Science

Katrina and Global Warming

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Was Katrina's Power a Product of Global Warming?

With a unique confluence of geography, expansive lowlands (particularly in the New Orleans area), wetland loss, deforestation, rapid development, large populations of the poor, and a heavy concentration of industry, the Gulf Coast is extremely vulnerable to hurricanes, with or without global warming. Katrina is not the first category 5 hurricane to hit the Gulf Coast (it actually weakened to category 3 shortly before landfall in Louisiana and Mississippi); in fact, of the three previous similar events, two of them occurred in 1935 and 1969, prior to the period of most of the human-induced global warming that has occurred so far. Clearly, then, global warming is not required for an extremely intense hurricane to strike.

But can science tell us whether Katrina's destructiveness was related to global warming? Not directly: science, as a method, is not good at assigning causation for uncontrolled events, and no single weather event can be linked directly to a long-term driver, such as global warming. This inability to draw a definite conclusion, however, in no sense justifies the conclusion that global warming did not influence Katrina.

What science does offer on this question is a general understanding of the physics of tropical storms that can inform reasonable assessment. Because hurricanes draw strength from heat in ocean surface waters, warming the water should generate more powerful hurricanes, on average. Indeed, sea surface temperature records show that the oceans are more than 1 degree F warmer on average today compared to a century ago. On short time scales (days to months), temperatures fluctuate above and below the long-term average, and the water can be warmer or cooler than the average on any given day. But the higher the average, the more likely the water will be warm enough to produce a strong storm on any given day during the hurricane season. Case in point: while Katrina was strengthening from a tropical storm to a category 5 hurricane, as it passed between the Florida Keys and the Gulf Coast, the surface waters in the Gulf of Mexico were unusually warm - about 2 degrees F warmer than normal for this time of year. From this "first-principles" perspective, then, it is no surprise that Katrina became a very powerful storm. While there is no method to determine whether global warming played a role, it is reasonable to say it increased the probability that the Gulf surface water would be unusually warm on any given day, as it was on August 29 when Katrina's intensity peaked.

Beyond inferences from our understanding of storm physics, is there evidence that storms are actually becoming more intense, as we would expect? A study published recently in Nature found that since the early 1950s, the average intensity of tropical storms has increased globally, and this trend correlates very well through time with the increase in average sea surface temperatures in the tropics. These data show a real trend that fits expectations from our basic understanding of climate, and a powerful storm like Katrina makes sense in this context.

So, although we cannot be certain global warming intensified Katrina per se, it clearly has created circumstances under which powerful storms are more likely to occur at this point in history (and in the future) than they were in the past. Moreover, it would be scientifically unsound to conclude that Katrina was not intensified by global warming. A reasonable assessment of the science suggests that we will face similar events again and that powerful storms are likely to happen more often than we have been accustomed to in the past.

Global Warming and Extreme Weather Events

Full Article (PDF)

by Benjamin Preston-- Appeared in Catastrophe Risk Management, Spring 2005
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Press Release: New Report Examines Impacts of Storing Carbon

Press Release           
For Immediate Release:  January 19, 2005             

Contact:  Katie Mandes
703.516-0606 

CLIMATE SOLUTIONS AND FORESTS
New report examines the economic and climate impacts of storing carbon in trees

Washington, DC — Cost-effective climate change policies should include storage of carbon dioxide (CO2) in U.S. forests, according to a new report from the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. 

“Climate change is the major global environmental challenge of our time and in order to deal with it in the most cost-effective way, we need to consider the full range of solutions – and that includes carbon storage in forests,” said Eileen Claussen, President of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.  “If we ignore the potential for forest-based sequestration, any projection of the costs and feasibility of addressing climate change is going to be overly pessimistic and wrong.”

Most analyses of the climate issue have tended to focus on the implications of reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from key industrial and transportation sources. Less attention is paid to the potential for storing (or “sequestering”) carbon in forests and other ecosystems.  Both emissions reduction and carbon sequestration are important strategies for addressing climate change.

The Pew Center report, The Cost of U.S. Forest-based Carbon Sequestration, investigates the potential for incorporating land-use changes into climate policy.  Authored by economists Robert Stavins of Harvard University and Kenneth Richards of Indiana University, the Pew Center report looks at the true “opportunity costs” of using land for sequestration, in contrast with other productive uses. The report also examines the many factors that drive the economics of storing carbon in forests over long periods of time.

Among the authors’ key conclusions: The estimated cost of sequestering up to 500 million tons of carbon per year—an amount that would offset up to one-third of current annual U.S. carbon emissions—ranges from $30 to $90 per ton. On a per-ton basis, this is comparable to the cost estimated for other options for addressing climate change, including fuel switching and energy efficiency.

A sequestration program on the scale envisioned by the authors would involve large expanses of land and significant up-front investment. As a result, implementation would require careful attention to program design and a phased approach over a number of years. Nevertheless, the report offers new evidence that sequestration can and should play an important role in the United States’ response to climate change.

“This report shows that large-scale forest-based sequestration can be a cost-effective tool which should be considered seriously by policymakers,” said the Pew Center's Claussen.

The full text of this and other Pew Center reports is available at http://www.c2es.org.

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The Pew Center was established in May 1998 by The Pew Charitable Trusts, one of the United States’ largest philanthropies and an influential voice in efforts to improve the quality of the environment. The Pew Center is an independent, nonprofit, and non-partisan organization dedicated to providing credible information, straight answers, and innovative solutions in the effort to address global climate change. The Pew Center is led by Eileen Claussen, the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs.

Climate Change: Beyond A Sideways Approach

CLIMATE CHANGE: BEYOND A SIDEWAYS APPROACH

SPEECH BY EILEEN CLAUSSEN
PRESIDENT, PEW CENTER ON GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE

DONALD BREN SCHOOL OF ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE
AND MANAGEMENT- UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, SANTA BARBARA

JANUARY 14, 2005


Thank you.  I am delighted to be here – and I have to say it was awfully nice of the weather to clear up for my arrival. 

Of course, I am not here to talk about the weather.  I am here to talk about the climate.  And the difference, as we all know, is that climate is what you expect.  Weather is what you get.  And California has certainly gotten more than it expected or deserved these last few weeks. 

I am sure some of you saw the movie, The Day After Tomorrow, and it is hard not to think about it given the recent weather you’ve been having.  This is the film that dramatized the effects of climate change by releasing tornadoes in downtown Los Angeles and flooding all of Manhattan.  People called it left-wing propaganda, but I remember watching the movie and wondering why only Blue states were getting hit.

And then of course we have the new Michael Crichton book that you have probably heard about.  The book, which is climbing the bestseller lists as we speak, tells a fictional tale of how climate change itself is a fiction created by overzealous environmentalists so that they can enact draconian regulations on big business. 

The book is called “State of Fear,” and my only fear is that people will take seriously its absolutely wrongheaded portrayal of the problem of climate change. 

I hope all of you will join me in reminding people that Mr. Crichton’s specialty is fiction – even if he does include all sorts of graphs and charts in the current book to make it seem like a scientific tract.  This is the man who wrote such fantastical books as Jurassic Park, and it seems to me he has been hanging out with too many dinosaurs – people who are mired in the past and who simply cannot and will not accept the broad scientific consensus that we have a significant problem on our hands, and that there are practical and economically sound ways to tackle it. 

The point is– whether we are talking about the movie or the book:  They are both fiction.

In contrast to the book’s sensationalistic tone and style, your school’s emphasis on rigorous, interdisciplinary approaches to environmental problem-solving is something that is desperately needed in today’s world.  With so many complex and urgent environmental issues on the agenda at the local, national and international levels, your work here is essential.  And I applaud your interest in these issues and your commitment to solutions.

At the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, we are committed to solutions, too.  And today, I would like to talk for a little bit about some of the potential solutions to the problem of climate change.  More specifically, I want to talk about the nexus of technology and public policy – in other words, what policies do we need in order to unleash the global technological revolution that is necessary to protect the climate? 

I understand there is a hit movie in theaters right now that was filmed in the wine country around here. The movie is called Sideways – and, unfortunately, this is a title that could just as easily apply to current U.S. policy on climate change.  But in saying we are moving sideways, even that may be giving us too much credit.  Perhaps Backwards would be more appropriate. 

Clearly, we can do better.  And today I want to talk about how.  More specifically, I want to talk about a plan that the Pew Center is developing for U.S. action on the climate issue.  We call it our Agenda – and it is something we have been working on in concert with business and government leaders and others to lay out a responsible and practical policy course for the United States for the years to come.

But, before I talk about that, I want to talk briefly about what is at stake here.  And I want to paint a clearer picture of the problem we are trying to solve, the problem we must solve—that is, of course, global climate change. 

Just last month, the World Meteorological Organization reported that 2004 was the fourth hottest year on record – and that the last four years were among the top five. Of even greater concern was the news we learned in November about the arctic region.  This is the canary in the coal mine of climate change, the place where researchers have always said that the effects of this global problem will hit early and hard. 

And in November, we learned just how hard.  The report of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment showed that the Arctic region is indeed undergoing dramatic and alarming changes.  The reason: It’s warming much more rapidly than previously known, at nearly twice the rate of the rest of the globe. 

And it’s important to remember that this isn’t a random, out-of-left-field report.  It is the result of an unprecedented, four-year scientific study of the region conducted by an international team of 300 scientists.  And its conclusions should be a wake-up call for all nations. 

According to the report, at least half the summer sea ice in the Arctic is projected to melt by the end of this century, along with a significant portion of the Greenland Ice Sheet.  The Arctic region is projected to warm by an additional 7 to 13 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100.  These changes will have major global impacts, contributing to sea-level rise and even intensifying global warming as the disappearance of Arctic ice masses means that more incoming solar radiation will be absorbed at the Earth’s surface instead of being reflected back. 

This is scary stuff.  And, the fact is, we don’t have to travel to the Arctic to see that climate change is already being observed, even if the impacts in that region may be more pronounced and are occurring at a faster rate.  Also in November, the Pew Center released a report showing some of the closer-to-home effects of climate change – effects right here in the United States.  Right now. 

For example, we are seeing a long-term trend toward an earlier spring, with earlier flowering and reproduction of plant and bird species. Butterflies here on the U.S. west coast are moving north and to higher altitudes in search of tolerable climate conditions, with some populations disappearing altogether from the southern end of their ranges.   And this is only the beginning. In addition to their potential to lead to future declines in the diversity of U.S. wildlife, these ecological changes are indicators that global warming is already upon us and that adverse effects to other systems, and ultimately our economy, are just around the corner. 

With warming for the next century projected to be two to ten times greater than the last, we’re heading toward a fundamental and potentially irreversible disruption of our ecology and natural systems, both in this country and around the world.

So what can we do?  Well, at this point, we have to accept that some climate change already is built into the system – indeed, it is already happening, as I have said.  But we do have the power to limit the scope and severity of climate change.  And what we need to do is stabilize greenhouse gases in our atmosphere at a level that will keep this problem from becoming a global crisis. 

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, stabilization means shooting for the magic number of 550 parts per million – that would be roughly double the pre-industrial level of atmospheric greenhouse gases. 

But to get to that level, we need to reduce global CO2 emissions by 55 to 85 percent below what is currently projected under a “business-as-usual” scenario.  Fifty-five to 85 percent.  Making this challenge even more daunting, energy demand around the world is growing at a breakneck pace.  We need to act now to come up with ways to keep global economies growing while curbing the growth in greenhouse gas emissions around the world.  And make no mistake: The United States, which is responsible for one-fourth of global emissions, needs to take the lead.

Over the past year, as I have said, the Pew Center has been working to develop a comprehensive plan for U.S. action on this issue.  This Agenda is our attempt to develop and articulate a responsible course for addressing climate change. 

It is built on six years of Pew Center analysis and experience with leading businesses, and through dialogue with international leaders and experts.  And what we recommend in the Agenda is that the U.S. develop an Integrated National Climate Change Strategy.  That means a strategy that combines technology development with wide-ranging policies on issues from mitigation and science to adaptation. 

This last point, about adaptation, is a crucial part of what we have to do, because even if we push forward with an ambitious strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we’re already locked in to future changes in the global climate.  There is no way around it.  And these future changes will pose many challenges to ecosystems and natural resources, as well as human health and national economies.  We need to plan now for these changes so that our society and others are able to adapt. 

But adapting, of course, is not enough.  We also need to take serious action to limit the extent of climate change by reducing our emissions.  More than anything else, that will require a global technology revolution – and we need policies to make that revolution happen. 

While it’s true that technology normally advances over time on its own, it does not always advance in the right direction.  Also, we plainly do not have time to wait.  The challenge before us requires a much more deliberate, enunciated effort to develop policies that will help push and pull climate-friendly technologies to the market.  We need a guiding vision on the order of putting a person on the moon or developing a cure for cancer.  And we need to look at the full range of policy approaches that will get us where we need to be – from market incentives and public-private partnerships to a range of R&D efforts focusing on everything from basic research to deployment.

Perhaps the best way to look at the technology and policy challenge we face is on a sector-by-sector basis.  From manufacturing and electricity to buildings, agriculture, forestry and transportation, all sectors of the economy have important parts to play in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  Let me talk briefly about just two: transportation and electricity. 

The transportation sector is responsible for more than a third of our greenhouse gas emissions, and a quarter of U.S. energy consumption. To reduce these emissions, the Pew Center's Agenda identifies a range of specific policies-all aimed at speeding the development and deployment of new technologies.  And what we need to do is focus on both short-term technologies such as hybrid gas-electric vehicles, as well as longer-term technologies such as hydrogen.  
 
Looking first at the short term, we can do a lot more on the issue of hybrids.  This is, in fact, a classic case of how smart policy can make a difference.  Yes, hybrid vehicles are selling.  But, despite their popularity, there is no way they will represent more than a small fraction of U.S. vehicle sales without government stepping in and creating a bigger market.  What can government do?  Well, we can do a lot more to step up consumer incentives for buying these low greenhouse gas emitting vehicles - and it is not just hybrids I am talking about but clean-diesel vehicles as well. 
 
We can also remove incentives in the law for purchasing inefficient vehicles such as SUVs - it is frankly hard to believe these incentives exist, given the energy and climate challenges we face.  And, last but not least, government can and should take steps to boost public-sector procurement of climate-friendly vehicles.  The goal is to create and expand the market - and government can help do that with its own purchases. 
 
Among the longer-term transportation technologies we need to be looking at are hydrogen, biofuels, and all-electric cars and trucks.  But every one of these technologies faces substantial barriers that the private sector is unlikely  to be able to resolve on its own.  We need to ramp up funding for research, design and deployment.  Just as important, we need demonstration programs.  Everybody talks about a hydrogen economy, but you need a hydrogen infrastructure to make it work.  And the government needs to work with industry to come up with demonstrations that will show what's feasible and practical - and how to do it right.  For example, it is absolutely essential that we find environmentally friendly ways of producing hydrogen - because if we merely use fossil fuels to do it, the climate problem does not improve; it actually gets worse. 
 
I have talked a lot about cars, but we need to look at other forms of transportation, too.   Air, rail, marine transportation, road freight - all of these are a part of the problem, and all of them must be a part of the solution.  In the Pew Center Agenda, we talk about the need for government to work with the International Civil Aviation Organization to adopt policies aimed at boosting the fuel efficiency of aircraft.  The bottom line is that there are countless ways to reduce emissions from this vital and growing sector.  Our challenge is to adopt policies that will ensure that those reductions happen sooner rather than later - when the damage may already be done.

People in California know what needs to happen.  Your state is on the verge of establishing tough but achievable standards for greenhouse gas emissions from cars.  You would be the first state to do this – and, if it happens, you’ll be charting a productive path forward for the rest of the country.  Because the fact is we need national standards like those proposed for California.  And, in the Pew Center Agenda, we recommend converting the United States' current fuel economy standards to a set of tradable standards based on greenhouse gas emissions.  If you are looking to protect the climate, focusing on emissions is the way to go.

Another sector where we can and must achieve significant progress is electricity, which is responsible for almost 40 percent of U.S. emissions.  And here I want to start by talking about coal.  In 2003, coal provided 51 percent of U.S. electricity.  Worldwide, it is the most abundant and widely distributed fossil fuel.  Given current rates of production and use, we have 200 years of reserve supply.  Whether you like it or not, coal is going to remain a major part of the energy mix for decades to come. 

And so our challenge is twofold: we need to come up with better, cleaner ways to burn coal; and we also need to do everything in our power to figure out how to capture and store the carbon that is produced when we do burn it.  There are technologies being developed that hold promise on both of these counts.  But, once again, these technologies will go nowhere fast if we don’t light a fire under them, so to speak, with government R&D and other policies.  We need tests to find out the practicality of geologic storage of carbon.  We need demonstrations so we can understand the ins and outs of CO2 injection underground.  We also need to build demonstration plants so we can learn more about coal gasification, which holds the promise of allowing us to burn coal with dramatically reduced carbon emissions.  

All of these are smart and necessary investments – not just for climate reasons but also because they can place the United States in a leadership position around the world so we can then export these technologies to other countries with significant coal resources, such as India and China. 

So that’s the story with coal.  But what about other energy technologies?  What about combined heat and power?  This is when you capture and use the waste heat generated along with electricity.  Want to know the overall efficiency of the U.S. electricity system – what we put in vs. what we get out? It’s 30 to 33 percent of input energy; that level has remained constant since the 1970s.  This is inexcusable when you consider that combined heat and power systems can boost efficiency to upwards of 80 percent.  Right now, these systems account for just 8 percent of U.S. energy supply, compared to 40 percent in Europe.  What policy steps can we take to promote combined heat and power?  Well, we can start by regulating utilities based on total energy output.  A lot of these are just common-sense solutions. 

Another promising energy technology is distributed generation, or DG.  This is when you  generate electricity close to the point of use. With distributed generation, you can reduce  CO2 emissions in a number of ways.  In fact, a major benefit of this technology is that you avoid so-called transmission and distribution losses; when electricity is moved over long distances, 7 to 8 percent of it is lost along the way.   With distributed generation, you can also use waste heat for combined heat and power in ways that you cannot in a large, centralized power station. So it can be more efficient in that way too.  But we need policies to make distributed generation more feasible -- for example, by allowing people to sell excess power back to the grid at a fair price.

Now, what about renewables?  If you are talking about climate-friendly sources of energy, you have to talk about renewables – wind, solar, hydropower, geothermal and more.  In the past, these technologies have cost significantly more than fossil fuels for the same energy output.  But over time we have adopted policies at the national, state and local levels that promote renewables – tax breaks, consumer incentives, portfolio standards that require utilities to generate a set share of their power from these sources.  California’s aggressive deployment policies in the 1980s helped bring the cost of wind power down to where it is today – close to the cost of fossil fuel generation in some markets.  Yet, the lack of policy leadership in the U.S. meant that we lost our leadership position in the wind field to Europe. 

So it is policy that has made these technologies more competitive, but policy needs to do more.  We need to do things like extending the wind production tax credit, creating renewable portfolio standards at the state, regional and/or national level, and investing more in research and development.  Given the energy security challenges we face in this country, not to mention the climate challenges, developing and deploying renewables should be at the top of our national agenda. 

Burning coal in clean ways.  Safely storing carbon.  Investing in combined heat and power and distributed generation.  And making renewables an integral part of our national energy mix.  These are critical energy challenges for the future – and they are not the only ones.  At the Pew Center, we have always been careful to remain “technologically neutral” – we will throw out the welcome mat for any and all technologies that can be part of the climate solution.  And, in our Agenda, we address the need for policies to encourage the development and deployment of everything from advanced nuclear power to new energy-efficiency technologies.  This problem is too big for any one solution. 

We need to look at an array of technologies, and at an array of policies as well.  We need strong R&D policies, government standards and codes, public infrastructure investments, public education programs, public-private partnerships and more.  And we also need to look at broader, technology-neutral policies as well – policies that can encourage action across all sectors of the economy.  Here I am talking specifically about the policy known as “cap and trade.” 

Cap-and-trade is the approach taken in the Climate Stewardship Act introduced last year by Senators Joseph Lieberman and John McCain.  Their bill attracted the support of 43 U.S. senators and prompted the first serious debate in Congress about exactly what we need to be doing to respond to the problem of climate change.

The reason cap-and-trade works is that it enables companies to reduce emissions as cheaply as possible.  We all know the example of how trading has worked to achieve cost-effective reductions in emissions of the pollutants that cause acid rain.  In fact, it was because of the United States’ successful use of trading to reduce sulfur emissions that our country insisted that trading be a central element of the Kyoto Protocol.  And now, inspired by Kyoto, the European Union is on the verge of launching the broadest emissions trading system ever established.

What’s more, right here in the United States, nine Northeastern governors, led by New York Governor George Pataki, are developing a multi-state regional “cap-and-trade” initiative aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.  This effort is proceeding well, and we expect them to complete their work by this spring, with agreement on a model rule.

Now, it will probably be some time before we establish a national, economy-wide cap-and-trade system in the United States—the political support for it is not there.  But what might be possible is a series of interlinked trading systems – the east coast with Europe and perhaps with Canada and the west coast as well. Such a “bottom-up” system could be robust enough both to achieve some environmental benefit and to keep costs down.  And it would be a valuable learning experience for both sides on this issue, hopefully one that would show that taking action to protect the climate is both practical and affordable.

Of course, cap-and-trade is not the only broad policy that we need to think about.  We also need a climate-conscious energy policy for the United States.  In Great Britain, the government has developed an energy blueprint for the next 50 years that makes climate change a key driver of that country’s energy policy, along with price and security of supply.  The United States would be wise to follow suit. 

I have tried in these remarks to talk about what we need to do here at home in order to approach the climate issue in a serious way.  We need a robust, climate-friendly energy policy.  Incentives and requirements for clean technologies.  A cap-and-trade program to reduce emissions at the lowest cost.  But it is important to remember that we need to engage on this issue at the international level too.  Climate change is a global problem.  Even if we were to get dead serious about reducing our emissions tomorrow, we won’t get where we need to be unless all countries become a part of the solution.

In December, as many of you know, delegates from the United States joined representatives of other nations at a climate meeting in Buenos Aires.  The ostensible purpose of the meeting was to tie up any loose ends that remained before the Kyoto Protocol goes into force in February.  The Protocol, of course, is the international agreement that commits all of its signatory countries to specific targets for reducing their greenhouse gas emissions before 2012.  The Buenos Aires meeting also, it was assumed, would begin to lay the groundwork for the next steps in the international climate effort – in other words, what happens after 2012?

The only problem with the latter assumption is that the United States, which is not even a party to the Protocol, was opposed to any discussion of the future.  In a truly Orwellian quote, the lead U.S. negotiator at the meeting was heard to say, “We need to absorb and analyze lessons learned before committing to new actions.”  End quote.  New actions?  I didn’t know that we had committed to any old actions.  And it is hard to learn any lessons when you’re doing next to nothing. 

We might as well have had Michael Crichton as the head of our negotiating team.  At least he would have made it more interesting. 

In any case, the events in Buenos Aires underscore how far the U.S. has strayed since 1992, when President George H.W. Bush signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.  This is the treaty where the nations of the world acknowledged that climate change was a problem and pledged to act – voluntarily, I might add – to reduce their emissions.  Even during the Clinton administration, despite signing the Kyoto Protocol, we clearly were not willing to own up to our global responsibility on this issue.

Climate change requires that we act at both the international and the national levels, and my goal today has been to give you some ideas and examples of the kinds of things we need to do.  Now, at this point I could wrap up by remarks by comparing what we need to do with what is actually happening.  And, I would start by talking about the relatively low level of investment in this issue on the part of the federal government.  I would then have to mention the Administration’s goal of growing our emissions.  And I would come back again to our reluctance to enter the debate on how we might move forward on this issue globally.  But I don’t want to leave you depressed, particularly given the fact that you have had such frightening weather these last few weeks. 

Instead, I will leave you with a look on the bright side of this issue.  Because, despite everything else, we have seen a few signs of progress in the past year.  One of these, of course, is the fact that the Kyoto Protocol is ready to enter into force in February – no matter what you want to say about it, this is an historic achievement.  And, in a related development that I already mentioned, we have seen the launch of the EU trading system for carbon dioxide – it is another historic achievement and, hopefully, the first of many such trading systems around the world. 

Next, I want to pay tribute to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has spent a good part of the past year touting climate change as one of two key issues he intends to work on as president of both the EU and G-8 group of industrialized nations. 

Yet another thing to celebrate is the work of many U.S. states to get a handle on this issue, even despite the lack of action in Washington.  I mentioned the work of the Northeastern governors on cap-and-trade.  And I also talked about what’s happening here in California with regard to motor vehicle emissions.  And there are many more stories from the states about people stepping up to their responsibility to act.  U.S. states are a large source of greenhouse gas emissions – California’s exceed those of Brazil.  And, while national policies are essential, we also need the states to do their part.  

Last but not least, I want to celebrate what is happening in many corners of the business community to address this problem.  Many of the companies we work with at the Pew Center are adopting voluntary targets for reducing their greenhouse gas emissions.  And, not only that, they are taking action to meet their targets by investing in new technologies, increasing efficiency, and developing energy-saving products, clean fuels, biomass energy, and more.

In closing, let me say that the forecast for the future needn’t be gloomy.  A lot is happening to address the climate change problem.  But we need to do a lot more.  And I encourage all of you to do what’s needed to make sure your state remains a leader in addressing this issue in the years ahead.  We need to show that solutions are within our grasp, that smart, forward-thinking policies can drive the development and deployment of new, low-carbon technologies, and that progress is possible. 

Climate change is the most important global environmental challenge we will face in the years ahead.  Don’t let anyone tell you it’s fiction.  You know better.  And it is going to be people like you who come up with the solutions we need. 

Thank you very much. 

Climate Change Solutions: A Science and Policy Agenda

CLIMATE CHANGE SOLUTIONS: A SCIENCE AND POLICY AGENDA

SPEECH BY EILEEN CLAUSSEN
PRESIDENT, PEW CENTER ON GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE

COUNCIL OF SCIENTIFIC SOCIETY PRESIDENTS

DECEMBER 6, 2004

It is a pleasure to be here, and I welcome the opportunity to address such a distinguished group of science leaders.  I know that a lot of you are here from out of town, and I have to say that I appreciate what you have done to raise this city’s collective IQ, if only for a couple of days. 

I also want to say that I applaud the theme of your meeting, Setting the Agenda for 21st Century Science.  If I accomplish nothing else in my remarks, I hope I can leave you with a stronger sense that one of the most important items on the science agenda for this century is climate change and how we respond. 

Science holds the key not just to advancing our understanding of this complex problem but also to advancing our ability to reduce the very real risks it poses to the world.  Science also will be critical as we try to figure out how best to adapt to climate change in the years and decades ahead.  This is one of the most important issues of our time.  And each of you, together with your organizations and the scientists and engineers you represent, can and must play a leading role in shaping solutions.

Today, I want to talk with you about what those solutions might entail – and about how you and your organizations can help make them happen.  But first, considering that we are here in the nation’s capital, I’d like to spend a few minutes talking about how Washington has responded to climate change so far. 

In providing this report card on our elected leaders’ efforts on this issue, I am reminded of the teacher who told the parents of a failing student that they could at least rest assured of one thing.  “With grades like these, he couldn’t possibly be cheating.”

Now I know you heard yesterday from a representative of the Bush administration about its approach to the issue of climate change.  And I am certain that you heard a lot about our government’s hard work in areas from advancing climate science to promoting technology development and working with industry on an array of programs and initiatives.  But the fact of the matter is that the Bush administration’s climate policies represent little more than a “business-as-usual” approach. 

With their limited R&D investments, their reliance on voluntary measures, and their lack of planning for how this nation and others can adapt to climate change, the policies advanced by the White House are simply inadequate.    They reveal a fundamental  misunderstanding of the nature and potential severity of the problem.

The science tells us in no uncertain terms that we need to be doing all we can to, number one, reduce our greenhouse gas emissions today, and, number two, spur the investments needed to achieve even greater reductions in the years and decades ahead.  We also need to get real about the fact that climate change is happening now—and that its impacts will accelerate in the years ahead.  We need a proactive approach to adapt to climate change so we can limit the damage, economic and otherwise, that this problem will cause.

The Administration, of course, makes much of the ongoing effort to address the “uncertainties” in today’s climate models – specifically concerning the rate and magnitude of global warming.  I cannot tell you how often my staff and I, in our meetings with members of Congress and other opinion leaders, hear the refrain that the science on this issue just isn’t there yet – and that the uncertainties in the science suggest that action is not necessary or desirable at this time.

Our response is that, yes, uncertainties certainly exist about future trends.   But the certainties and near certainties are equally important.  Today, the scientific community agrees on three key points: 1) the earth is warming; 2) the primary cause of this warming is fossil fuel consumption; and 3) if we don’t act now to reduce emissions, this problem will only get worse.

Despite this concensus among scientists,  our nation’s climate change policies have changed very little in the last several years.  The first President Bush, when presented with evidence that climate change was a problem, pursued a strategy of scientific research and voluntary reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.  The evidence is much stronger and much more conclusive today, and yet our basic strategy has not changed. 

The White House’s new Climate Change Science Program, for example, has a budget comparable, in inflation-adjusted dollars, to its predecessor during the 1990s, the Global Climate Research Program.  There are the more substantive R&D initiatives embraced by this administration – I am talking here about the Hydrogen Fuels Initiative and FutureGen, the much-touted public/private initiative to develop clean coal technologies. But these initiatives, while of value, represent only modest investments in technologies that are decades away from being deployed. 

The real proof of our nation’s climate policies, of course, should be in the results, and the bottom line is that the United States is not even close to doing what’s needed to reduce our emissions and put on us a path toward meeting the long term objective of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to which the United States is a party. 
In order to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations at roughly double pre-industrial levels (that is the equivalent of 550 parts per million), developed countries such as the United States must undertake a concerted effort to deploy existing energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies, and aggressively promote more advanced technologies as old energy capital is retired.  Allowing our near-term emissions to grow will only make this task more daunting and expensive.  But this is precisely the path we are on, and this is because we continue to rely on a voluntary approach to mitigation. 

The current Administration’s plan to reduce the “greenhouse gas intensity” of the U.S. economy actually will result in an increase in absolute emissions.  These emissions will grow by roughly 14 percent above 2000 levels and 30 percent above 1990 levels by 2010.  Needless to say, this is not the direction in which we want to be headed.

Clearly, we can do better.  We must do better.  I have often said that climate change calls on us to create the conditions for an energy technology revolution.  But a revolution needs two things: an impetus, or spark; and a vision, a vision of the change we want and need to see. 

The impetus for the revolution I am talking about, I believe, will have to come from political will.  We have seen some important gains on this front in the last couple of years, as various members of Congress, together with state and local officials, have developed and proposed policies that reflect a real understanding of what’s at stake.  But an energy technology revolution will not happen without broader support from our political leaders.  It will not happen unless and until industry receives clear and consistent policy signals from government that climate change is a priority – and that reducing emissions and developing low-carbon technologies is not a choice but a condition for doing business in America.   This is going to take a level of political will that we have not yet seen, but that I hope, with your help, we can generate in the months and years ahead.

What about the vision of where we need to go?  At the Pew Center, we recently developed something we are calling the “10-50 Solution” to climate change.  By 10-50, we mean we should be looking ahead and thinking about where we want to be on this issue in 50 years.  However, at the same time that we are establishing a long-term goal, and making the necessary investments that will allow us to meet it, we also need to identify the strategies and policies we can start pursuing in the next 10 years and in each decade that follows.  


The bottom line is that we need a sense of urgency as well as a recognition of the long-term nature of both the climate change problem and its ultimate technological solution.   The United Kingdom for example has set 2 goals, a near term goal of a 12.5-percent greenhouse gas emission reduction by 2012 and a longer term one for a 60-percent reduction within 50 years.  The United States needs to adopt something similar, setting targets that will, in turn, drive the development of the policies and technologies we will need in order to reach our goals. 

After hearing all the hemming and hawing around this issue in Washington, you wouldn’t know that near-term reductions in our emissions are readily available – principally through investments in energy efficiency.  Over the decades to come, more advanced technologies such as carbon capture and storage, hydrogen, and possibly advanced nuclear energy can be tapped to provide for the steeper reductions that are ultimately needed.  These technologies will require policies to both push and pull them to the markets, and over time these technologies also must be made available to the developing world.  But we must start now.  Because of the long-lived nature of greenhouse gases, there will always be a substantial lag between the reductions we achieve and the effect of those reductions on atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases.   

As we consider how to reach our long-term climate objectives, I believe we need to consider three approaches at once. 

The first approach is based on the notion of targets and trading.  Government cannot mandate a revolution.  But it can create the conditions for one.  By establishing clear and definitive goals, or targets, and then summoning the powers of the marketplace to meet them. 

From its inception, the Pew Center has supported cost-effective, market-based approaches to climate change – chiefly, through an economy-wide cap-and-trade system.  This is a policy that sets targets for greenhouse gas emissions and then allows companies the flexibility to trade emission credits in order to achieve their targets in the most economic manner. 

This is the approach taken in the Climate Stewardship Act introduced last year by Senators Joseph Lieberman and John McCain.  Their bill garnered the support of 44 U.S. senators and prompted the first serious debate in Congress about exactly what we need to be doing to respond to the problem of climate change.

Cap-and-trade works because it enables companies to reduce emissions as cheaply as possible.  We all know the example of how trading has worked to achieve cost-effective reductions in emissions of the pollutants that cause acid rain.  In fact, it was because of the United States’ successful use of trading to reduce sulfur emissions that our country insisted that trading be a central element of the Kyoto Protocol.  And now, inspired by Kyoto, the European Union is on the verge of launching the broadest emissions trading system ever established.

What’s more, right here in the United States, nine Northeastern governors, led by New York Governor George Pataki, are developing a multi-state regional “cap-and-trade” initiative aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.  This effort is proceeding well, and we expect them to complete their work, as planned, by April of next year, with agreement on a model rule.

Of course, it will likely be some time before we establish a national, economy-wide cap-and-trade system in the United States—the politics (or the spark) isn’t there yet.  But what might be possible is a series of interlinked trading systems – the east coast with Europe and perhaps with Canada and the west coast as well. Such a “bottom-up” system could be robust enough both to achieve some environmental benefit and keep costs down.  And it would be a valuable learning experience for both sides on this issue, hopefully one that would show that taking action on this issue is both practical and affordable.

The second pathway to the future that I want to focus on is the need for sectoral solutions to climate change.  Simply put, any effort to address climate change must include greenhouse gas reductions from all sectors.  The two biggest sectoral sources of these emissions are transportation and electric power.    Transportation alone accounts for more than a quarter of U.S. energy consumption, and more than a third of our greenhouse gas emissions.   And the electricity sector is responsible for almost 40 percent of emissions.

If we want to achieve progress in reducing emissions, we have to achieve major reductions from these two sectors – and that means serious (short-term) efficiency improvements followed by major technological changes. But not surprisingly within these sectors there is real resistance to this kind of approach. 

The advantage we have in addressing transportation emissions is that the auto industry is highly concentrated – and global as well.  The 10 largest manufacturers account for 74 percent of the global market.  The vast majority of cars are produced – and used – in a relatively small number of countries.  Major fuel producers are also relatively small in number.   What we really need here, and what should be achievable, is an effort to bring all the key players together and chart a path toward a zero emissions future in, say, 30-50 years. 

This is not a proposal to dictate specific technologies – each major manufacturer seems to be going down a different technology path, and they should be allowed to do so – but I believe we will be most successful and efficient and if we adopt a set of globally consistent performance standards. 

No, it wouldn’t be easy, and many will argue that it is simply too hard.  But is it easier, or smarter, to tackle the problem nation by nation, or state by state? At the moment, there are different auto efficiency or CO2 emission standards or goals in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, Japan, China, Korea, and Taiwan.  And now here in the US we have a proposal from California to establish greenhouse gas standards for vehicles – a proposal that, if it goes into effect, will doubtless be followed by other states.   I wonder if the time isn’t close for the private sector to decide that a rational, long-term effort, in which they are “at the table” and can help set the milestones, might not be better than the alternative.

The power sector, for its part, is very different.  Power supplies are much more distributed -- there are hundreds, if not thousands of players (far too many to put into a room, let alone around a table), and there are many different ways to generate power.  So here we might focus on selected energy sources, the most important of which, both politically and in terms of emissions contribution, is coal.  There is no denying that coal will figure heavily in our energy future.  It is globally available and it is cheap.  Virtually all of the new power plants being planned here in the United States will burn coal.  China is projected to add as much as 300 gigawatts of generating capacity over the next 10 years, nearly all of it coal.

How then do we continue to provide power but minimize the impact on the climate?  How do we shift investment away from traditional coal plants to newer technologies that will be compatible with the efforts underway to capture CO2 emissions and sequester them deep in the ground?  Here, too, I think we need a combination: a global R&D effort, and a clear set of mandates to pull new and better technologies into the market.  Many in the coal industry are beginning to see the need for a more proactive strategy, and if they can be assured a place in the future, they may  be willing to give up the technologies of the past. 

To put it simply, I think every sector that is a part of the problem has to be a part of the solution – including agriculture and forestry, as well as power and transportation.    


The third pathway to the future that I want to talk about is one that integrates both climate and development.

 We cannot expect developing countries to become full partners in the climate effort if it continues to be seen as a purely environmental issue, a constraint on economic growth and development.  Frankly, this is true in developed countries as well.  We need policies that speak both to climate and to core development priorities.  The place to start, I would suggest, is with national energy policies.  Each nation needs to accept that climate change must be one of the drivers of energy policy, as the UK has.  Along with security of supply and price, we need energy policies that will not only power the global economy and raise living standards, but that will also help us in our efforts to stabilize the climate. 

Similarly, for economies to grow, and for individuals to have the mobility they desire, we must find ways to make our transportation systems more sustainable and more climate friendly.  Charting these paths forward will be crucial if we are to succeed in meeting our long-term climate objective.     

And to meet that objective, we need your help. 

As scientists and engineers, you make decisions about how this nation’s vast technical resources – including human resources – are mobilized.  You decide what research problems to focus your attention on and what solutions look most promising. You are responsible for training and nurturing the next generation of scientists and engineers.  How grant monies are used, how scholarship funding is allocated, even how course curriculums are designed – all of these questions play a role in setting the stage for the technology revolution we need to address the climate challenge. In a sense, our future is in your hands.

Some of you may be aware that the U.S. Department of Energy has issued a “Grand Challenge” to the scientific community to work on the critical issue of hydrogen storage.  While the Pew Center prefers to be “technology neutral”, I would say that there are at least two other “grand challenges” that the scientific community needs to become more engaged in over the next 10 years.  These are:

· First, the development of low-cost and reliable technologies and processes for carbon dioxide capture and geologic sequestration; and
· Second, the development of low-cost renewables and the infrastructure and storage technologies that will enable them to become widespread.

All three of these challenges – hydrogen storage, carbon capture and storage, and low-cost renewables – are currently at different points on the RD&D spectrum.  But they can all benefit enormously from your brains and your help.
  
This is why I was so delighted to be invited to speak with this group today.  We need your engagement on this issue.  Obviously, some of you and your institutions have been working tirelessly on climate issues for a long time.  But the level of human, institutional and monetary resources that are currently dedicated to these challenges does not fit the magnitude of the problem. Within your universities, your research institutions, your organizations and the broader group of NSF (or “grant-making”) funding committees, there needs to be significantly greater attention to the challenge of a low-carbon energy future – and research resources need to be allocated accordingly.

And it is not just the challenge of reducing the potential severity of climate change that we need to focus on – as I stated at the top of my remarks, we also need to figure out how to adapt to climate change. Unfortunately, because of the momentum of the climate system and, perhaps more importantly, our own economy and technology, we are beyond the point of preventing climate change. 

For example, if we were to somehow cease all greenhouse gas emissions today, we would still be committed to additional global warming of about one degree Fahrenheit over the course of the 21st century.  If we set a more realistic, but still ambitious, target of limiting atmospheric CO2 to a doubling of its pre-industrial concentration, we’d likely experience at least an additional three degrees of warming on average globally, with some regions, including the United States and the poles, expected to warm more. 

This is not a doomsday scenario – quite the contrary, this is one of the most optimistic outcomes we can expect.  But even with such valiant efforts to reduce our emissions, climate change will pose many challenges to our natural ecosystems and resources, economy, and human health.  In fact, we’re already starting to see the effects.  Therefore, we must find a way to adjust or adapt to these challenges – in other words, we need to prepare ourselves for that level of climate change that we can no longer prevent.
 
Here, too, scientists and engineers have important roles to play.  To adapt to climate change, we must first understand how our environment will respond to the changes in temperature, precipitation, and sea level that are currently projected. 

How will our water resources be affected?  Which coastal communities lie in harm’s way?  Which species are at greatest risk?  Then, we must devise methods for preparing these systems for a changing climate – new water management strategies, new coastal development plans, new wildlife conservation efforts.  And, we must do all of this against the backdrop of an ever-growing U.S. and global population, using more resources, more land, and further altering the global environment. 

Although we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking we can engineer ourselves out of this problem, prudence dictates that we seek ways to improve our resilience to climate.  The loss of life in Europe during the summer heat wave of 2003, or the death and destruction we witnessed in the Caribbean and the United States from this year’s hurricane season, are the harbingers of what we can expect in a world of continued warming.   

I’m sure many of you currently collaborate with colleagues from all over the world.   But how many of those colleagues are from developing countries?  Building bridges with scientists in the developing world is invaluable for enhancing the capacity of other nations to assess and respond to the challenge of climate change. 

I have talked about a number of priorities today.  I have talked about the need for an energy technology revolution.  I have talked about establishing a long-term goal of achieving a low-carbon economy.  I have talked about three pathways for achieving that goal – through targets and trading, sectoral approaches, and integrating climate and development.  And I have talked about adaptation. 

This is complex stuff, Albert Einstein famously stated that people do not truly understand something unless they can explain it to their grandmother.  Well, the unfortunate fact is that people don’t truly understand the problem of climate change.  All of us need to do a better job explaining this issue in a way that resonates with people – grandmothers and grandchildren alike. 

In a recent paper for the journal Global Environmental Change, scholars Maxwell and Jules Boykoff reported on their analysis of 14 years of climate change coverage in four major daily newspapers: The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times.  During the period they covered, 1988 to 2002, a clear consensus emerged among climate scientists that climate change was real—and that human activities were a principal cause.  And yet, in the newspapers, the majority of articles (nearly 53 percent) gave roughly equal space to this consensus view and to the view of climate-change skeptics that any warming we have seen is the result of natural fluctuations.

This is the challenge we are up against.  Science has produced a clear case for action on this issue, but people, including some important government leaders, are still are not getting the message.  And I encourage all of you, in your communications with the media and the general public, to make every effort to convey to people what is truly at stake here.  At the same time, I encourage you, as scientists, to help us debunk all the junk science that’s out there and help people focus on what we know to be true. 

The junk science on this issue comes from all over, but there appears to be a cottage industry of industry-funded think tanks that trumpet every objection they can find to the consensus view that climate change is happening and will only get worse.   

So I am asking for your help:

  • If you or someone in your organization is talking to the media about this issue, please emphasize the clear and overwhelming consensus among scientists that this is a very real problem we need to begin addressing right now.
     
  • If you see or hear policymakers stressing the uncertainties in the climate science, please also set them straight about the certainties and what they tell us about the need for real and serious action.
     
  • The same goes for media reports on climate change that give equal weight to the scientific consensus on this issue and to the claims of the skeptics.  It is important that scientists become engaged, with letters to the editor, op-ed articles, radio call-ins, whatever it takes. 

It will take some time and persistence, but as the compelling, robust and irrefutable evidence of the human impact on the earth’s climate continues to accumulate, it will become impossible to ignore. 

As scientists, you have the credibility to challenge this nation to step up to the problem of climate change in a manner that reflects the seriousness of this issue.  And, together with your peers throughout the country, you have the capability to come up with the new ideas and the solutions that will create a safer world in the decades to come.  This is your mission, and it is our mission at the Pew Center as well.  And I hope we can work together so that future generations aren’t left wondering why we did so little – when we knew so much.

Thank you very much.

Observed Impacts of Climate Change in the United States

Effects of Global Warming: Observed Impacts of Climate Change in the US

Observed Impacts of Global Climate Change in the U.S.

Prepared by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change
November 2004.

By:
Camille Parmesan, The University of Texas at Austin
Hector Galbraith, University of Colorado-Boulder and Galbraith Environmental Sciences


Press Release

Download Report (pdf)

Foreword

Eileen Claussen, President, Pew Center on Global Climate Change

For over a century, scientists have documented the important role that that the climate plays in the geographic distribution of the world’s ecosystems and the wildlife they support.  Yet, it is now quite evident that the climate these species depend upon is changing.  Global temperatures increased by over 1oF during the past century and are projected to increase 2.5-10.4oF by 2100 as a result of human emissions of greenhouse gases.  Given the reliance of plants and animals on their natural environment, they are often early barometers of the effects of climate change. 

“Observed Impacts of Global Climate Change in the U.S.” is the twelfth in a series of Pew Center reports examining the impacts of climate change on the U.S. environment.  While past Pew Center reports have reviewed the potential impacts of future climate change, this report provides compelling evidence that ecosystems are already responding to climate change and provides insights into what we can expect from future changes in the Earth’s climate.  Looking specifically at the United States, report authors, Drs. Camille Parmesan and Hector Galbraith find:

A number of ecological changes have already occurred in the United States over the past century in concert with increases in average U.S. temperature and changes in precipitation.  Warmer temperatures have resulted in longer growing seasons at the national level, altered carbon cycling and storage in the Alaskan tundra, and increased the frequency of fires and other disturbances in U.S. forests.  Individual species such as Edith’s checkerspot butterfly and the red fox have shifted north or to higher altitudes. Other species including Mexican jays and tree swallows have experienced changes in the timing of reproduction, as have plants such as forest phlox and butterfly weed.  While these changes illustrate efforts by species to adapt to a warming climate, these responses may alter competition and predator-prey relationships and have other unforeseen consequences. 
 
These observed changes have been linked to human-induced warming of the global climate.  There is increasingly strong evidence that the observed global climate change, particularly that of the past 50 years, is primarily the result of human emissions of greenhouse gases.  Changes in U.S. climate have also been linked with human activities. 

Changes in natural systems will continue and become even more apparent in the future, resulting in the degradation and loss of U.S. biodiversity. With continued and more severe changes in the climate, the ability of U.S. wildlife to adapt through migration and physiological change will be increasingly limited.  Furthermore, because of adaptive migration, species such as the red fox are now competing for habitat previously dominated by the arctic fox, threatening the arctic fox’s long-term survival.  The challenge is even greater when considered along with the broad range of other environmental threats currently affecting wildlife, such as habitat loss, environmental contamination, and invasive species. 

Efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, protect U.S. ecosystems and wildlife, and provide refuge for sensitive species are all necessary to limit the future ecological consequences of climate change.  Curbing greenhouse gas emissions can reduce the rate and magnitude of future climate change, consequently reducing the severity of, but not preventing, climatic stresses to wildlife.  Meanwhile, the expansion of nature reserves and habitat conservation efforts can alleviate some non-climate stresses and enable species to better adapt to the effects of climate change. 

The authors and Pew Center gratefully acknowledge the input of Drs. Lou Pitelka and Walter Oechel on this report.  The Pew Center would also like to thank Joel Smith of Stratus Consulting for his assistance in the management of this Environmental Impacts Series.

Executive Summary

One of the major, most well-documented, and robust findings in ecology over the past century has been the crucial role of climate in determining the geographical distribution of species and ecological communities. Climate variability and change can affect plants and animals in a number of ways, including their distributions, population sizes, and even physical structure, metabolism, and behavior. These ecological responses to changes in climate have important implications, given the historical and continuing increases in atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases associated with human activities. Future human-induced changes in the global climate will directly affect regional conditions, such as geographic patterns of temperature and precipitation. Previous reports by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change have identified a range of future adverse effects that could occur in U.S. marine and freshwater systems, forests, and ecosystem processes due to greenhouse gas-induced global climate change.

The effect of climate change, however, is not relegated to future decades. Scientists have already documented changes in temperature and precipitation patterns in the United States and around the world. Average U.S. temperatures increased by approximately 0.6°C (1°F) over the past century. The magnitude of warming, however, has varied among different regions within the United States. Alaska, for example, has experienced average annual temperature increases of 2-4°C (4-7°F). Meanwhile, average U.S. precipitation has increased by 5-10 percent. These climatic changes have altered the environmental contexts within which many species live in the United States, causing physical, behavioral and location changes as the species respond to their changing environments. In addition to being biological indicators of global warming, these changes may have direct adverse effects on U.S. biodiversity and ecosystem stability, resilience, and goods and services.

This report assesses the scientific evidence compiled to date on the observed ecological effects of climate change in the United States and their consequences. It evaluates the strength of that evidence and the relationships between observed biological changes and human activities. Although many species and ecological systems of interest have yet to be studied (often due to inherent limitations of available data) and the attribution of ecological changes to a particular cause remains challenging, a number of robust findings emerge from this report.

1) Sufficient studies now exist to conclude that the consequences of climate change are already detectable within U.S. ecosystems. This report reviews more than 40 studies that associate climate change with observed ecological impacts in the United States, and, using objective evaluation criteria, finds that more than half provide strong evidence of a direct link. These studies span a broad range of plant and animal species from various regions of the United States. Yet, despite the diversity among studies, the observed ecological responses are consistent with one another, as well as with the changes that one would expect based on the nature of U.S. climate change observed to date. 

2) The timing of important ecological events, including the flowering of plants and the breeding times of animals, has shifted, and these changes have occurred in conjunction with changes in U.S. climate. If these timing shifts are synchronous across species that normally interact with each other (for example, if adult butterflies and the flowers they depend on for nectar both emerge two weeks earlier), then these species’ interactions are preserved, and the system may remain healthy. On the other hand, if responses to temperature increases vary across species (for example, if butterflies emerge before the flowers they depend on for survival), then species’ interactions may become out of synchrony and could lead to population declines. Both types of situations have been documented.

3) Geographic ranges of some plants and animals have shifted northward and upward in elevation, and in some cases, contracted. One of the most detailed and best-studied examples is the Edith’s checkerspot butterfly in the western United States. As temperatures have increased over the last century, many southern and lower-elevation populations of this species have disappeared entirely. The effect of this shift has been a contraction of the species’ range to the north (i.e., it is disappearing from Mexico but thriving in Canada).  The red fox, another example, has shifted northward and is now encroaching on the arctic fox’s range, threatening its survival. Similar range shifts within the United States have also been observed in organisms as diverse as birds, mammals, intertidal invertebrates, and plants. Such major shifts alter species’ interactions and potentially threaten U.S. biodiversity.

4) Species composition within communities has changed in concert with local temperature rise. As species within a community change abundances or, ultimately, are added or lost, the relationships among species also change. In particular, such shifts in composition are likely to alter important competitive and predatory/prey relationships, which can reduce local or regional biodiversity. A particularly compelling example of this is the change observed over more than 60 years in the intertidal communities of Monterey, California, where a community previously dominated by northern colder-water species has been “infiltrated” by southern warmer-water species in response to oceanic warming. Similar changes have also been observed in nearby offshore marine fish communities. Thus, many protected lands, such as the marine reserve in Monterey Bay, are experiencing a shift in the communities that they protect.

5) Ecosystem processes such as carbon cycling and storage have been altered by climate change. The lengthening of the growing season has altered the annual cycle of carbon-dioxide (CO2) levels in the atmosphere, because plants are a major intermediary for carbon flow through ecosystems. The Alaskan tundra has switched from being a net sink of CO2 (absorbing and storing more carbon from the atmosphere than is released) to being a net source of CO2 (releasing more carbon than is stored), because warmer winters have allowed previously stored dead plant matter in the soil to decompose and release CO2. Like the tundra, boreal forests have become carbon sources because of reduced growth due to climate-mediated increases in water stress, pest outbreaks, and wildfires. Conversely, many of the forests of the lower 48 states have switched in the opposite direction—becoming carbon sinks in recent decades. This transition is attributed to regrowth of forests following logging and abandonment of agricultural fields.  However, it is expected to stop as soon as the forests mature.

6) The findings that climate change is affecting U.S. biological systems are consistent across different geographic scales and a variety of species, and these U.S. impacts reflect global trends. Even against a background of apparently dominating forces such as direct human-driven habitat destruction and alteration, a climate “fingerprint” is discernible in natural systems. The most rigorous studies within the United States provide strong evidence that climate change has affected the timing of biological events in at least three taxa (i.e., groups of related species). They also provide strong evidence that at least three taxa have shifted their ranges in response to climate change and that climate change has altered ecological communities and processes. Further, very few instances of biotic change run completely counter to climate-change predictions, and the findings of many of the U.S. studies are mirrored by studies elsewhere around the world. Climate change has the potential to degrade ecosystem functions vital to global health. If the observed biological changes are merely one phase in a cyclical pattern of warming and cooling periods, then they may not represent a threat to long-term species and ecosystem health. If, however, they are linked to anthropogenic climate change, they will continue along the same path. Thus, it is essential to address the extent to which the U.S. climate change responsible for observed ecological responses can be attributed to global emissions of anthropogenic greenhouse gases.

7) There is an emerging link between observed changes in wild plants and animals across the United States and human-driven global increases in greenhouse gases.   In 2001, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that the global rise in average yearly temperature over the past 50 years was primarily due to increased concentrations of anthropogenic greenhouse gases. U.S. climate trends are consistent with global climate trends. Global biological trends are predicted by (and match) observed climate trends, indicating that anthropogenic global climate change has affected natural systems. Recent research focusing on North America has also shown a significant greenhouse gas signal in North American climate trends over the past 50 years. The combination of strong consistency across climate and biological studies and across scales (from regional to global), coupled with new climate analyses specific to the United States, links U.S. biological changes to anthropogenic climate change. The implications of this link are that current biological trends will continue over future decades as greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise.

8) The addition of climate change to the mix of stressors already affecting valued habitats and endangered species will present a major challenge to future conservation of U.S. ecological resources. Many if not most of the ecosystems and organisms in the United States are already suffering from other anthropogenic stressors such as habitat destruction or fragmentation, introduction of invasive species, and contamination. As yet, scientists do not have a clear idea how climate change might affect this already fragile situation. It is likely, however, that in many cases climate change may exacerbate current conditions, further stressing wild species and their associated ecosystems. There is a growing consensus within the scientific community that climate change will compound existing threats and lead to an acceleration of the rate at which biodiversity is lost.

9) In the future, range contractions are more likely than simple northward or upslope shifts.  During historic glacial cycles, range shifts of hundreds to thousands of miles were common, and species extinction was rare. However, achieving such massive relocation is much more problematic across the human-dominated, artificially fragmented landscapes of today. The large reduction in the areas of natural habitats and the growth of barriers to species’ dispersal (urban and agricultural zones) makes simple range shifts unlikely. Species that are not adapted to urban and agricultural environments are likely to be confined to smaller total geographic areas as climate causes them to contract from their southern and lower boundaries.  Already rare or endangered species, or those living only on high mountaintops, are likely to have the highest risk of extinction.

10) Reducing the adverse effects of climate change on U.S. ecosystems can be facilitated through a broad range of strategies, including adaptive management, promotion of transitional habitat in nonpreserved areas, and the alleviation of nonclimate stressors. The protection of transitional habitat that links natural areas might assist in enabling species migration in response to climate change. Meanwhile, promoting dynamic design and management plans for nature reserves may enable managers to facilitate the adjustment of wild species to changing climate conditions (e.g., through active relocation programs). Also, because climate change may be particularly dangerous to natural systems when superimposed on already existing stressors, alleviation of the stress due to these other anthropogenic factors may help reduce their combined effects with climate change.

Conclusions

1) Sufficient studies now exist to conclude that the consequences of climate change are already detectable within U.S. ecosystems. This report reviews more than 40 studies that associate climate change with observed ecological impacts in the United States, and, using objective evaluation criteria, finds that more than half provide strong evidence of a direct link. These studies span a broad range of plant and animal species from various regions of the United States. Yet, despite the diversity among studies, the observed ecological responses are consistent with one another, as well as with the changes that one would expect based on the nature of U.S. climate change observed to date. 

2) The timing of important ecological events, including the flowering of plants and the breeding times of animals, has shifted, and these changes have occurred in conjunction with changes in U.S. climate. If these timing shifts are synchronous across species that normally interact with each other (for example, if adult butterflies and the flowers they depend on for nectar both emerge two weeks earlier), then these species’ interactions are preserved, and the system may remain healthy. On the other hand, if responses to temperature increases vary across species (for example, if butterflies emerge before the flowers they depend on for survival), then species’ interactions may become out of synchrony and could lead to population declines. Both types of situations have been documented.

3) Geographic ranges of some plants and animals have shifted northward and upward in elevation, and in some cases, contracted. One of the most detailed and best-studied examples is the Edith’s checkerspot butterfly in the western United States. As temperatures have increased over the last century, many southern and lower-elevation populations of this species have disappeared entirely. The effect of this shift has been a contraction of the species’ range to the north (i.e., it is disappearing from Mexico but thriving in Canada).  The red fox, another example, has shifted northward and is now encroaching on the arctic fox’s range, threatening its survival. Similar range shifts within the United States have also been observed in organisms as diverse as birds, mammals, intertidal invertebrates, and plants. Such major shifts alter species’ interactions and potentially threaten U.S. biodiversity.

4) Species composition within communities has changed in concert with local temperature rise. As species within a community change abundances or, ultimately, are added or lost, the relationships among species also change. In particular, such shifts in composition are likely to alter important competitive and predatory/prey relationships, which can reduce local or regional biodiversity. A particularly compelling example of this is the change observed over more than 60 years in the intertidal communities of Monterey, California, where a community previously dominated by northern colder-water species has been “infiltrated” by southern warmer-water species in response to oceanic warming. Similar changes have also been observed in nearby offshore marine fish communities. Thus, many protected lands, such as the marine reserve in Monterey Bay, are experiencing a shift in the communities that they protect.

5) Ecosystem processes such as carbon cycling and storage have been altered by climate change. The lengthening of the growing season has altered the annual cycle of carbon-dioxide (CO2) levels in the atmosphere, because plants are a major intermediary for carbon flow through ecosystems. The Alaskan tundra has switched from being a net sink of CO2 (absorbing and storing more carbon from the atmosphere than is released) to being a net source of CO2 (releasing more carbon than is stored), because warmer winters have allowed previously stored dead plant matter in the soil to decompose and release CO2. Like the tundra, boreal forests have become carbon sources because of reduced growth due to climate-mediated increases in water stress, pest outbreaks, and wildfires. Conversely, many of the forests of the lower 48 states have switched in the opposite direction—becoming carbon sinks in recent decades. This transition is attributed to regrowth of forests following logging and abandonment of agricultural fields.  However, it is expected to stop as soon as the forests mature.

6) The findings that climate change is affecting U.S. biological systems are consistent across different geographic scales and a variety of species, and these U.S. impacts reflect global trends. Even against a background of apparently dominating forces such as direct human-driven habitat destruction and alteration, a climate “fingerprint” is discernible in natural systems. The most rigorous studies within the United States provide strong evidence that climate change has affected the timing of biological events in at least three taxa (i.e., groups of related species). They also provide strong evidence that at least three taxa have shifted their ranges in response to climate change and that climate change has altered ecological communities and processes. Further, very few instances of biotic change run completely counter to climate-change predictions, and the findings of many of the U.S. studies are mirrored by studies elsewhere around the world. Climate change has the potential to degrade ecosystem functions vital to global health. If the observed biological changes are merely one phase in a cyclical pattern of warming and cooling periods, then they may not represent a threat to long-term species and ecosystem health. If, however, they are linked to anthropogenic climate change, they will continue along the same path. Thus, it is essential to address the extent to which the U.S. climate change responsible for observed ecological responses can be attributed to global emissions of anthropogenic greenhouse gases.

7) There is an emerging link between observed changes in wild plants and animals across the United States and human-driven global increases in greenhouse gases.   In 2001, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that the global rise in average yearly temperature over the past 50 years was primarily due to increased concentrations of anthropogenic greenhouse gases. U.S. climate trends are consistent with global climate trends. Global biological trends are predicted by (and match) observed climate trends, indicating that anthropogenic global climate change has affected natural systems. Recent research focusing on North America has also shown a significant greenhouse gas signal in North American climate trends over the past 50 years. The combination of strong consistency across climate and biological studies and across scales (from regional to global), coupled with new climate analyses specific to the United States, links U.S. biological changes to anthropogenic climate change. The implications of this link are that current biological trends will continue over future decades as greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise.

8) The addition of climate change to the mix of stressors already affecting valued habitats and endangered species will present a major challenge to future conservation of U.S. ecological resources. Many if not most of the ecosystems and organisms in the United States are already suffering from other anthropogenic stressors such as habitat destruction or fragmentation, introduction of invasive species, and contamination. As yet, scientists do not have a clear idea how climate change might affect this already fragile situation. It is likely, however, that in many cases climate change may exacerbate current conditions, further stressing wild species and their associated ecosystems. There is a growing consensus within the scientific community that climate change will compound existing threats and lead to an acceleration of the rate at which biodiversity is lost.

9) In the future, range contractions are more likely than simple northward or upslope shifts.  During historic glacial cycles, range shifts of hundreds to thousands of miles were common, and species extinction was rare. However, achieving such massive relocation is much more problematic across the human-dominated, artificially fragmented landscapes of today. The large reduction in the areas of natural habitats and the growth of barriers to species’ dispersal (urban and agricultural zones) makes simple range shifts unlikely. Species that are not adapted to urban and agricultural environments are likely to be confined to smaller total geographic areas as climate causes them to contract from their southern and lower boundaries.  Already rare or endangered species, or those living only on high mountaintops, are likely to have the highest risk of extinction.

10) Reducing the adverse effects of climate change on U.S. ecosystems can be facilitated through a broad range of strategies, including adaptive management, promotion of transitional habitat in nonpreserved areas, and the alleviation of nonclimate stressors. The protection of transitional habitat that links natural areas might assist in enabling species migration in response to climate change. Meanwhile, promoting dynamic design and management plans for nature reserves may enable managers to facilitate the adjustment of wild species to changing climate conditions (e.g., through active relocation programs). Also, because climate change may be particularly dangerous to natural systems when superimposed on already existing stressors, alleviation of the stress due to these other anthropogenic factors may help reduce their combined effects with climate change.

Camilla Parmesan
Hector Galbraith
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Climate Data: Insights and Observations

Climate Data Report Cover

Climate Data: Insights and Observations

Prepared for the Pew Center on Global Climate Change
November 2004

By:
Kevin Baumert, Jonathan Pershing, with contributions from Timothy Herzog, Matthew Markoff, World Resources Institute

Press Release

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Descargar el reportaje en español (pdf)

Jonathan Pershing
Kevin Baumert
Matthew Markoff
Timothy Herzog
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Global Warming and the Arctic FAQs

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Why is the arctic warming faster than the rest of the world? What will the impacts on the United States be? Is Alaska already being affected? Answers to these frequently asked questions can be found below.

What is the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment?

Who prepared the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment reports?

What are the Arctic Council and the International Arctic Science Committee?

When will the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment reports be released?

Why study the effects of global warming on the Arctic?

How will warming in the Arctic affect the rest of the world?

How will warming in the Arctic affect the United States?

Why is the Arctic warming so quickly?

What is the Ice-Albedo Feedback?

How will the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment be used?

Other Resources


What is the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment?

The Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA) is an international project to collect and evaluate knowledge on climate variability, global warming, and increased UV radiation in the Arctic and their effects on the Arctic region, its ecosystems and communities. The final ACIA will consist of three reports: a scientific report, a synthesis report, and a policy report.

The science report will detail the current state of scientific knowledge concerning climate change and its effects in the arctic. The synthesis report will be a comprehensive, but less detailed, review of the science report. The policy report will provide policy recommendations for governments working together to reduce the adverse effects of global warming.

Senators Joe Lieberman (D-CT) and John McCain (R-AZ) have applauded the efforts of the scientists responsible for this new report that "reveals dire consequences of human caused global warming in the Arctic." Read the press release Lieberman, McCain Highlight New Report Showing Dire Consequences of Global Warming.

Who prepared the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment reports?

The ACIA was launched in 2000 and has been conducted as a joint initiative between the Arctic Council and the International Arctic Science Committee (IASC). The ACIA is managed through its Secretariat office, located at the International Arctic Research Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Funding has been provided by the U.S. National Science Foundation and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

More than 300 scientists and six arctic indigenous peoples’ organizations have participated in preparing the reports. Another 225 additional researchers not directly affiliated with the ACIA served as peer-reviewers for the scientific and synthesis reports to ensure scientific quality and accuracy.

What are the Arctic Council and the International Arctic Science Committee?

The Arctic Council is an intergovernmental organization (whose members include Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation, Sweden and the United States) that collaborates to address the common concerns and challenges faced by the Arctic governments and the people of the Arctic. For more information, see the Arctic Council website.

The International Arctic Science Committee is a non-governmental organization that facilitates cooperation in all aspects of arctic research. For more information, see the International Arctic Science Committee website.

When will the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment reports be released?

The ACIA synthesis and scientific reports was released during the ACIA International Scientific Symposium in Reykjavik, Iceland, November 9th-12th 2004. The release of the policy report has been scheduled for November 24th. For more information, see the ACIA website.

Why study the effects of global warming on the Arctic?

For years, climate scientists have believed that the Artic would likely be one of the first regions to be affected by global warming and would likely experience greater warming than the rest of the world. Recent evidence has validated these concerns. While the world as a whole warmed about 1oF over the entire 20th century, parts of the Arctic have warmed by 4-5oF just since the 1950s.

The Arctic continues to warm at a rate about twice as fast as rest of the world. Scientists, as well as the indigenous people of the Arctic, have noticed dramatic changes in the Arctic environment that has affected ecosystems and wildlife, human settlements and infrastructure, and the way of life of indigenous peoples.

For these reasons, the ACIA was undertaken to evaluate whether these changes are caused by human activities; how Arctic climate change may affect climate change in the rest of the world; and the risks of continued global warming for the Arctic, its people, and its ecosystems and wildlife.

How will warming in the Arctic affect the rest of the world?

Climate change in the Arctic is expected to affect other parts of the world. The melting of ice masses in the Arctic could contribute significantly to global sea-level rise, and the addition of that fresh water to the salty oceans could change global ocean circulation patterns. Arctic tundra also stores huge amounts of carbon, which could be released to the atmosphere during a thaw, further enhancing the greenhouse effect and global warming.

How will warming in the Arctic affect the United States?

Some of these impacts are detailed in our report, “Observed Impacts of Climate Change on Natural Systems in the United States” by Camille Parmesan of and Hector Galbraith, released on November 10, 2004. Observed impacts in Alaska include the northward migration of treelines, increased melting of permafrost and the release of carbon dioxide from the thawing tundra, and changes in competition between species such as the arctic and red fox.

Additionial research on environmental impacts from global warming:

Why is the Arctic warming so quickly?

The rapid warming that has been observed in the Arctic and is projected to continue well into the future is caused by a number of factors, but one of the most important is the so-called “ice-albedo feedback.” It is uncertain what percentage of the observed warming is explained by the ice-albedo feedback, because there are other possible influences, such as natural variability in Arctic temperatures and the transport of heat to the Arctic by the oceans.

What is the Ice-Albedo Feedback?

In addition to increasing global temperatures, global warming contributes to the melting of polar ice over the Arctic Ocean and land surfaces. Such ice masses have a high albedo, meaning they reflect more incoming solar radiation than many other surfaces. As the Arctic warms and the ice melts, the uncovered land or water has a lower albedo, or a lower reflectivity. As a result, more solar radiation is absorbed at the surface, which amplifies the warming effect.

How will the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment be used?

The ACIA will provide a valuable scientific analysis of climate change in the Arctic region and how the Arctic interacts with the global climate. Undoubtedly, the ACIA will call attention to the physical changes that have and are occurring in the Arctic and their effects on the Arctic’s indigenous peoples as well as its natural resources.

The ACIA will also be the primary assessment of possible future consequences of climate change. It explores adaptation, mitigation, and research options for limiting the adverse consequences of climate change and will help improve scientific understanding of Arctic and global climate change.

Other Resources:

An Effective Approach to Climate Change

POLICY FORUM: CLIMATE POLICY

An Effective Approach to Climate Change

By Eileen Claussen

Enhanced online at www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/306/5697/816
Originally published October 29, 2004: VOL 306 SCIENCE

The Bush Administration’s “business as usual” climate change policy (1), with limited R&D investments, no mandates for action, and no plan for adapting to climate change, is inadequate. We must start now to reduce emissions and to spur the investments necessary to reduce future emissions. We also need a proactive approach to adaptation to limit the severity and costs of climate change impacts.

Science and Economics

Those who are opposed to national climate change policies make much of the uncertainties in climate models, specifically the rate and magnitude of global warming. The Climate Change Science Program’s plan, points out Secretary Abraham, would address these uncertainties, although he offers no assurances that the program will be adequately funded. However, the scientific community already agrees on three key points: global warming is occurring; the primary cause is fossil fuel consumption; and if we don’t act now to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, it will get worse.

Yes, there are uncertainties in future trends of GHG emissions. However, even if we were able to stop emitting GHGs today, warming will continue due to the GHGs already in the atmosphere (2).

National climate change policy has not changed significantly for several years. The first President Bush pursued a strategy of scientific research and voluntary GHG emissions reductions. The new Climate Change Science Program has a budget comparable, in inflation-adjusted dollars, to its predecessor, the Global Climate Research Program, during the mid-1990s. The Administration’s current GHG intensity target will increase absolute emissions roughly 14% above 2000 levels and 30% above 1990 levels by 2010 (3). These increases will make future mitigation efforts much more difficult and costly.

While reducing uncertainty is important, we must also focus on achieving substantial emissions reductions and adapting to climate change.

Low-Carbon Technology Development

The Administration’s more substantive R&D initiatives, such as Hydrogen Fuels and FutureGen (clean coal) are relatively modest investments in technologies that are decades away from deployment. We need a far more vigorous effort to promote energy efficient technologies; to prepare for the hydrogen economy; to develop affordable carbon capture and sequestration technologies; and to spur the growth of renewable energy, biofuels, and coal-bed methane capture.

Equally important, we need to encourage public and private investment in a wide-ranging portfolio of low-carbon technologies. Despite the availability of such technologies for energy, transportation, and manufacturing, there is little motivation for industry to use them. Widespread use of new technology is most likely when there are clear and consistent policy signals from the government (4).

One-fifth of U.S. emissions comes from cars and trucks (5). The Administration’s targets to improve fuel economy for light trucks and “sports utility” vehicles (SUVs) by 1.5 miles per gallon over the next three model years fall far short of what is already possible. California is setting much more ambitious emission standards for cars and light trucks. Current efficiency standards can be improved by 12% for subcompacts to 27% for larger cars without compromising performance (5).Hybrid vehicles can already achieve twice the fuel efficiency of the average car.

About one-third of U.S. emissions results from generating energy for buildings (6). Policies that increase energy efficiency using building codes, appliance efficiency standards, tax incentives, product efficiency labeling, and Energy Star programs, can significantly reduce emissions and operating costs. Policies that promote renewable energy can reduce emissions and spur innovation.Sixteen states have renewable energy mandates (7).

The Power of the Marketplace

Policies that are market driven can help achieve environmental targets cost-effectively. A sustained price signal, through a cap-and-trade program, was identified as the most effective policy driver by a group of leaders from state and local governments, industry, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) (8).

Senators Lieberman (D–CT) and McCain’s (R–AZ) 2003 Climate Stewardship Act proposes a market-based approach to cap GHG emissions at 2000 levels by 2010. The bill, opposed by the Administration, garnered the support of 44 Senators. Nine Northeastern states are developing a regional “cap-and-trade” initiative to reduce power plant emissions. An important first step would be mandatory GHG emissions reporting.

Adapting to Climate Change

An important issue that Secretary Abraham failed to address is the need for anticipating and adapting to the climate change we are already facing. Economic sectors with long-lived investments, such as water resources, coastal resources, and energy may have difficulty adapting (9). A proactive approach to adaptation could limit the severity and costs of the impacts of climate change.

By limiting emissions and promoting technological change, the United States could put itself on a path to a low-carbon future by 2050, cost-effectively. Achieving this will require a much more explicit and comprehensive national commitment than we have seen to date. The rest of the developed world, including Japan and the European Union, is already setting emission-reduction targets and enacting carbon-trading schemes. Far from “leading the way” on climate change at home and around the world, as Secretary Abraham suggested, the United States has fallen behind.

References and Notes

1. S. Abraham, Science 305, 616 (2004). |
2. R. T. Wetherald, R. J. Stouffer, K. W. Dixon, Geophys. Res. Lett. 28, 1535 (2001).
3. “Analysis of President Bush’s climate change plan” (Pew Center on Global Climate Change,Arlington,VA, February 2002); available at www.c2es.org.
4. J. Alic, D. Mowery, E. Rubin, “U.S. technology and innovation policies: Lessons for climate change” (Pew Center on Global Climate Change,Arlington,VA, 2003).
5. National Research Council, “The effectiveness and impact of corporate average fuel economy (CAFÉ) standards” (National Academies Press, Washington, DC, 2002).
6. “U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and sinks: 1990–2002”(EPA/430-R-04-003, Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DC, 2002), Table 3–6.2002.
7. Workshop proceedings, “The 10-50 solution: Technologies and policies for a low-carbon future,”Washington, DC, 25 and 26 March 2004 (The Pew Center on Global Climate Change and the National Commission on Energy Policy, Arlington,VA, in press).
8. J. Smith, “A synthesis of potential climate change impacts on the United States” (Pew Center on Global Climate Change, Arlington,VA, 2004). Published by AAAS

by Eileen Claussen, President— Appeared in Science, October 29, 2004
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The Role of Adaptation in the U.S.

Climate Change Adaptation Cover  

Coping with Global Climate Change: The Role of Adaptation in the United States

Prepared for the Pew Center on Global Climate Change
June 2004

By:
William Easterling of Pennsylvania State University
Brian Hurd of New Mexico State University
Joel Smith of Stratus Consulting Inc.


Press Release

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Foreword

 

Eileen Claussen, President, Pew Center on Global Climate Change

Throughout the next century and beyond, global climate change will have significant effects on both important economic sectors and natural resources across the United States.   Global temperatures are projected to increase 2.5-10.4oF by 2100, and at least some of this warming is now unavoidable.   Although the natural streams, wetlands, and biodiversity of the United States have a limited capacity to adapt to a changing climate, those systems that are managed by humans, such as agriculture, water resources, and coastal development can be handled in ways to reduce the severity of adverse impacts. 

Adaptation and Global Climate Change discusses how the United States might cope with anticipated climate change impacts in the coming decades.   This report provides a review of the role of adaptation in addressing climate change, the options available for increasing our ability to adapt, and the extent to which adaptation can reduce the consequences of climate change to the U.S. economy and natural resources.  Report authors Bill Easterling, Brian Hurd, and Joel Smith find:

  • Adaptation is an important complement to greenhouse gas mitigation policies. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is the only effective mechanism for preventing adverse impacts of climate change.  However, given that additional future climate change is now inevitable regardless of mitigation efforts, adaptation is an essential strategy for reducing the severity and cost of climate change impacts.
     
  • Adapting to climate change will not be a smooth or cost-free endeavor.  Although the United States has diverse options and resources for adapting to the adverse effects of climate change, changes will be made in an atmosphere of uncertainty.  Substantial investments and adjustments will need to be made even with imperfect information or foresight, and successful adaptation will become even more challenging with more rapid rates or greater degrees of warming.
     
  • Managed systems will fare better than natural systems and some regions will face greater obstacles than others. Even if there are some successes in adapting to climate change at the national level, there will still be regional and sectoral losers.  In particular, there is limited ability for humans to improve the adaptive capacity of natural ecosystems, which are not as easily managed and which face degradation from multiple stresses.
     
  • Proactive approaches to adaptation are more likely to avoid or reduce damages than reactive responses.   Anticipatory planning among government institutions and important economic sectors will enhance the resilience to the effects of climate change.  Government at all levels should consider the implications of climate change when making investments in long-lived infrastructure.

The authors and the Pew Center gratefully acknowledge the input of Drs. Gary Yohe and Paul Kirshen on this report.

Executive Summary

 

Climate change resulting from increased greenhouse gas concentrations has the potential to harm societies and ecosystems. In particular, agriculture, forestry, water resources, human health, coastal settlements, and natural ecosystems will need to adapt to a changing climate or face diminished functions. Reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases and their concentration in the atmosphere will tend to reduce the degree and likelihood that significantly adverse conditions will result. Consideration of actions—e.g., mitigation policy—that can reduce this likelihood is reasonable and prudent, and has generally been the primary focus of public attention and policy efforts on climate change. However, recognition is increasing that the combination of continued increases in emissions and the inertia of the climate system means that some degree of climate change is inevitable. Even if extreme measures could be instantly taken to curtail global emissions, the momentum of the earth’s climate is such that warming cannot be completely avoided. Although essential for limiting the extent, and indeed the probability, of rapid and severe climate change, mitigation is not, and this paper argues, should not be, the only protective action in society’s arsenal of responses.

Adaptation actions and strategies present a complementary approach to mitigation. While mitigation can be viewed as reducing the likelihood of adverse conditions, adaptation can be viewed as reducing the severity of many impacts if adverse conditions prevail. That is, adaptation reduces the level of damages that might have otherwise occurred. However, adaptation is a risk-management strategy that is not free of cost nor foolproof, and the worthiness of any specific actions must therefore carefully weigh the expected value of the avoided damages against the real costs of implementing the adaptation strategy.

Adaptation to environmental change is a fundamental human trait and is not a new concept. Throughout the ages, human societies have shown a strong capacity for adapting to different climates and environmental changes, although not always successfully. As evidenced by the widespread and climatically diverse location of human settlements throughout the world, humans have learned how to thrive in a wide variety of climate regimes, ranging from cold to hot and from humid to dry. The resilience and flexibility exhibited in the patterns of human settlements evidence an inherent desire and some measure of capacity to adapt.

For human systems, the success of adaptation depends critically on the availability of necessary resources, not only financial and natural resources, but also knowledge, technical capability, and institutional resources. The types and levels of required resources, in turn, depend fundamentally on the nature and abruptness of the actual or anticipated environmental change and the range of considered responses.

The processes of adaptation to climate change in both human and natural systems are highly complex and dynamic, often entailing many feedbacks and dependencies on existing local and temporal conditions. The uncertainties introduced by the complexity, scale and limited experience with respect to anthropogenic climate change explains the limited level of applied research conducted thus far on adaptation, the reliance on mechanistic assumptions, and widespread use of scenarios and historical analogues. In addition, many social, economic, technological and environmental trends will critically shape the future ability of societal systems to adapt to climate change. While such factors as increased population and wealth will likely increase the potential level of material assets that are exposed to the risks of climate change, greater wealth and improved technology also extend the resources and perhaps the capabilities to adapt to climate change. These trends must be taken into account when evaluating the nature and scale of future adaptive responses and the likelihood that they will succeed.

The implications of climate change are more dire for natural systems, because it will be difficult for many species to change behavior or migrate in response to climate change. While biological systems might accommodate minor (or slowly occurring) perturbations in a smooth continuous fashion, even minor changes in climate may be disruptive for many ecosystems and individual species. In addition, many of the world’s species are currently stressed by a variety of factors including urban development, pollution, invasive species, and fractured (or isolated) habitats. Such conditions, coupled with the relatively rapid rate of anticipated climate change, are likely to challenge many species’ resiliency and chances for successful adaptation.

Key insights and findings on adaptation and its potential for success are summarized below:

  1. Adaptation and mitigation are necessary and complementary for a comprehensive and coordinated strategy that addresses the problem of global climate change. By lessening the severity of possible damages, adaptation is a key defensive measure. Adaptation is particularly important given the mounting evidence that some degree of climate change is inevitable. Recognizing a role for adaptation does not, however, diminish or detract from the importance of mitigation in reducing the rate and likelihood of significant climate change.
     
  2. The literature indicates that U.S. society can on the whole adapt with either net gains or some costs if warming occurs at the lower end of the projected range of magnitude, assuming no change in climate variability and generally making optimistic assumptions about adaptation. However, with a much larger magnitude of warming, even making relatively optimistic assumptions about adaptation, many sectors would experience net losses and higher costs. The thresholds in terms of magnitudes or rates of change (including possible non-linear responses) in climate that will pose difficulty for adaptation are uncertain. In addition, it is uncertain how much of an increase in frequency, intensity, or persistence of extreme weather events the United States can tolerate.
     
  3. To say that society as a whole “can adapt“ does not mean that regions and peoples will not suffer losses. For example, while the agricultural sector as a whole may successfully adapt, some regions may gain and others may lose. Agriculture in many northern regions is expected to adapt to climate change by taking advantage of changing climatic conditions to expand production, but agriculture in many southern regions is expected to contract with warmer, drier temperatures. Individual farmers not benefiting from adaptation may lose their livelihood.  In addition, other individuals or populations in these and other regions can be at risk, because they could be adversely affected by climate change and lack the capacity to adapt.  This is particularly true of relatively low-income individuals and groups whose livelihoods are depending on resources at risk by climate change.
     
  4. Adaptation is not likely to be a smooth process or free of costs. While studies and history show that society can on the whole adapt to a moderate amount of warming, it is reasonable to expect that mistakes will be made and costs will be incurred along the way. People are neither so foolish as to continue doing what they have always done in the face of climate change, nor so omniscient as to perfectly understand what will need to be done and to carry it out most efficiently. In reality, we are more likely to muddle through, taking adaptive actions as necessary, but often not doing what may be needed for optimal or ideal adaptation. Additionally, adaptation is an on-going process rather than a one-shot instantaneous occurrence.  Compounding society’s shortcomings, a more rapid, variable, or generally unpredictable climate change would add further challenges to adaptation.
     
  5. Effects on ecosystems, and on species diversity in particular, are expected to be negative at all but perhaps the lowest magnitudes of climate change because of the limited ability of natural systems to adapt. Although biological systems have an inherent capacity to adapt to changes in environmental conditions, given the rapid rate of projected climate change, adaptive capacity is likely to be exceeded for many species. Furthermore, the ability of ecosystems to adapt to climate change is severely limited by the effects of urbanization, barriers to migration paths, and fragmentation of ecosystems, all of which have already critically stressed ecosystems independent of climate change itself.
     
  6. Institutional design and structure can heighten or diminish society’s exposure to climate risks. Long-standing institutions, such as disaster relief payments and insurance programs, affect adaptive capacity. Coastal zoning, land-use planning, and building codes are all examples of institutions that can contribute to (or detract from) the capacity to withstand climate changes in efficient and effective ways.
     
  7. Proactive adaptation can reduce U.S. vulnerability to climate change. Proactive adaptation can improve capacities to cope with climate change by taking climate change into account in long-term decision-making, removing disincentives for changing behavior in response to climate change (such as removing subsidies for maladaptive activities), and introducing incentives to modify behavior in response to climate change (such as the use of market-based mechanisms to promote adaptive responses). Furthermore, improving and strengthening human capital through education, outreach, and extension services improves decision-making capacity at every level and increases the collective capacity to adapt.

Conclusions

 

As the climate-change research and policy communities fully confront the challenges of understanding and managing adaptation to climate change, the issues framed in this report provide important insight concerning the information needed to make appropriate policy choices regarding adaptation. The following conclusions provide initial guidance to those communities:

  1. Adaptation and mitigation are necessary and complementary for a comprehensive and coordinated strategy that addresses the problem of global climate change. By lessening the severity of possible damages, adaptation is a key defensive measure. Adaptation is particularly important given the mounting evidence that some degree of climate change is inevitable. Recognizing a role for adaptation does not, however, diminish or detract from the importance of mitigation in reducing the rate and likelihood of significant climate change.
     
  2. The literature indicates that U.S. society can on the whole adapt with either net gains or some costs if warming occurs at the lower end of the projected range of magnitude, assuming no change in climate variability and generally making optimistic assumptions about adaptation. However, with a much larger magnitude of warming, even making relatively optimistic assumptions about adaptation, many sectors would experience net losses and higher costs. The thresholds in terms of magnitudes or rates of change (including possible non-linear responses) in climate that will pose difficulty for adaptation are uncertain. In addition, it is uncertain how much of an increase in frequency, intensity, or persistence of extreme weather events the United States can tolerate.
     
  3. To say that society as a whole “can adapt“ does not mean that regions and peoples will not suffer losses. For example, while the agricultural sector as a whole may successfully adapt, some regions may gain and others may lose. Agriculture in many northern regions is expected to adapt to climate change by taking advantage of changing climatic conditions to expand production, but agriculture in many southern regions is expected to contract with warmer, drier temperatures. Individual farmers not benefiting from adaptation may lose their livelihood. In addition, other individuals or populations in these and other regions can be at risk, because they could be adversely affected by climate change and lack the capacity to adapt.  This is particularly true of relatively low-income individuals and groups whose livelihoods are depending on resources at risk by climate change.
     
  4. Adaptation is not likely to be a smooth process or free of costs. While studies and history show that society can on the whole adapt to a moderate amount of warming, it is reasonable to expect that mistakes will be made and costs will be incurred along the way. People are neither so foolish as to continue doing what they have always done in the face of climate change, nor so omniscient as to perfectly understand what will need to be done and to carry it out most efficiently. In reality, we are more likely to muddle through, taking adaptive actions as necessary, but often not doing what may be needed for optimal or ideal adaptation. Additionally, adaptation is an on-going process rather than a one-shot instantaneous occurrence.  Compounding society’s shortcomings, a more rapid, variable, or generally unpredictable climate change would add further challenges to adaptation.
     
  5. Effects on ecosystems, and on species diversity in particular, are expected to be negative at all but perhaps the lowest magnitudes of climate change because of the limited ability of natural systems to adapt. Although biological systems have an inherent capacity to adapt to changes in environmental conditions, given the rapid rate of projected climate change, adaptive capacity is likely to be exceeded for many species. Furthermore, the ability of ecosystems to adapt to climate change is severely limited by the effects of urbanization, barriers to migration paths, and fragmentation of ecosystems, all of which have already critically stressed ecosystems independent of climate change itself.
     
  6. Institutional design and structure can heighten or diminish society’s exposure to climate risks. Long-standing institutions, such as disaster relief payments and insurance programs, affect adaptive capacity. Coastal zoning, land-use planning, and building codes are all examples of institutions that can contribute to (or detract from) the capacity to withstand climate changes in efficient and effective ways. 
     
  7. Proactive adaptation can reduce U.S. vulnerability to climate change. Proactive adaptation can improve capacities to cope with climate change by taking climate change into account in long-term decision-making, removing disincentives for changing behavior in response to climate change (such as removing subsidies for maladaptive activities), and introducing incentives to modify behavior in response to climate change (such as the use of market-based mechanisms to promote adaptive responses). Furthermore, improving and strengthening human capital through education, outreach, and extension services improves decision-making capacity at every level and increases the collective capacity to adapt.

About the Authors

 

Dr. William E. Easterling
Dr. William E. Easterling is the Director of the Institutes of Environment and a professor of geography and agronomy at Pennsylvania State University.   Prior to joining the faculty at Penn State, Dr. Easterling held appointments in the Department of Agricultural Meteorology at the University of Nebraska (1991-1997), Resources for the Future, Inc. in Washington, DC (1987-1991), and the Illinois State Water Survey at the University of Illinois (1984-1987).  He received his doctorate in geography from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  Dr. Easterling's research concerns the interactions of human activities with their climatic and biotic environment, particularly the potential effects of climate changes from greenhouse warming on agroecosystem productivity and adaptation in both developed and developing countries. He also serves or has served on numerous national and international scientific advisory committees and assessment projects, including those of the National Research Council, the National Science Foundation, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the U. S. Department of Energy. He served as the Acting Director of the Department of Energy's National Institute for Global Environmental Change (1996-1998), and he was a convening lead author for the Third Assessment Report of the United Nations/World Meteorological Organization's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In the winter of 2003, he co-chaired newly elected Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell's Transition Committee on Conservation and Natural Resources and was elected to serve as the Chair of the Penn State University Research Council for 2003-2004.

Brian H. Hurd, New Mexico State University
Brian H. Hurd is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Agricultural Economics and Agricultural Business at New Mexico State University. Dr. Hurd earned his PhD and MS degrees in Agricultural Economics from the University of California, Davis, and holds a BA from the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Dr. Hurd is the author of numerous articles, book chapters and conference presentations on natural and environmental resource economics, water resource economics, and climate change vulnerability and adaptation. He is a delegate to the Universities Council on Water Resources (UCOWR), and is a member of the American Agricultural Economics Association, the Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, the American Water Resources Association, and the Western Agricultural Economics Association. 

Joel B. Smith, Stratus Consulting Inc.
Joel B. Smith is the Vice President of Stratus Consulting Inc. Mr. Smith received a BA from Williams College, and received an MPP from the University of Michigan.

Mr. Smith has examined climate change impacts and adaptation issues for the U.S. Country Studies Program, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Office of Technology Assessment, the Electric Power Research Institute, the World Bank, the Global Environment Facility, the United Nations Environment Programme, and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

Before joining Stratus Consulting, Mr. Smith was the deputy director of the U.S. EPA's Climate Change Division. He was a coeditor of EPA's Report to Congress: The Potential Effects of Global Climate Change on the United States, published in 1989; As Climate Changes: International Impacts and Implications, published by Cambridge University Press in 1995; Adaptation to Climate Change: Assessments and Issues, published by Springer-Verlag in 1996; and Climate Change, Adaptive Capacity and Development published by Imperial College Press in 2003. Mr. Smith worked for the EPA from 1984 to 1992. Besides working on climate change issues, he also served as an analyst examining oceans and water regulations, and was a special assistant to the Assistant Administrator for the Office of Policy, Planning and Evaluation.

Brian Hurd
Joel Smith
William Easterling
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