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White House removes leader of major climate report

White House removes leader of major climate report
© Greg Nash

The White House has removed the top adviser responsible for leading the government’s assessment of the status of climate change.

Michael Kuperberg, a climate scientist serving as executive director of the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), has returned to his previous post at the Department of Energy.

Kuperberg’s reassignment came late Friday night, according to The Washington Post, removing him as leadership of the National Climate Assessment transitions to a new hire.

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The report involves drafting hundreds of top scientists to weigh in on climate change, often producing dire warnings about the limited time the U.S. has to act in order to avoid the most severe consequences. 

Kuperberg was already slated to be replaced by Betsy Weatherhead, a longtime climate scientist recently hired at the U.S. Geological Survey. But the shake-up means he will no longer be able to continue to work on the report as expected.

According to The New York Times, some observers fear the administration may seek to place David Legates, a deputy administrator at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, into the top slot.

Legates, an academic with a history of questioning humans’ influence on global warming, could influence USGCRP as it seeks to select the academics and other experts that will write the report's sections. 

The Fifth National Climate Assessment has already had trouble getting off the ground.

Though due in 2022, the website for the report already anticipates delivery will be by the end of 2023.

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The administration delayed in putting the call out for researchers to help with the report, beginning the process only after media reports.

According to the Post, Kuperberg was surprised by the reassignment.

“He was extremely dedicated,” a White House official told The Post. “He did a very good job of figuring out how to walk that political line. He had no idea it was coming.”

The Trump administration has a history of slow-walking the report. 

In 2017, it disbanded an Obama-era committee designed to help aid in the creation of the 2018 Fourth National Climate Assessment. The report was released late, dropping the day after Thanksgiving.

Updated at 6:45 p.m.