be “inaccurate to say that I was responsible for any of the content.”
He made the media rounds after the report was released, with both CBS News and Bloomberg News calling him the report’s “co-author,” which he said was incorrect.
The report lists more than 200 authors and contributors, most of them federal employees but also dozens from universities, advocacy groups, foundations, think tanks and consulting firms specializing in advising governments and businesses on climate change adaptation and resilience.
The advocacy groups include the Union of Concerned Scientists, National Wildlife Federation, Nature Conservancy, Ocean Conservancy, and Arctic Institute. Others involved with the report are affiliated with the Brookings Institution, the Paulson Institute, and the Rand Corp., as well as the Kresge and Packard foundations.
Absent were prominent scientists affiliated with top research universities who have challenged catastrophic climate scenarios, such as John Christy, Judith Curry, William Happer, Richard Lindzen, Roger A. Pielke Sr. and Roy Spencer.
Mr. Light said review editors were selected by the National Climate Assessment federal steering committee from candidates nominated by others or themselves.
“Anyone could be nominated for the role of Review Editor or they could self-nominate,” he said.
The report landed President Trump on the hot seat, in part for its ominous findings, in part because it was released on Black Friday, fueling accusations that the administration wanted to bury the damning assessment.
Environmental groups reacted with calls for swift action to avoid the scenarios laid out in the report, including as many as 9,300 climate-related deaths per year by 2100 and an increase in extreme weather events.
“This assessment, put forth by Donald Trump’s own government, continues to make it clear that if we don’t act now, the catastrophic effects of climate change will reshape the United States and the world for those of us alive today and for generations to come,” the Sierra Club said in a statement.
Mr. Trump dismissed the assessment, saying, “I don’t believe it,” prompting CNN to scold him for “dismissing his own experts.”
Skeptics, meanwhile, have blasted the report as “tripe” (Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore), a “400-page pile of crap” (Heartland Institute’s John Dunn), “irrelevant” (JunkScience’s Steven J. Milloy), and “baseless scaremongering” (Watts Up With That’s Eric Worrall).
“The National Climate Assessment report reads like a press release from environmental pressure groups — because it is,” said Marc Morano, author of “The Politically Incorrect Guide to Climate Change.”
He described two of the authors — Texas Tech professor Katharine Hayhoe and Donald J. Wuebbles of the University of Illinois — as “longtime Union of Concerned Scientist activists.”
“These are not ‘Trump’s own scientists’ as the media likes to claim,” Mr. Morano said. “The key authors are in fact left-wing environmental activists with the Union of Concerned Scientists, Center for American Progress, and the Obama Administration. And they cited outlier studies funded by Steyer and [Michael] Bloomberg.”
The 2017 study, which appeared in the journal Science, was cited to support the claim of a possible 10 percent decline in U.S. gross domestic product by the end of the century, a scenario decried by critics as highly improbable.
The report concluded that reducing climate change under a more extreme scenario versus a lesser one would mean fewer deaths and fewer lost labor hours. The avoided health impacts would represent “domestic benefits of mitigation on the order of tens to hundreds of billions of dollars per year.”
“These figures, as clearly identified in the references in the report, were not derived from one study but from a number of sources, primarily an EPA study from 2017,” he said.
Mr. Pielke, who has described climate change as “real” and Mr. Trump as “wrong” on the issue, said the estimate was not only “implausible,” but also was contradicted elsewhere in the assessment.
“The report obviously fell short in its quality control,” Mr. Pielke said. “Why this happened should be explored, but clearly it would have benefited from expanding its leadership beyond the ‘climate club.’”