Science

Leading Source on Global Warming Issues Eileen Claussen Provides Data-Based Information to Inform Federal Decision Makers

Leading Source on Global Warming Issues--Eileen Claussen--Provides Data-Based Information to Inform Federal Decision Makers

Question and Answer with The Pew Charitable Trusts

July 2002

PEW WIRE: Is human-induced climate change occurring? What scientific evidence exists to substantiate this and what are some anticipated effects of climate change?

CLAUSSEN: Multiple lines of evidence provide independent validation of the reality of anthropogenic climate change. Scientists have observed warming over the past century in the atmosphere, at the earth's surface, and in the oceans as well. These trends cannot be explained without considering increasing atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations--including those generated from human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation. In conjunction with this warming, scientists are also seeing increases in precipitation, retreat of glaciers around the world, reductions in Arctic sea-ice, and the continuation of a long upward trend in global sea-level. There is also some evidence that the world's wildlife are starting to respond to the warming such as earlier reproduction times in plants and animals and changes in the geographic distribution of some species.

PEW WIRE: Can you recap of the political history of climate change?

CLAUSSEN: Governments launched the international effort against climate change with signing in 1992, at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janiero, of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The convention set an ultimate objective of stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. Developed countries, agreeing to take the lead, adopted a non-binding aim of returning their emissions to 1990 levels by 2000.

Three years later, recognizing that the voluntary target was insufficient and that most countries would not meet it, parties to the Convention agreed to negotiate new, binding targets for developed countries. Five months before the negotiations were to conclude, in July 1997, the U.S. Senate adopted the BrydHagel resolution, saying the United States should not sign a binding treaty if it would cause undue economic harm or did not include new commitments for developing countries. In December 1997, the Clinton administration agreed to the Kyoto Protocol, setting binding targets for developed countries only (for the United States, 7 percent below 1990 emissions by 2008-2012). (Countries included in Annex B to the Kyoto Protocol and their emission targets.) However, President Clinton did not submit Kyoto to the Senate for ratification.

Shortly after taking office, President Bush rejected the Kyoto Protocol. Despite the U.S. withdrawal, other countries are moving ahead with Kyoto. Japan and the European Union have ratified the Protocol, and Russia is expected to within the next year, meeting the necessary threshold for bringing the treaty into force. In February, President Bush presented a new climate change strategy with a non-binding target of reducing U.S. greenhouse gas intensity (define) 18 percent by 2010. However, this target essentially continues the trends in greenhouse gas intensity reduction seen over the past two decades and translates into a 12 percent increase in actual emissions. It would allow U.S. emissions to rise to 30 percent above 1990 levels by 2010. Click here to view the Pew Center's analysis of President Bush's climate change plan.

PEW WIRE: How does the Pew Center fit into the climate change puzzle?

CLAUSSEN: The Pew Center on Global Climate change is dedicated to providing credible information, straight answers, and innovative solutions in the effort to address global climate change. Established in 1998, the independent, non-profit, nonpartisan Pew Center has become the leading voice for concrete, cost-effective action against climate change. We work with top scientists and economists to unravel the complexities of climate change and with government leaders in Washington and abroad to put in place both policy and practical solutions. The Pew Center also works with leading corporations to develop solutions that are both practical and effective. The 38 members of the Business Environmental Leadership Council come together through the Pew Center to develop and share climate change strategies, with a principal focus on market-based approaches. Companies also set emissions reduction targets. BP, for example, met its target to reduce GHG emissions by 10% from 1990 levels in 2010 seven years early and Dupont will reduce emissions by 65% below 1990 levels by 2010. All these facets of the Pew Center mission contribute to our goal of providing a smooth transition to a clean energy economy that ensures both a stable climate and strong, sustainable growth. View a full list of policy, economic, and scientific analysis and reports.

PEW WIRE: Taking into account the political, scientific and economic aspects of climate change, why is now a particularly good time to begin seriously addressing climate change issues?

CLAUSSEN: An immediate signal that initiates action is required in order to provide a smooth and cost-effective transition to a stable concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere--a challenge that will take decades, if not generations, to address. A recent Pew Center brief, The Timing of Climate Change Policy, identifies many compelling reasons to begin taking action now, including: the substantial future climate change that is already inevitable and its potential to generate serious environmental impacts; the opportunity to learn about the economys responsiveness in order to construct an optimal policy path over time; the need to manage possible future GDP losses; and the need to provide time and incentives for a broadly-based technological response to the problem.

The argument that delay is the best strategy for addressing global climate change runs counter to what we understand about technology, the economy and climate science itself. It risks allowing significant escalation of the problem while providing little in the way of a momentum towards a long-term solution. In contrast, moving forward with a real and rational program to reduce greenhouse gases allows us to address this challenge in a way that is timely, consistent, meaningful, and cost-effective. Learning by doing is essential to addressing an issue as complex as climate change, and so we must begin to test approaches now.

PEW WIRE: Looking to the future, what are some effective first steps in reducing emissions?

CLAUSSEN: A mandatory GHG reporting and disclosure program would be an effective first step in any domestic GHG reduction program. Similar to the federal Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) program, a mandatory GHG reporting program would apply to all major sources of GHG emissions and require disclosure of their reports to the public. Such a reporting program would: (1) provide a solid foundation for a U.S. program to reduce GHG emissions, (2) provide the basis for government assurances that companies would not be penalized for their early reductions under a future climate policy, and (3) potentially create a powerful incentive for voluntary reductions. The program should be comprehensive, but should be implemented in phases to allow for the development of widely accepted and sound reporting protocols.

The 107th U.S. Congress has acted upon legislation regarding the tracking and reporting of GHG emissions. Other legislation being considered would require development of a U.S. National Climate Change Strategy with the goal of stabilizing atmospheric GHG concentrations.

In the long-term, an effective emissions reduction program should couple mandatory greenhouse gas reductions with technology development and market mechanisms. Such a program should promote new technologies and practices and provide a foundation upon which to secure long-term emissions reductions (e.g., through a program that caps GHG emissions but allows for trading among entities subject to the cap). Moving forward with a real and rational program to reduce GHGs will allow us to address this challenge in a way that is timely, consistent, meaningful, and cost-effective.

Press Release: Two New Pew Center Reports Focus on Transportation-Sector Solutions

Press Release
For Immediate Release:
May 14, 2002
 

Contact: Katie Mandes
             (703) 516-4146     

THE ROAD TO REDUCED GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS IN DEVELOPING COUNTRIES:

Two New Pew Center Reports Focus on Transportation-Sector Solutions

Washington, DC - With transportation-related emissions of carbon dioxide growing at a rapid pace around the globe, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change today released two reports identifying policies and strategies that could help slow the growth of emissions in developing countries.

"If current motorization patterns prevail, there will be another 700 million vehicles globally over the next two to three decades. Establishing policies and infrastructure now to accommodate this tremendous growth is imperative, said the Pew Center's Eileen Claussen. "In the developing world, climate change is not a priority and economic and social development drive the decision making of transportation policy-makers. The key is to identify strategies that address high priority local issues while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions," Claussen said.

According to one of the Pew Center reports released today, Transportation in Developing Countries: An Overview of Greenhouse Gas Reduction Strategies, transportation-related carbon dioxide emissions grew at an annual rate of 5.6 percent in the developing countries of Asia between 1980 and 1998; the rate of growth for all developing countries was 4 percent. If current trends continue, the report projects that the number of motor vehicles in use around the world will double in the next 20 to 30 years, with much of the increase occurring in developing nations. Despite the projections, however, the report identifies many inexpensive and attractive options to keep emissions growth to a minimum-from improved motor vehicle technologies to the promotion of "car sharing" and other strategies.

The other report, Transportation in Developing Countries: Greenhouse Gas Scenarios for South Africa, builds on previously released Pew Center studies focusing on Shanghai, China, and Delhi, India. While projecting significant increases in transportation-related emissions of carbon dioxide in South Africa in the coming years, the report identifies public and private sector initiatives that could reduce emissions growth while easing traffic congestion and cutting air pollution.

"Our objective is not to prevent developing countries from growing or from enjoying the convenience of personal transportation," said Claussen. "Rather, the goal must be to make sure that South Africa and other countries develop transportation systems that are climate-friendly at the same time that they meet the needs of the people who use them."

Part of "Solutions" Series
Transportation in Developing Countries: An Overview of Greenhouse Gas Reduction Strategies was authored by Daniel Sperling, founding director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis. The lead author of Transportation in Developing Countries: Greenhouse Gas Scenarios for South Africa Jolanda Prozzi specializes in transportation economics and policy analysis at the Center for Transportation Research at the University of Texas, Austin.

The two reports released today are the latest in the Pew Center's Solutions series, which is aimed at providing individuals and organizations with tools to evaluate and reduce their contributions to climate change. Other Pew Center series focus on domestic and international policy issues, environmental impacts and the economics of climate change.

A complete copy of this report -- and previous Pew Center reports -- is available on the Pew Center's web site, www.c2es.org/projects.

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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 conducting studies, launching public education efforts and working with businesses to develop market-oriented solutions to reduce greenhouse gases. The Pew Center is led by Eileen Claussen, the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs. The Pew Center includes the Business Environmental Leadership Council, which is composed of 36 major, largely Fortune 500 corporations all working with the Pew Center to address issues related to climate change. The companies do not contribute financially to the Pew Center - it is solely supported by contributions from charitable foundations.

The Timing Of Climate Change Policy

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Introduction

Over the past several decades, the scientific community has arrived at a consensus that the earth’s climate is being changed by human influences, most importantly the release of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other “greenhouse gases” (GHGs) into the atmosphere. The most recent estimates by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) indicate that, under a “business as usual” scenario, the average global temperature will rise 2.5 to 10.4 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the 21st century.1" This is a significant change: the high end of this range is equal to the change in the average global temperature associated with the end of the planet’s last ice age, 10,000 years ago. But, during that ice age, it took thousands of years to reach this level of warming — not just one century.

The virtual certainty that human influences are causing these significant changes in our climate naturally leads to the questions of what actions to take and when to take them. A previous Pew Center domestic policy brief, entitled The U.S. Domestic Response to Climate Change: Key Elements of a Prospective Program, evaluates possible policy approaches.

This “In Brief” addresses the timing of action to reduce GHG emissions. In October 2001, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change held a workshop inviting leading scientists, economists, and other analysts to discuss this question.2 The Workshop on the Timing of Climate Change Policies revealed a consensus that action to address global climate change must begin now if it is to be effective. An immediate signal that initiates action is required in order to provide a smooth and cost-effective transition to a stable concentration of GHGs in the atmosphere — a challenge that will take decades, if not generations, to meet. Workshop participants identified many compelling reasons to begin taking action now, including:

  • The reality that current atmospheric concentrations of CO2 have not been exceeded during the past 420,000 years (the period for which ice core data are available) and will soon exceed a doubling of pre-industrial levels resulting in a situation unprecedented in human history with unknown consequences;
  • The potential for catastrophes that defy the assumption that damages resulting from climate change will be incremental, smooth, and linear;
  • The risk of irreversible environmental impacts (as compared to the lesser risk of unnecessary investment in GHG reduction or mitigation);
  • The need to learn about the pace at which society can begin a transition to a climate-stable economy;
  • The likelihood of imposing unconscionable burdens and impossible tasks on future generations;
  • The need to create incentives to accelerate technological development that will allow us to address the climate change problem; and
  • The ready availability of “no regrets” policies that have very low or even no costs to the economy.

This In Brief explores the points outlined above.

 

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State and Corporate Action on Climate Change: Multiple Benefits From Multiple Approaches

State and Corporate Action on Climate Change: Multiple Benefits From Multiple Approaches

Speech by Eileen Claussen, President
Pew Center on Global Climate Change

National Governors Association Workshop
Washington, DC

February 28, 2002

Thank you. I'm delighted to be here this morning to talk with all of you about climate change. And, before I begin, I want to tap into the spirit of the recently concluded Olympics by awarding a few medals. The first medal goes to the White House. It is for speed skating around an issue, and is awarded in recognition of the Bush Administration's recently announced climate policy. This policy could just as easily have won the slalom competition for the way it zigs and zags around the real problem. Or perhaps it should have been entered in the downhill race, because that's where it will inevitably lead us-downhill.

That said, I think there are plenty of medals to go around. The former administration, for example, is a prime candidate for the gold in the biathlon. This is the competition, of course, in which you do two entirely different things-such as talking big on the international stage about your commitment to addressing climate change while doing next to nothing at home to put any kind of serious policies in place. I apologize for being so harsh in my assessment, but you can rest assured I was not pressured in any way by other judges on the panel.

Seriously, though, it's always a pleasure to spend some time with a group of people who are not only interested in learning about climate change, but are in a position to do something about it. A little later on I'll talk about what many states already are doing about it, and why it's in your state's interest as well as the national interest for you to do even more. But first I'd like to spend just a couple of minutes looking at where we stand in our efforts to address climate change, both here in the United States and abroad, and where ultimately we need to go.

The best place to start, I think, is with the science. And here, I believe, the consensus that has emerged is quite clear. Both the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the report prepared last year by a panel of the National Academy of Sciences are agreed on three main points: 1) the earth is warming; 2) human activity is largely to blame; and 3) the warming trend is likely to accelerate in the years ahead. And the implications are profound, affecting everything from farming and tourism to the reliability of the water supply and the livability of our coasts. Of course there are always uncertainties, and there always will be. But these uncertainties cut both ways, and are not an excuse for inaction. For example, it is possible that the impacts will be less severe than we expected. But it is equally possible that the effects will not be linear, and that we are in for some serious and negative climate surprises, such as a dramatic shift in the Gulf Stream current that warms Western Europe.

So, with or without uncertainty, I believe it is absolutely essential that we act. Now what is it we need to do? There are lots of ways we can begin to attack this problem, and I'll come back to those. But right now I want to lay out the big picture - the grand scheme, if you will. I'll be blunt about it: In the long run, the only solution is a fundamental transformation in the way we power our global economy. To keep our planet from overheating, we must dramatically reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The primary source of these gases is the combustion of fossil fuels. So our goal, over time, must be to end our reliance on coal and oil and to develop new sources of energy that can power our growing economy without endangering our climate. Yes, it is a tall order. It implies technological and economic transformation on an unprecedented scale. In fact, it demands nothing short of a second industrial revolution.

Is this revolution underway? Let's look first at the international picture. Over the last year we saw both the greatest success and the greatest setback since the international effort to address climate change was launched a decade ago. The success was that after years of wrangling nations finally agreed on a set of rules for implementing the Kyoto Protocol, which sets the first binding international limits on greenhouse gas emissions. European nations are well on track to ratifying the Protocol. Vigorous debates are underway in Japan, Canada and other industrialized countries that face some serious challenges in meeting their targets, but the prognosis is for the treaty to enter into force either this year or next.

The setback, of course, was President Bush's outright rejection of Kyoto. I do not intend to spend any time here debating the merits of the Protocol. It's true, the Protocol is at best a modest first step on a long journey. But from my perspective, the basic architecture of the treaty is sound. In fact, it's an architecture largely designed in the United States. It uses emissions trading, a concept born and bred here in America, to ensure that emissions are cut as cost-effectively as possible. I happen to believe that the emissions target for the U.S. negotiated by the previous Administration was unrealistic. It couldn't be met. But there were ways that could have been fixed short of a unilateral withdrawal.

And what has President Bush offered as his alternative? The President has offered a promise - a promise that the United States will do really no better than it's doing right now. When you do the math, the President's goal of an 18 percent reduction in greenhouse gas intensity by 2012 amounts to a 12 percent increase in actual emissions. It essentially continues the same trends we've seen over the last two decades. In other words, the target is nothing more than business as usual. On the positive side, the President has recommended that companies that make emission reductions should not be penalized in the event there is a future regulatory regime that requires reductions. A first step, perhaps, but a very modest one.

Fortunately, that's not the end of the story. There are people in this town who think climate change is a serious issue that warrants serious action. (If there were not, I think I would be a very lonely person.) In fact, some of those who are supporting serious action happen to be members of Congress. It may come as a surprise to you, but there is growing bipartisan interest in Congress in doing something about climate change. In fact, nearly twice as many climate change bills were introduced in the past year as in the previous four years combined. There is, of course, a serious debate over whether or not carbon should be covered in new multi-pollutant legislation for power plants. But there are literally dozens of other bills that would do everything from raising fuel economy standards to boosting research and development to encouraging farmers to adopt practices that suck carbon out of the atmosphere, or use some of their land for wind farms. Several bills would establish a national system for tracking and reporting greenhouse gas emissions - an important first step, which, if coupled with provisions that legally recognize the private sector's accomplishments in reducing emissions, would at least begin to put us on a constructive path for dealing with this issue. And finally, Senators Lieberman and McCain plan to introduce legislation later this year to establish a comprehensive nationwide emissions trading system. That's a bold idea - one that frankly I can't see being enacted for some time, probably years. But for the first time, serious debate about how the United States should meet its responsibilities on climate change is now underway.

What we really need, of course, is action, not debate. And I'm pleased to be able to tell you that real action is indeed taking place. To find it, though, you have to look beyond the Beltway. You have to look in two places - first, in the boardrooms and factories of major corporations that are taking it upon themselves to tackle their greenhouse gas emissions; and second, you have to look to the states and local communities that instead of waiting for leadership from Washington are taking up this challenge on their own. None of these efforts can in the end substitute for a credible, comprehensive national effort. Ultimately that is the direction we need to go. But addressing climate change requires a multiplicity of strategies at all levels. And the states and corporations that are taking the lead right now are the laboratories and proving grounds that will help us identify the smartest, most cost-effective strategies that can best serve the nation as a whole. That's not all. In the process, they are discovering that addressing climate change delivers a host of other benefits as well.

Let me begin by telling you about some of the efforts underway in the private sector. The Pew Center's Business Environmental Leadership Council now includes 37 major companies that accept the need for action on this issue and are taking concrete steps to protect the climate. These are primarily Fortune 500 companies such as Weyerhaeuser, Intel, Boeing, Dupont, Shell and Alcoa. Together they employ more than 2 million people and generate annual revenues of nearly $900 billion.

The Pew Center recently released a report that takes a close look at six companies that are members of the Council and that have adopted voluntary greenhouse gas targets. It also looks more broadly at a total of 31 companies with emission reduction targets. The report assesses the reasons why these companies took on targets, and what the results have been. The companies cited a number of reasons for taking on a target. They believe that the science of climate change is compelling, and that over the long term, their climate-friendly investments will pay off. They also believe that by taking the initiative, they can help the government create climate change policies that work well for business. It is one thing to advocate policies such as reasonable targets and timetables and flexibility for businesses to use various means to implement clearly defined goals. It is another thing to actually demonstrate via corporate action that these measures work.

But each of the companies cited one other important motivation for taking on a target - to improve their competitive position in the marketplace. And that, in fact, has been the result. Each company is on track to meeting or exceeding its greenhouse gas goal. Together, they've delivered reductions equal to the annual emissions of 3 million cars. And all the companies are finding that their efforts are helping to reduce production costs and enhance product sales today.

I think one of the most important lessons to be gleaned from this analysis is the variety of approaches employed by these companies. For example, a number of companies have greenhouse gas emission targets that relate directly to their industrial processes: Alcoa plans to reduce its direct process emissions by 25% below 1990 levels by 2010; and Dupont is on track to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by a remarkable 65% by 2010.

Others have determined that their greatest contribution comes from the use of their products: Ford Motor Company will reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from its European fleet by 25% by 2005; and IBM will have 90-100% of its computers Energy Star-compliant each year.

Some have chosen to use relative measures for their targets: Toyota North America will reduce its energy use per unit of production by 15% below 2000 levels by 2005; United Technologies will reduce its energy consumption per unit of sales by 25% below 1997 levels by 2007; and Baxter International will reduce its energy use and associated greenhouse gas emissions per unit of production by 30% below 1996 levels by 2005.

Still others have chosen to increase their purchases of renewable energy, thereby creating greater demand for clean energy. For example, Dupont will get 10% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2010; and Interface is aiming for 10% by 2005.

BP and Shell have set up internal emissions trading systems among their business units, and have much practical advice to offer based on their experiences. And many companies, including American Electric Power, PG&E and others have invested significantly in carbon sequestration projects to offset their emissions. So as you can see, companies are experimenting, innovating and coming up with an array of strategies best suited to their individual circumstances.

Let me turn now to the equally impressive efforts taking shape at the state level. Over the past year, the Pew Center has worked with the National Association of State Energy Officials to gather information on state programs that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Earlier this month, we officially unveiled the results: a searchable database on our website describing 21 programs that have delivered real emissions reductions. We'll be adding more programs in the weeks and months ahead. What's different about this database-and the reason I recommend it to your attention-is that it provides detailed information about how these programs started, what kinds of barriers states encountered, and how they dealt with them. It also quantifies the emissions reductions resulting from each of the programs. We posted the database two weeks ago and it's been accessed more than 1,000 times already.

Let's look at some of the examples it provides. We all know about Nixon going to China. But what about George W. Bush as a champion of renewable power? It's true. Legislation signed by then-Governor Bush to restructure the Texas electricity industry requires that all electricity providers generate about 3 percent of their power using renewable sources. The Texas Renewable Portfolio Standard was expected to bring more megawatts of renewable power on line in 2001 than in the prior 100 years. The result should be a reduction of approximately 3.3 million tons of CO2 per year, as well as reductions in sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides.

Oregon, meanwhile, was the first state in the nation to enact mandatory controls on carbon dioxide. The state requires that all new power plants meet a tough new emissions standard, and allows utilities to comply by paying a fee to the nonprofit Climate Trust, which in turn invests in projects that reduce or sequester CO2 emissions.

Other states are reducing emissions - while also reducing the burden on taxpayers and consumers - by investing directly in energy efficiency. New Hampshire, for instance, is saving $4 million a year through energy-saving retrofits on state-owned buildings. And Colorado has provided free energy efficiency upgrades to more than 70,000 low-income households, trimming their energy bills an average of 20 to 25 percent.

In the transportation sector, Washington State is leveraging nearly $8 in private funding for every dollar from the state for a program that gives commuters alternatives to the single-occupancy auto. The payoff is enormous: The program is generating roadway capacity at just a third the cost of building and operating new roadways.

Farmers are also pitching in. A program in Georgia that gives growers access to special "no-till" equipment has not only cut emissions and saved energy, but also conserved more than 2 million tons of soil. And finally, on the local level, high school students in Pattonville, Missouri, teamed up with state officials to fuel their school's boilers with methane captured from a neighboring landfill.

So what do all these examples from companies and from the states show us? First, that despite the lack of leadership here in Washington, there are significant efforts underway across America to address climate change, and the momentum is growing. These efforts are delivering real reductions in greenhouse gas emissions-and, better yet, they are doing it cost-effectively.

A second important lesson is that these efforts pay multiple dividends. In the case of the companies, they deliver operational efficiencies, reduced energy costs, and increased market share - all things that contribute to a healthier bottom line. In the case of the states, they deliver cleaner air, smarter growth, new energy sources, and real savings for taxpayers. The fact of the matter is that many of these initiatives were launched for reasons having nothing to do with climate change. The emissions reductions they are producing are simply side benefits - but they are real, and they are making a difference.

A third important lesson is the sheer diversity of approaches being taken. Climate change is an enormous challenge. It has to be tackled on many fronts. If ever there were an issue that defied one-size-fits-all solutions, this is it. The efforts being initiated right now in the boardroom and in your state capitols demonstrate that we have the drive and the ingenuity to come up with strategies of all different shapes and sizes. We must be careful not to squash that drive and ingenuity. Yes, we ultimately need a comprehensive national program to meet this challenge. But it must be one that provides the necessary incentives - and the flexibility - to encourage and allow a broad array of strategies.

In closing, I'd like to commend all of you from states that are already stepping up to the challenge of climate change and seizing the very real opportunities it presents. I'd like to encourage the rest of you to go back home to your bosses and tell them why it's in the interest of their constituents to do the same. Many times in the past, when we couldn't count on Washington to take the lead, the states have stepped into the breach. Climate change is another opportunity for you and your states to demonstrate that real leadership and real innovation are not top-down but bottom-up. If you lead, Washington will follow. And only then will the United States be able to become a real gold medal contender in the global effort to meet this global challenge. Thank you very much. I will be very happy to answer any questions. 

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Press Release: Climate Change Threatens Health of America's Lakes, Streams, Rivers and Wetlands

For Immediate Release:  
January 29, 2002

Contact: Katie Mandes
703-516-4146

Climate Change Threatens Health of America's Lakes, Streams, Rivers and Wetlands
 

Washington, DC - Global climate change poses a serious threat to lakes, streams, rivers, and wetlands throughout the United States, according to a new report from the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. The temperature increases and variations in weather patterns projected for the next 100 years will result in changes in the geographic distribution of freshwater fish, interfere with the reproduction of many aquatic species, reduce water quality, and impose added stresses on wetlands and other sensitive aquatic ecosystems.

"The United States' freshwater and wetland ecosystems face multiple threats to their health and stability, including changes in land use, environmental pollution, and the diversion of water for drinking, irrigation, and other uses," said Eileen Claussen, President of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. "To these threats we must now add the very real and very serious effects of global climate change and its potential to transform the essential character of our lakes, rivers, streams, and wetlands."

The Pew Center report, Aquatic Ecosystems and Climate Change: Potential Impacts on Inland Freshwater and Coastal Wetland Ecosystems in the United States, draws on a variety of sources to summarize researchers' current understanding of the potential impacts of climate change on U.S. aquatic ecosystems. Among the report's key conclusions:

  • Increases in water temperatures as a result of climate change will alter the geographic distribution of aquatic plant and animal species. The severity of these impacts may be limited if species can migrate to new areas as climate changes. However, the ability of species to migrate may be compromised by human activities that block migration corridors, potentially causing reductions in biodiversity.
  • Changes in precipitation will alter river and streamflows affecting ecosystem productivity and reducing water quality. Populations of aquatic organisms are sensitive to the effects of floods, droughts and other extreme weather events, which are likely to increase as a result of climate change.
  • Climate change is likely to further stress sensitive freshwater and coastal wetlands. Wetlands throughout the United States already are adversely affected by a variety of human impacts. Climate change will add to the existing stresses on these fragile ecosystems in a variety of ways-most notably by causing global sea levels to rise and inundate coastal wetlands. Rising global temperatures also will cause the wetland areas of Alaska and Canada to release additional carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
  • Aquatic ecosystems have a limited ability to adapt to climate change. Governments, communities, businesses, and individual citizens can take a number of steps to reduce the likelihood of significant impacts to these systems while improving their ability to adapt to climate change. These include: maintaining riparian forests; reducing pollution from a variety of sources; restoring damaged ecosystems; minimizing groundwater withdrawal; and strategically placing new reservoirs to minimize their ecological impacts.

"Our rivers, lakes, streams, and wetlands support economically important fisheries and provide Americans with clean drinking water, water for irrigation, recreational opportunities, and more," said Claussen. "This report shows that climate change puts all of these services at risk, but it also shows there are things we can do to reduce that risk."

Part of "Environmental Impacts" Series

Aquatic Ecosystems and Global Climate Change was prepared for the Pew Center by N. LeRoy Poff, Mark M Brinson, and John W. Day, Jr. It is the seventh in a series of Pew Center reports examining the potential impacts of climate change on the U.S. environment. Other Pew Center series focus on domestic and international policy issues, climate change solutions, and the economics of climate change. A complete copy of this report -- and previous Pew Center reports -- is available on the Pew Center's web site, 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 conducting studies, launching public education efforts and working with businesses to develop market-oriented solutions to reduce greenhouse gases. The Pew Center is led by Eileen Claussen, the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs. The Pew Center includes the Business Environmental Leadership Council, which is composed of 36 major, largely Fortune 500 corporations all working with the Pew Center to address issues related to climate change. The companies do not contribute financially to the Pew Center - it is solely supported by contributions from charitable foundations.

Aquatic Ecosystems and Global Climate Change

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Aquatic Ecosystems and Global Climate Change: Potential Impacts on Inland Freshwater and Coastal Wetland Ecosystems in the United States

Prepared for the Pew Center on Global Climate Change
January 2002

By:
N. LeRoy Poff, Colorado State University
Mark M. Brinson, East Carolina University
John W. Day, Jr., Louisiana State University

Press Release

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Foreword

Eileen Claussen, President, Pew Center on Global Climate Change

Aquatic ecosystems are critical components of the global environment. In addition to being essential contributors to biodiversity and ecological productivity, they also provide a variety of services for human populations, including water for drinking and irrigation, recreational opportunities, and habitat for economically important fisheries. However, aquatic systems have been increasingly threatened, directly and indirectly, by human activities. In addition to the challenges posed by land-use change, environmental pollution, and water diversion, aquatic systems are expected to soon begin experiencing the added stress of global climate change.

“Aquatic Ecosystems and Global Climate Change” is the seventh in a series of reports examining the potential impacts of climate change on the U.S. environment. It details the likely impacts of climate change over the next century on U.S. aquatic ecosystems. Report authors, Drs. N. LeRoy Poff, Mark Brinson, and John Day, Jr. find:

  • Increases in water temperatures as a result of climate change will alter fundamental ecological processes and the geographic distribution of aquatic species. Such impacts may be ameliorated if species attempt to adapt by migrating to suitable habitat. However, human alteration of potential migratory corridors may limit the ability of species to relocate, increasing the likelihood of species extinction and loss of biodiversity.
     
  • Changes in seasonal patterns of precipitation and runoff will alter hydrologic characteristics of aquatic systems, affecting species composition and ecosystem productivity. Populations of aquatic organisms are sensitive to changes in the frequency, duration, and timing of extreme precipitation events, such as floods or droughts. Changes in the seasonal timing of snowmelt will alter stream flows, potentially interfering with the reproduction of many aquatic species.
     
  • Climate change is likely to further stress sensitive freshwater and coastal wetlands, which are already adversely affected by a variety of other human impacts, such as altered flow regimes and deterioration of water quality. Wetlands are a critical habitat for many species that are poorly adapted for other environmental conditions and serve as important components of coastal and marine fisheries.
     
  • Aquatic ecosystems have a limited ability to adapt to climate change. Reducing the likelihood of significant impacts to these systems will be critically dependent on human activities that reduce other sources of ecosystem stress and enhance adaptive capacity. These include maintaining riparian forests, reducing nutrient loading, restoring damaged ecosystems, minimizing groundwater withdrawal, and strategically placing any new reservoirs to minimize adverse effects.
     

The authors and the Center gratefully acknowledge the input of Drs. Virginia Burkett, Judy Meyer, Elizabeth Strange, and Alan Covich on this report. The Center would also like to thank Joel Smith of Stratus Consulting for his assistance in the management of this Environmental Impacts Series.

Executive Summary

Climate change of the magnitude projected for the United States over the next 100 years will cause significant changes to temperature regimes and precipitation patterns across the United States. Such alterations in climate pose serious risks for inland freshwater ecosystems (lakes, streams, rivers, wetlands) and coastal wetlands, and they may adversely affect numerous critical services they provide to human populations.

The geographic ranges of many aquatic and wetland species are determined by temperature. Average global surface temperatures are projected to increase by 1.5 to 5.8oC by 2100 (Houghton et al., 2001), but increases may be higher in the United States (Wigley, 1999). Projected increases in mean temperature in the United States are expected to greatly disrupt present patterns of plant and animal distributions in freshwater ecosystems and coastal wetlands. For example, cold-water fish like trout and salmon are projected to disappear from large portions of their current geographic range in the continental United States, when warming causes water temperature to exceed their thermal tolerance limits. Species that are isolated in habitats near thermal tolerance limits (like fish in Great Plains streams) or that occupy rare and vulnerable habitats (like alpine wetlands) may become extinct in the United States. In contrast, many fish species that prefer warmer water, such as largemouth bass and carp, will potentially expand their ranges in the United States and Canada as surface waters warm.

The productivity of inland freshwater and coastal wetland ecosystems also will be significantly altered by increases in water temperatures. Warmer waters are naturally more productive, but the particular species that flourish may be undesirable or even harmful. For example, the blooms of “nuisance” algae that occur in many lakes during warm, nutrient-rich periods can be expected to increase in frequency in the future. Large fish predators that require cool water may be lost from smaller lakes as surface water temperatures warm, and this may indirectly cause more blooms of nuisance algae, which can reduce water quality and pose potential health problems.

Warming in Alaska is expected to melt permafrost areas, allowing shallow summer groundwater tables to drop; the subsequent drying of wetlands will increase the risk of catastrophic peat fires and the release of vast quantities of carbon dioxide (CO2) and possibly methane into the atmosphere.

In addition to its independent effects, temperature changes will act synergistically with changes in the seasonal timing of runoff to freshwater and coastal systems. In broad terms, water quality will probably decline greatly, owing to expected summertime reductions in runoff and elevated temperatures. These effects will carry over to aquatic species because the life cycles of many are tied closely to the availability and seasonal timing of water from precipitation and runoff. In addition, the loss of winter snowpack will greatly reduce a major source of groundwater recharge and summer runoff, resulting in a potentially significant lowering of water levels in streams, rivers, lakes, and wetlands during the growing season.

The following summarizes the current understanding regarding the potential impacts of climate change on U.S. aquatic ecosystems:

1. Aquatic and wetland ecosystems are very vulnerable to climate change. The metabolic rates of organisms and the overall productivity of ecosystems are directly regulated by temperature. Projected increases in temperature are expected to disrupt present patterns of plant and animal distribution in aquatic ecosystems. Changes in precipitation and runoff modify the amount and quality of habitat for aquatic organisms, and thus, they indirectly influence ecosystem productivity and diversity.


2. Increases in water temperature will cause a shift in the thermal suitability of aquatic habitats for resident species. The success with which species can move across the landscape will depend on dispersal corridors, which vary regionally but are generally restricted by human activities. Fish in lowland streams and rivers that lack northward connections, and species that require cool water (e.g., trout and salmon), are likely to be the most severely affected. Some species will expand their ranges in the United States.


3. Seasonal shifts in stream runoff will have significant negative effects on many aquatic ecosystems. Streams, rivers, wetlands, and lakes in the western mountains and northern Plains are most likely to be affected, because these systems are strongly influenced by spring snowmelt and warming will cause runoff to occur earlier in winter months.


4. Wetland loss in boreal regions of Alaska and Canada is likely to result in additional releases of CO2 into the atmosphere. Models and empirical studies suggest that global warming will cause the melting of permafrost in northern wetlands. The subsequent drying of these boreal peatlands will cause the organic carbon stored in peat to be released to the atmosphere as CO2 and possibly methane.


5. Coastal wetlands are particularly vulnerable to sea-level rise associated with increasing global temperatures. Inundation of coastal wetlands by rising sea levels threatens wetland plants. For many of these systems to persist, a continued input of suspended sediment from inflowing streams and rivers is required to allow for soil accretion.


6. Most specific ecological responses to climate change cannot be predicted, because new combinations of native and non-native species will interact in novel situations.Such novel interactions may compromise the reliability with which ecosystem goods and services are provided by aquatic and wetland ecosystems.


7. Increased water temperatures and seasonally reduced streamflows will alter many ecosystem processes with potential direct societal costs. For example, warmer waters, in combination with high nutrient runoff, are likely to increase the frequency and extent of nuisance algal blooms, thereby reducing water quality and posing potential health problems.


8. The manner in which humans adapt to a changing climate will greatly influence the future status of inland freshwater and coastal wetland ecosystems. Minimizing the adverse impacts of human activities through policies that promote more science-based management of aquatic resources is the most successful path to continued health and sustainability of these ecosystems. Management priorities should include providing aquatic resources with adequate water quality and amounts at appropriate times, reducing nutrient loads, and limiting the spread of exotic species.

Overall, these conclusions indicate climate change is a significant threat to the species composition and function of aquatic ecosystems in the United States. However, critical uncertainties exist regarding the manner in which specific species and whole ecosystems will respond to climate change. These arise both from uncertainties about how regional climate will change and how complex ecological systems will respond. Indeed, as climate change alters ecosystem productivity and species composition, many unforeseen ecological changes are expected that may threaten the goods and services these systems provide to humans.

About the Authors

N. LEROY POFF

Dr. Poff is an assistant professor of Biology at Colorado State University. He received his B.S. in biology from Hendrix College, his M.S. in environmental sciences from Indiana University, and his PhD in stream ecology from Colorado State University. He worked for several years as a research associate in Department of Zoology at the University of Maryland and served as Senior Scientist for Trout Unlimited in Arlington, VA before joining the faculty at Colorado State. His primary research interests are in aquatic ecology, specifically the broad consideration of how ecological processes and patterns are constrained by habitat structure and environmental variability at multiple spatial and temporal scales in aquatic ecosystems. This research provides a basis for predicting aquatic community attributes at geographic scales and for evaluating population and community responses to land-use alterations and regional climate changes. Dr. Poff has conducted field research in several regions of the U.S. including the Columbia and Colorado River basins. He is also a member of several professional societies including the Ecological Society of America, the North American Benthological Society, and Sigma Xi (The Research Society), and he serves on the Scientific & Technical Advisory Board of American Rivers.

MARK M. BRINSON

Dr. Brinson is Professor of Biology at East Carolina University. He received his B.S. at Heidelberg College (Ohio), M.S. in Botany from the University of Michigan, and Ph.D. from the University of Florida. He served with the Peace Corps in Costa Rica, followed by Ph.D. work on the organic matter budget of a lowland tropical lake in Guatemala. Current research interests include the relationship of hydrology and hydroperiod to wetland ecosystem structure and function, classification and assessment of wetlands, and the effects of rising sea level on coastal wetlands. He participates in research at the Virginia Coast Reserve site of the Long Term Ecological Research program of the National Science Foundation. He served as president of the Society of Wetland Scientists and received the society's Merit Award in 1998. He chaired the Public Policy Review committee of the American Institute of Biological Science. He was a member of the National Research Council committee on Wetland Characterization and is currently chairing the NRC committee on Riparian Zones. He has provided testimony before U.S. Senate and House committees on the identification of wetlands.

JOHN W. DAY, Jr.

Dr. Day is the Distinguished Professor of Environmental Sciences in the Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences and the Coastal Ecology Institute, School of the Coast & Environment at Louisiana State University, where he has taught since 1971. He has published extensively on the ecology and management of coastal systems and has over 100 peer-reviewed publications. He is co-author (with M. Kemp, C. Hall, and A. Yáñez-Arancibia) of Estuarine Ecology, coeditor (with C. Hall) of Ecological Modeling in Theory and Practice, coeditor (with W. Conner) of The Ecology of the Barataria Basin, An Estuarine Profile, and coeditor (with A. Yáñez-Arancibia) of the Ecology of Coastal Ecosystems in the Southern Mexico: The Terminos Lagoon Region. Professor Day received his PhD in marine sciences and environmental sciences from the University of North Carolina in 1971. Since then, he has conducted extensive research on the ecology and management of the Mississippi Delta region and for the last 25 years, he has studied coastal ecosystems in Mexico. He was a visiting professor in the Institute of Marine Sciences of the National University of Mexico in 1978-1979, at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands during 1986, at the Laboratoire d'Ecologie, Université Claude Bernard in Arles France during 1992-93, and in the Department of Geography at Cambridge University in 2000-2001. He has also worked with the University of Campeche and the Institute of Ecology in Mexico. Since 1992, Professor Day has worked in the Mediterranean studying the impacts of climate change on wetlands in Venice Lagoon and in the Po, Rhone and Ebro deltas.

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Ecosystems and Global Climate Change

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Ecosystems and Global Climate Change: A Review of Potential Impacts on U.S. Terrestrial Ecosystems and Biodiversity

Prepared for the Pew Center on Global Climate Change
December 2001

By:
Jay R. Malcolm, University of Toronto
Louis F. Pitelka, University of Maryland

Press Release

Download Entire Report (pdf)

Foreword

Eileen Claussen, President, Pew Center on Global Climate Change

Natural ecosystems are one of our most precious resources, critical for sustaining life on the planet. The benefits humans derive from ecosystems are varied, from marketable products such as pharmaceuticals, to recreational opportunities such as camping, to ecosystems services such as erosion control and water purification. For many people, nature plays a powerful spiritual and aesthetic role in their lives, and many place a high value on the existence of wilderness and nature for its own sake. Despite the critical roles ecosystems play, these areas are increasingly threatened by the impacts of a growing human population through habitat destruction and air and water pollution. Added to these stresses comes a new threat -- global climate change resulting from increased greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere.

"Ecosystems and Global Climate Change" is the fifth in a series of the Pew Center reports examining the potential impacts of climate change on the U.S. environment. It details the very real possibility that warming over this century will jeopardize the integrity of many of the terrestrial ecosystems on which we depend. Among the many key issues raised are:

  • With warming, the distribution of terrestrial ecosystems will change as plants and animals follow the shifting climate. The eastern United States will likely lose many of its deciduous forests as the climate zones shift northwards, while more mountainous regions, like portions of the West, will see species and ecosystems migrate up mountain slopes from lower elevations.
  • Both the amount and rate of warming predicted represent a threat to our nation's biodiversity. Certain species may face dwindling numbers and even extinction if they are unable to migrate fast enough to keep up with the changing climate. Likewise, as warming shrinks the zone of cold conditions in upper latitudes and on mountains, the future of species that depend on such climates will be in jeopardy.
  • Climate change is likely to alter ecosystem composition and function — that is, which species make up an ecosystem and the way in which energy and materials flow through these systems. These modifications are bound to alter the amount and quantity of the various goods and services ecosystems provide.
  • Ecosystems are inherently complex and difficult to model, and our ability to predict exactly how species and ecosystems will respond to a changing climate is limited. This uncertainty limits our ability to mitigate, minimize, or ameliorate the effects of climate change on terrestrial ecosystems. In order to maximize nature's own potential to adapt to climate change, we must continue to support existing strategies to conserve biodiversity and protect natural ecosystems.

The authors and the Pew Center gratefully acknowledge the input of Drs. Anthony Janetos and Chris Field on this report. This report also benefited from comments received at the Pew Center's July 2000 Workshop on the Environmental Impacts of Climate Change. The Pew Center would also like to thank Joel Smith and Brian Hurd of Stratus Consulting for their assistance in the management of this Environmental Impacts Series.

Executive Summary

Climate is the single most important factor determining the geographic distributions of species and major vegetation types. It also influences the properties of ecosystems and the flows of energy and materials through them.

Global warming of the magnitude anticipated — a 1ºC to 4ºC (1.8ºF to 7.2ºF) increase in global mean temperatures over this century — will cause major changes in ecosystem distributions in the United States. In the eastern United States, these changes will result in a general northward shift in vegetation types. Results are more complex in the western United States due to local topography variation and small-scale climatic variations that result in complex, small-scale changes rather than broad northward shifts. The potential exists for significant reductions in the geographic extent of some ecosystems, especially those occurring in colder locales.

These shifts in major vegetation types due to global warming parallel the responses of the individual species that comprise these ecosystems. Thus, with global warming, shifts in the distributions of individual species are expected — in particular, a general poleward movement of distributions. Species have shifted their distributions in the past in response to changing climates; however, estimates of the rate of warming suggest that it may occur relatively quickly, some 10 times faster than the warming at the end of the recent glacial maximum, for example. It is not known whether species will be able to keep up with the rapidly shifting climatic zones. It is likely that some species will be unable to move at these high rates and hence may gradually die out as climatic conditions become increasingly unsuitable. The more rapid the rate of climate change, the greater the potential for this filtering effect. With higher temperatures, less of the earth will experience the cold conditions required by arctic and alpine species. As warming proceeds, these habitats are expected to decrease in size, leading to populations that are more isolated and to higher probabilities of extinction over time.

Climate change will also influence the functioning of ecosystems — the characteristic ways in which energy and chemicals flow through the plants, herbivores, carnivores, and soil organisms that comprise the living components of ecosystems. Models of overall changes in plant productivity indicate a wide range of possible changes across the lower 48 states, from slight declines (averaging 0.7 percent) to large increases (39 percent). Part of the uncertainly reflects poor understanding of how changes in temperature, moisture, and concentrations of carbon dioxide interact in influencing plant growth. Regional changes in productivity are not homogeneous, however, with some areas in the United States experiencing gains and others declines. For example, some scenarios show increases in plant productivity in the southeastern United States, whereas others showed large decreases under the influence of drier conditions. At the same time that increasing temperatures may lead to higher plant growth, they may also lead to higher decomposition rates and hence to increases in the rate at which carbon dioxide is being added to the atmosphere. It may be possible to increase the amount of carbon stored in ecosystems, and hence temporarily slow the rate of accumulation of carbon in the atmosphere (which comes primarily from the burning of fossil fuels) by planting forests on lands that currently do not support forests and by maintaining or increasing areas of mature and old growth forest.

Research on ongoing ecosystem change for several ecosystem types suggests that the effects of global warming on terrestrial ecosystems may already be altering ecosystems properties and species distributions. Nonetheless, there are substantial uncertainties as to how climate change will affect ecosystems and biodiversity in the United States. These uncertainties stem from not knowing the exact pattern of regional climate change as well as questions about how these patterns will affect the complex interactions and feedbacks among species and climatic conditions that characterize ecosystems. The effects of climate change on ecosystems and species are likely to be exacerbated in ecosystems that already are under pressure from human activities, including air and water pollution, habitat destruction and fragmentation, and the introduction of invasive species.

The effects of climate change on ecosystems threaten to jeopardize the numerous economically valuable goods and services that ecosystems provide to human societies, including services often undervalued in traditional economic analyses. In some cases, climate change will directly influence economic returns by affecting harvest levels; for example, warming-induced loss of salmon habitat from the United States would have a direct economic impact. Less easily measured are the potential effects of reduced species diversity on the ability of ecosystems to maintain local environmental quality; for example, removing pollutants from air and water and controlling soil erosion. Ultimately, the value of ecosystems must also be considered in a broad context, including the moral, cultural, and aesthetic values of ecosystems and species.

Efforts to lessen the detrimental effects on species and ecosystems from climate change should focus on maintaining habitats as well as on maintaining overall ecosystem structure and species composition. Thus, adaptation to climate change may benefit from existing strategies to conserve biodiversity, such as reducing fragmentation and degradation of habitats, increasing connectivity among habitat blocks and fragments, and reducing external anthropogenic environmental stresses. However, the ability to actively manage ecosystems to ameliorate the effects of climate change by, for example, actively assisting plant species to migrate, is constrained by lack of understanding and by the complexity of the underlying ecological systems. Even the seemingly simple task of reintroducing plants into former parts of their range has met with little success so far.

About the Authors

Jay R. Malcolm
Dr. Jay Malcolm received his B.S. and M.S. from the University of Guelph, his Ph.D. from the University of Florida, and undertook postdoctoral studies at Queen's University. Currently, he is an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Forestry at the University of Toronto, where he has worked for the last four years. His research specializes on the effects of global climate change on ecosystems and more generally on the effects of human activities on biodiversity. In addition to laboratory and computer studies, Dr. Malcolm has undertaken extensive field research in boreal Canada and the Amazon and Congo Basins. In addition to this report for the Center, Dr. Malcolm has worked on climate change issues with the Canadian and U.S. Governments, UNEP, and WWF-US. Dr. Malcolm has published 43 articles, including papers in scientific journals, book chapters, and technical reports.

Louis F. Pitelka
Dr. Louis Pitelka received a B.S. in zoology from the University of California at Davis, and a Ph.D. in plant ecology from Stanford University. Dr. Pitelka has been at the University of Maryland since 1996, where he is currently the Director of the Appalachian Laboratory in Frostburg, MD, a research laboratory in the Universitys Center for Environmental Science. He also holds the rank of Professor in the University. From 1974 until 1984 he was a member of the faculty in the Department of Biology at Bates College in Maine and was Chair of Biology when he departed. In 1983, he was appointed Program Director of the Population Biology and Physiological Ecology Program at the National Science Foundation (NSF). Beginning in 1984, Dr. Pitelka worked for the Electric Power Research Institute, where his major research areas included global carbon cycling and effects of global climate change on terrestrial ecosystems.

Dr. Pitelka is the author of numerous scientific articles and has edited two books. He is the Editor-in-Chief of Ecological Applications, and previously served for five years on the journals editorial board. He also is on the Editorial Board of Oecologia. He is an Activity Leader in the Global Change and Terrestrial Ecosystems project of the International Geosphere Biosphere Program. He has served on numerous advisory committees and panels for the NSF, Department of Energy, NASA, Forest Service and other organizations and currently serves on the DOE Health and Environmental Research Advisory Committee.

 

A Review of Potential Climate Change Impacts on U.S. Terrestrial Ecosystems and Biodiversity
Jay R. Malcolm
Louis F. Pitelka
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Climate Change: A Strategy for the Future

Climate Change: A Strategy for the Future

Speech  by Eileen Claussen, President
Pew Center on Global Climate Change

Honors Colloquium on a Just and Sustainable Future
University of Rhode Island

September 25, 2001

I am very happy to have the opportunity to address this honors colloquium, and I want to pay tribute to the faculty, staff, and students here at the University of Rhode Island's Sustainable Communities Initiative for trying to come to terms with a very serious question-and that is, how do we create a just and sustainable future?

This, of course, is an extraordinary time, and a just and sustainable future may seem very far away as we ponder the horrific events of two weeks past. Usually, when I give a speech, I try to begin with some humor, and I do this because I think it is important that we not take ourselves, or our specific issues and interests, too seriously. But I think the events of September 11th have cast an enormous shadow over all of us-and, with it, a sadness and a seriousness of purpose that we cannot escape. And so I ask you, for the next short while at least, and for longer if you can, to be thoughtful about the issue of climate change, because it, too, requires us to be serious and reflective and determined about what we need to do to make the world a safer place.

In talking about climate change today, I want to touch first on the science - and, more specifically, on the ever-solidifying scientific consensus that this is a very serious problem that demands very serious action. I'd like to talk broadly about the challenge we face, and the ways in which many in the business community are rising to that challenge. I'll turn then to the essential role of government - both internationally and here in the United States. And, finally, I will suggest how we might forge a common path forward that is sustainable, just, and fair to all.

Our goal must be to facilitate the arrival of a second industrial revolution. And this means doing all we can to accelerate the development of new technologies that will move us closer to a low-carbon world economy.

The Science of Climate Change: A Few Observations

Let us focus first on the science of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (or IPCC) is a body created by the United Nations to reach scientific consensus about the magnitude and nature of the climate problem. In its "Third Assessment Report," approved in January of this year, the IPCC said it now expects the global average surface temperature to rise by between 2.5 and 10 degrees Fahrenheit over the course of the 21st century. This is a much greater increase than projected just five years ago. Even at the low end of the projection, the warming trend is expected to cause significant problems-more sea level rise, droughts and floods; increasingly violent storms; damage to our ecosystems; effects on the availability of water; and impacts on our forests and agriculture. And the higher-end projections of 10 degrees or more could prove catastrophic. Studies from the IPCC and others also confirm that greenhouse gases produced by human activities, mainly the burning of fossil fuels, are the principal cause of the continuing warming trend.

These findings were confirmed in June by a panel of the National Academy of Sciences, put together at the request of President Bush, and including some scientists who had previously expressed skepticism about the nature and pace of global climate change. The NAS report also affirms that temperatures at the Earth's surface already are rising and that the warming trend has intensified in the last 20 years.

What will be the impact of climate change here in Rhode Island? While it is hard to pinpoint impacts on a state-by-state basis, it is fair to say that Rhode Islanders-and, indeed, all New Englanders-will see temperatures rise, along with significant increases in precipitation. Fragile coastal ecosystems could be at risk as global sea levels rise, barrier reef islands are inundated, and we see an increase in the frequency and severity of storms-as scientists expect we will. Sea-level rise also could lead to flooding of low-lying property, loss of coastal wetlands, erosion of beaches, saltwater contamination of drinking water, and damage to low-lying roads, causeways, and bridges. Agricultural production will surely be affected both here and elsewhere because of warmer temperatures, less soil moisture, and other climate change-related problems. And the possibility of health problems, including increases in heat-related illnesses, cannot be discounted.

The bottom line is that if we need a reason to act on this issue, the latest science certainly provides one. The fact that there is uncertainty about exactly how much temperatures will rise or what the precise effects will be should be expected. Both the IPCC and the NAS have identified a number of critical research challenges that need to be addressed in the coming years. But, increasingly, the science tells us we would be irresponsible not to take the threat of climate change very seriously.

A Second Industrial Revolution

How, then, do we address this threat? How do we avert the many risks that the scientific community is warning us about? Quite obviously, we must reduce our emissions of the greenhouse gases that are contributing to climate change. And to do that, we must launch a new industrial revolution.

This will be a revolution characterized more than anything else by a growing reliance on low-carbon and even no-carbon energy sources to power the world's continuing economic development and growth. We must embrace the possibility of "decarbonizing" our economies. At the same time, we must also be realistic about what can be done and in what time frame. Before you start to think of me as a latter-day Pangloss, let me assure you that I am fully aware that all countries will continue to use petroleum and coal for many years to come. The challenge with respect to these traditional fuel sources will be to promote ever-increasing levels of efficiency in their transmission and use at the same time as we are working to develop and deploy cleaner energy sources for the future. Coal currently accounts for 24 percent of the United States' total primary energy supply-and a remarkable 57 percent of China's. Even if these numbers edge downward-as they are already doing with the introduction of increasing numbers of natural gas-fired power plants-the predominance of coal in the worldwide energy mix means we need to find and embrace cleaner-burning ways of using it. And we need to think seriously about sequestering coal-related carbon dioxide emissions.

But these types of steps clearly will not be enough. The bottom line is that we need new technologies to meet the energy and environmental challenges we face. To effectively address climate change, we need to lower carbon intensity (that is, the amount of carbon we emit per unit of GDP); we need to become more energy efficient, so that we use less energy to achieve the same results; we need to promote carbon sequestration, so that the carbon we do emit does not enter the atmosphere and affect the climate; and we must find ways to limit emissions of non-CO2 greenhouse gases. This will require fundamentally new technologies, as well as dramatic improvements in existing ones. New, less carbon-intensive ways of producing, distributing, and using energy will be essential. The redesign of industrial processes, consumer products, and agricultural technologies and practices will also be critical.

These changes need not take place overnight. They can be introduced over decades as we turn over our existing capital stocks and establish new infrastructure. But we must begin making the investments needed to usher in this new industrial revolution, and we must begin making those investments now.

Industry Takes the Lead

Many businesses, in fact, already are taking important steps to address climate change. About half of the 36 companies that are part of the Pew Center's Business Environmental Leadership Council have set specific, quantitative targets to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, and others are working toward establishing these objectives. Consider DuPont, a corporation that is well on its way to achieving its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 65 percent before 2010, relative to 1990 levels. Or Baxter International, which is committed to improving its energy efficiency by 30 percent below 1996 levels by 2005. Or IBM, which has committed to having 90 to 100 percent of its new model computers meet Energy Star criteria for energy efficiency.

Other companies, too, are making process and efficiency improvements that are yielding real reductions in emissions. The energy company Enron, for example, reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by controlling leaks in its natural gas pipelines. And TransAlta Corporation improved its energy efficiency by about 4 percent when it upgraded old, less efficient turbines and other systems.

In addition to these types of steps, some companies are investing in dramatic changes to their production processes. Alcoa, for example, is developing a new technology for smelting aluminum that, if successful, will allow the company to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to half their 1990 levels over the next nine years. Similarly, Shell aims to achieve its greenhouse gas reduction target by revamping its disposal of the waste gases resulting from oil and gas production, even as it puts increasing emphasis on renewable energy sources.

The States are Moving

We are also beginning to see real movement on this issue from a number of states. On August 28th of this year, the New England Governors and Eastern Canadian premiers approved a comprehensive Climate Change Action Plan at their annual meeting. This plan includes goals of returning the levels of greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2010, reducing them to 10% below that level by 2020, and putting in place a process to review, adjust and add new goals.

The state of New Jersey is hoping to reduce its levels of greenhouse gases by 3.5% from 1990 levels by 2005. The state of Oregon has put in place carbon dioxide standards for new power plants. The state of Massachusetts is regulating its highest emitting power plants, and expects to see significant reductions in emissions by 2008. And many others are experimenting and beginning to implement different approaches to addressing the climate change issue.

The Role of Federal Government Action

All of these are important developments-and they show how increasing numbers of leading companies and states see a clear interest both in reducing their emissions and in helping to shape the energy economy of the future. But voluntary actions undertaken on a largely random basis by some members of the business community or by a small handful of states are not enough. In the United States, we have had voluntary efforts in place for much of the past decade, and still we have seen a dramatic rise in emissions - almost 12 percent over 1990 levels.

In the end, there is little incentive for any company or state to undertake real action unless, ultimately, all do-and unless all are in some manner held accountable. Markets, of course, will be instrumental in mobilizing the necessary resources and know-how. Market-based strategies such as emissions trading will also help deliver emissions reductions at the lowest possible cost. But markets can move us in the right direction only if they are given the right signals. It is our national government's job to send the right signals.

Government can and must play a critical role in establishing the ground rules for the energy economy of the future. Because this is a global problem that must eventually be solved globally, it means sending global signals and establishing mandatory global frameworks for action, because each country must be assured that others will act too. And it means, in turn, the adoption of mandatory programs on a country-by-country basis. What truly matters, of course, is what individual countries and individual businesses do to reduce their individual contributions to this problem. And there is no substitute for actually requiring countries and businesses to reduce emissions, because it is in the process of trying to meet clear objectives that innovation will flourish.

The Significance of the "Kyoto Compromise"

Is government rising to the challenge? Looking first to the international arena, we see that the world community-minus one very important player-has at long last agreed on a set of first steps to address climate change.

As all of you know, over the summer in Bonn, Germany, 178 nations reached a tentative compromise on the rules that will allow the Kyoto Protocol to enter into force. The Kyoto Protocol, of course is the agreement first negotiated in 1997 that requires developed countries to reduce or limit their emissions of greenhouse in relation to 1990 levels, with different countries agreeing to different targets.

In addition to establishing targets, the Kyoto Protocol outlines how countries can achieve them-for example, by making emission reductions at home, by trading emission credits with others, and by using "sinks" such as farms and forests to remove carbon from the atmosphere. Although many of the details on how these mechanisms will work still need to be decided, the compromise reached in Bonn will likely provide countries with a high degree of flexibility in how they use these various strategies. And this, I believe, is a very important and positive development, because it will permit countries and businesses to meet their objectives in the most cost-effective ways.

But the Kyoto Protocol is just a first step on what will be a long march to a less carbon-intensive world. Its initial targets for emission reductions take us only to the 2008-2012 period, and they represent just a very small down payment on the level of reductions that scientists say we must achieve in order to have a real effect on mitigating climate change.

It is also important to note that the ultimate impact of the Kyoto Protocol will be severely limited by the United States government's decision not to be a party to the agreement. The Bush Administration has said repeatedly that it believes Kyoto is fatally flawed and not acceptable to the United States. Granted, the Protocol does have its problems-it is, after all, an agreement of approximately 180 countries with differing aspirations, differing economies, and differing views of the environment. But I believe that the other nations of the world, in agreeing to a compromise solution in Bonn, decided to send a message to the United States that an imperfect agreement is better than none-and that we cannot wait any longer to begin working together to solve the most important environmental issue facing the world today.

The Kyoto compromise very clearly does not amount to a solution to the problem of climate change. Rather, it is a first, strong statement of purpose and will to deal with this problem. And, therefore, it is an essential and historic step.

Launching Domestic Efforts in the U.S.

And what of the United States? Interestingly, in the same way that the Bush Administration's rejection of Kyoto seems to have galvanized international support for the Protocol, it appears to have generated new momentum on Capitol Hill to finally begin tackling the challenge of climate change. It is too early to know how the tragic events of September 11 will affect this and so many other vital issues in the months ahead. But prior to those events, there were strong indications that Congress was more prepared than ever to begin building the programs needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions here in the United States.

It is important to note that this new support comes from both sides of the aisle. Perhaps the biggest sign of a "changing climate" in Congress is legislation introduced by Senator Robert Byrd of coal-producing West Virginia and Senator Ted Stevens of oil-producing Alaska. In addition to providing money for technology research, the Senators' bill would require the President to develop a climate change strategy aimed at stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. Senators John McCain and Joseph Lieberman - another bipartisan team - are going even further. They have announced that they plan to introduce major legislation to require greenhouse gas reductions throughout the economy under an emissions trading system - a proven way to cut emissions cost-effectively, and one that we strongly support.

What are some of the other key elements of a serious domestic program? We need, first and foremost, an energy policy that is climate-friendly. We need policies to deal with energy-using products, such as automobiles and appliances, so that they use fuel more efficiently and are compatible with different, non-fossil fuels. And we need a technology policy that will speed our development and diffusion of new technologies.

None of this will happen overnight. But there is good reason to believe that as we approach the mid-term congressional elections next year, and the presidential election in 2004, the prospects will grow only stronger. And as the United States begins to demonstrate real effort to curb its own emissions, it can credibly reenter the international dialogue and work more closely with other nations to chart a common path forward.

Which leads me to the "strategy for the future" that is mentioned in the title of my remarks. The strategy, in my view, is to insure that the Kyoto Protocol stays on the road to ratification and entry into force, while the United States begins to pursue good-faith domestic efforts to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. To the extent that U.S. efforts are compatible with the Kyoto framework-and I hope they will be compatible-then the world can still hold out hope that the two roads will eventually merge, yielding a truly global plan of action.

Resolving the Equity Issue

Achieving that global strategy, however, will mean coming to terms with an issue that has loomed over the climate debate from the start, but has yet to be faced head-on - and that is the issue of fairness. For as the title of your colloquium, "A Just and Sustainable Future," rightly suggests, this is not about sustainability alone, but justice as well. Indeed, it is hard to imagine a future that is truly sustainable unless it is also fair and just.

From Rio in 1992 through Kyoto in 1997 and up to the most recent round of negotiations in Bonn, the international climate talks have proceeded on the basis of a common understanding: developed countries must act first. This bargain of sorts - which obligates one group of countries to act with the understanding that the other group will follow - acknowledges the fundamental inequities presented by climate change. It is an undeniable fact that developed countries account for the vast majority of the greenhouse gases put in the atmosphere over the past century, and that their per capita emissions are many times those of developing countries. (The United States, for example, contributed nearly a third of worldwide emissions last century and continues to produce roughly a quarter of global emissions with only 4 percent of the world's population.)

But historic responsibility for climate change is just one piece of the equity equation. It is also undeniable that those least responsible, the developing countries, face a disproportionate share of the impacts of global warming - from flooding to disease to famine - while having fewer resources with which to cope.

So while many in the United States, including President Bush, fault Kyoto for letting developing countries off the hook, I believe it is only fair that the developed countries act first. But I also believe that, in time, the developing countries must act too. Indeed, the emission reduction efforts finally getting underway in the industrial world will be pointless unless developing countries agree in some way to restrain the rapid rise in their own emissions.

It is important to recognize the steps already being taken by developing countries. Measures such as market reforms and energy efficiency improvements, while more often motivated by concerns other than climate change, are, in fact, resulting in significant emissions savings. China, for example, cut carbon dioxide emissions by more than 10 percent over the last five years. But far more effort is needed. In a series of reports looking at electric power in developing countries, the Pew Center found that emissions from that sector alone will triple by 2020 under a business-as-usual scenario. However, we also found that efficiency improvements and the introduction of low-emission technologies could cut this increase in half while maintaining economic growth. Once again, technology is absolutely critical.

Arriving at a truly global strategy, then, will require a fundamental rethinking of the approach taken so far. The straightforward targets set by Kyoto - cutting each country's emissions by an agreed percentage - will hopefully succeed in starting industrialized countries on the right path. But a framework that encompasses both developed and developing countries, and fairly apportions responsibility among them, will have to be more sophisticated. It will have to accommodate the legitimate desire of developing countries to raise their living standards. It will have to recognize that different countries face very different challenges - for developed countries, the challenge is converting from the existing energy infrastructure to a clean one, while for developing countries, it is much more a matter of building the infrastructure right in the first place. An effective global strategy also will have to mobilize the flow of technology, know-how and resources from wealthier nations so that poorer countries are in a position to keep up their end of the bargain. In that sense, our challenge is to ensure not only that the new industrial revolution is launched, but also that its fruits are shared quickly and fairly.

These are my thoughts on where we stand in our effort to spare future generations the grave risks of an overheated planet. Enormous challenges lie ahead. But there are promising signs, both internationally and here in the United States, that we are at last mustering the will to begin confronting them. We must seize on that momentum, and keep moving forward. Thank you.

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Press Release: Warming May Pose Risks to Human Health, Report Finds

For Immediate Release :
December 13, 2000

Contact: Katie Mandes, 703-516-4146 
             Dale Curtis, 202-777-3530

Warming May Pose Risks to Human Health, Report Finds; U.S. Better Able to Cope, Poor Countries Less So Experts Say The Elderly, Sick, and Poor Are Most at Risk

Washington, D.C.- Global climate change may exacerbate health risks for the elderly, the infirm, and the poor - although there is substantial capacity to reduce these risks - according to a new report commissioned by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. And while the study finds that over the next few decades the United States may have sufficient resources to prevent the worst possibilities, poorer countries may not fare as well.

W hile current health concerns in the United States tend to revolve around such lifestyle issues as alcohol and tobacco use, lack of exercise, and poor nutrition, climate change raises the possibility that elevated temperatures, air contaminants, and changes in precipitation patterns could pose increased health risks. This new study, written by public health experts Dr. John Balbus of The George Washington University and Dr. Mark Wilson of The University of Michigan, sifts through the evidence of climate-related health risks and reaches the following conclusions:

  • If climate change results in more heat waves and air pollution episodes, disproportionately large and negative impacts on the elderly, the infirm, and the poor are likely to result.
  • While there are indications that a global warming trend may increase the risks of vector- and water-borne diseases, sanitation and public health systems in the United States are generally sufficient to prevent these diseases from dramatically increasing in incidence or distribution. However, many developing countries lack the resources and public health systems needed to prevent such outbreaks. The report says government officials the world over need to maintain and strengthen public health systems, including increased surveillance, and improved hygiene, water quality, and vector control.
  • The linkages between climate and human health are complex and not fully understood. However, uncertainty about adverse health effects should not be interpreted as certainty of no adverse health effects. Moreover, the potential for unexpected events - e.g., sudden changes in climate or the emergence of new diseases -cannot be ruled out, the report says.

"There have been a lot of claims and counter-claims about the potential human health impacts of global climate change," said Pew Center President Eileen Claussen. "An honest assessment must acknowledge that the United States can probably avoid the worst scenarios of disease outbreaks from climate-related causes. "At the same time, we should pay more attention to the climate-related health risks faced by people in less developed countries, and by the most vulnerable people in our own country," Claussen said. "And we need to beef up health surveillance systems to guard against the possible emergence of unexpected health threats." A complete copy of this report and other Pew Center reports can be accessed from the Pew Center's web site, www.c2es.org. About the Pew Center: 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 a nonprofit, non-partisan and independent organization dedicated to providing credible information, straight answers and innovative solutions in the effort to address global climate change. Eileen Claussen, the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, leads the Pew Center. For more information, visit www.c2es.org.

The Pew Center includes the Business Environmental Leadership Council, a group of large, mostly Fortune 500 corporations all working with the Pew Center to address issues related to climate change. The companies do not contribute financially to the Pew Center; it is solely supported by contributions from charitable foundations.

Press Release: Climate Change Could Cause Major Changes in U.S. Ecosystems, New Report Says

For Immediate Release :
Wednesday, December 13, 2000

Contact: Katie Mandes, 703-516-4146
             Dale Curtis, 202-777-3530

Climate Change Could Cause Major Changes in U.S. Ecosystems, New Report Says

Washington, DC -- Global climate change will cause major changes in natural ecosystems - and the plants and animal communities that make up these ecosystems - across the United States, according to a report released today by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.

The report describes the very real possibility that global warming will disrupt the integrity of many of the terrestrial ecosystems on which we depend - ecosystems that provide humans such valuable goods and services as foods, raw materials, recreational opportunities, clean air and water, and erosion control. The importance of ecosystems extends beyond economics and tangible benefits, with many people placing a high value on the spiritual and aesthetic role nature plays in their lives. Despite the crucial roles of terrestrial ecosystems, they are increasingly threatened by the impacts of a growing human population, through habitat destruction and air and water pollution, and now as a result of global climate change.

"This report describes how climate change is likely to profoundly alter the natural environment," said Pew Center President Eileen Claussen. "It underscores the point that domestic and international action to deal with climate change is needed sooner rather than later." The report was commissioned by the Pew Center and written by two ecologists, Dr. Jay R. Malcolm of the University of Toronto and Dr. Louis F. Pitelka of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. Among the authors' conclusions:

  • As the earth warms, the distribution of terrestrial ecosystems will change as plants and animals follow the shifting climate. For example, the eastern United States will likely lose many of its deciduous forests as climate zones shift northward. Thus, sugar maples, so much a part of northeastern states such as Vermont, are likely to be replaced by oaks. Likewise, some habitats - such as those found in the high elevations in mountainous regions of the West - are likely to shrink in a warming world.
  • Both the amount and rate of anticipated warming pose threats to the nation's biological diversity. The rate of anticipated climate change is estimated to be ten times that seen in the last Ice Age. As a result, certain species may face dwindling numbers and even extinction if they are unable to migrate fast enough to keep up with the changing climate.
  • Climate change is likely to alter the quantity and quality of the various goods and services that ecosystems provide. For example, climate change is likely to affect the ability of ecosystems to filter air and water pollutants and to control soil erosion.
  • Modeling studies estimate that the productivity of plants could change little or could increase substantially. However, these productivity changes will not be uniform and some regions could see declines. While productivity may rise, so could decomposition and, with it, the release of carbon to the atmosphere.
  • The effects of climate change on ecosystems must be considered in the context of a range of human-caused impacts on ecosystems. Overall, the new threat of climate change is likely to be especially damaging for ecological communities and species that have suffered the greatest disruption from human development. Natural ecosystems already under stress because of air and water pollution will have diminished capacity to adapt to climate change. Likewise, habitat destruction and fragmentation will lessen the chances that species will successfully migrate to more suitable climates and habitats.
  • It is important to remember that ecosystems are inherently complex, and our ability to predict how ecosystems will respond to climate change is limited. This uncertainty will limit our ability to anticipate and minimize the effects of climate change on ecosystems. In order to maximize nature's own capacity to adapt, government officials and community leaders should continue to support efforts to conserve biodiversity and protect natural systems.

A complete copy of this report and other Pew Center reports can be accessed from the Pew Center's web site, www.c2es.org. About the Pew Center: 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 a nonprofit, non-partisan and independent organization dedicated to providing credible information, straight answers and innovative solutions in the effort to address global climate change. Eileen Claussen, the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, leads the Pew Center.

The Pew Center includes the Business Environmental Leadership Council, a group of large, mostly Fortune 500 corporations all working with the Pew Center to address issues related to climate change. The companies do not contribute financially to the Pew Center; it is solely supported by contributions from charitable foundations.

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