Science

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.

Human Health & Global Climate Change: A Review of Potential Impacts In the United States

Download Full Report

Human Health & Global Climate Change:  A Review of Potential Impacts In the United States

Prepared for the Pew Center on Global Climate Change
December 2000

By:
John M. Balbus, The George Washington University
Mark L. Wilson, The University Of Michigan

Press Release

Download Entire Report (pdf)

Foreword

Eileen Claussen, President, Pew Center on Global Climate Change
 
At the dawn of the twenty-first century, the population of the United States as a whole is one of the healthiest in the world. The socioeconomic development of the last century and a half both allowed for a vast improvement in sanitation and nutrition, and provided resources for the development and maintenance of a generally effective public health system. While current health concerns in this country revolve largely around lifestyle factors such as diet, alcohol use, and physical inactivity, climate change raises the possibility that environmental factors including higher temperatures and increased occurrence of infectious diseases --- could become a growing problem.
 
"Human Health and Global Climate Change" is the sixth in a series of Pew Center reports evaluating the potential impacts of climate change on the U.S. environment and society. The report finds that, in general, the United States should have sufficient resources to limit climate change impacts on human health over this century. At the same time, because the linkages between climate and human health are often complex and not well defined, it is difficult to predict exactly how climate change will impact human health in the United States. Nevertheless, there are some important findings worthy of our attention:
 
  • Higher temperatures are likely to negatively affect health by exacerbating air pollution and increasing the occurrence of heat waves. The elderly, infirm, and poor are most at risk because these conditions can exacerbate pre-existing disease. Lack of access to air conditioning increases the risk of heat-related illness.
  • While there is some indication that changing climatic conditions may increase the risk of vector- and water-borne diseases, sanitation and public health system infrastructures in the United States should prevent these diseases from becoming widespread. To prevent such outbreaks, it is vital that we take steps to maintain and strengthen these infrastructures, including increased surveillance and vector control. At the same time, global health impacts from infectious diseases will almost certainly be greater, as many countries lack either the resources and/or infrastructures to protect their populations.
  • 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 authors and the Pew Center gratefully acknowledge Drs. Kris Ebi, Duane Gubler, and Jonathan Patz for their review of previous drafts of 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 management of this Environmental Impacts Series.

Executive Summary

The population of the United States is among the healthiest in the world, although there are disparities in life expectancy, infant mortality, and other indices of health among different groups within the U.S. population. The main determinants of disease-related mortality in the United States today are lifestyle factors --- tobacco use, alcohol use, dietary intake of calories and fats, sexual behavior, and physical inactivity. The national level of economic and social development in this country has generally provided resources to address critical health determinants such as nutrition, sanitation, and housing quality. In addition, the United States devotes a large amount of resources to health care and maintains a relatively effective public health infrastructure.

This report on the effects of climate change on human health in the United States finds that the complexity of the pathways by which climate affects health represents a major obstacle to predicting how, when, where, and to what extent global climate change may influence human well-being. Some linkages are strong and clearly defined, whereas other important connections are made difficult to define by being variable, region-specific, or mediated through multiple intervening steps.

Mortality from heat waves has been predicted to increase under most scenarios of climate change. The degree to which heat-related mortality rates increase will be determined by the ability to implement early warning systems and other interventions that focus on at-risk populations, as well as by the frequency of extreme heat waves and the changes in daytime temperature variation under future climate regimes. It is less clear whether warmer winter temperatures will result in a significant decline in wintertime mortality from cardiovascular disease.

If extreme precipitation events become more frequent, and sanitation and water-treatment infrastructure is not maintained or improved, an increase in water-borne infections may result. People are also at risk of injury or death from exposure to extreme climate events such as floods, hurricanes, and tornadoes. The public health burden of such events, however, partly depends on the ability to anticipate them, and the education and emergency response planning that may reduce impacts. In addition, current climate models are not able to confidently predict the future frequency of such events, although there has been a trend toward heavier precipitation events during the twentieth century.

Global climate change may affect human respiratory health by changing levels of air pollutants and pollens. For the United States, impacts of climate change on tropospheric, i.e., ground-level, ozone are both more certain and likely to be more important than impacts on other air pollutants. This is due to the importance of temperature in the formation of ozone as well as the large areas of the country currently affected by ozone levels exceeding national standards. Nonetheless, to date, no published studies have modeled the health impacts in the United States due to climate change effects on air pollutants.

In the United States, improved housing, sanitation, and public health interventions have controlled most of the infectious disease risks that are felt to be most climate sensitive (e.g., dengue, malaria, cholera). Of greatest concern are insect vector-borne infections that may increase as the result of changing climate. However, the multiple determinants of vector-borne disease risk and the complexity of transmission dynamics make estimating future patterns of disease difficult. In addition to climate, the risk of many vector-borne diseases is linked to lifestyle, hygiene, housing construction, trash removal, and a host of other socially- and economically-based factors. Thus, infectious disease risk may increase or decrease with climate change, depending upon the interplay of the above factors within a specific region.

For the United States, the success of public health interventions in eradicating malaria and other vector-borne diseases early in the twentieth century underscores the importance of continued public health surveillance and prevention in protecting the U.S. population from any climate-induced enhancement in vector-borne disease transmission. Maintenance and strengthening of public health infrastructure, especially surveillance and vector control, will be critical to preventing significant outbreaks in the future. Inclusion of public health and climate change experts in planning regarding land-use and utility infrastructure will also help assure maximal protection of public health during this upcoming period of climate change.

It is critical to keep in mind that uncertainty regarding adverse health outcomes is not the same as the certainty of no adverse outcomes. Given the potential scope and irreversibility of ecosystem changes and consequent effects on human health and society, traditional public health values would urge prudent action to prevent such changes. The possibility of relatively sudden but unpredictable consequences further raises the value of climate change mitigation for health concerns.

About the Authors

Dr. John M. Balbus
Dr. John Balbus is the Director of the Center for Risk Science and Public Health and an associate Professor of Environmental and Occupational Health at the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services. Board certified in both Internal Medicine and Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Dr. Balbus is also appointed in the Departments of Medicine and International Public Health. He received his MPH degree from the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health, his MD degree from the University of Pennsylvania, and his undergraduate degree in biochemistry from Harvard University. Dr. Balbus is the Principal Investigator on a cooperative agreement with the US Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Water, which focuses on a number of issues related to risk assessment for drinking water contaminants. He is also a co-Principal Investigator on a new Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit. Dr. Balbus' research interests include risk assessment methodologies for health effects of climate change and waterborne pathogens, and variations in susceptibility to microbial and chemical environmental contaminants. He has served as technical consultant and author for the health sector for both the United Nations Environmental Programme project on global climate change and the United States Country Studies program.

Dr. Mark L. Wilson
Mark L. Wilson is currently Associate Professor of Epidemiology and of Biology at the University of Michigan, where his research and teaching cover the broad area of ecology and epidemiology of infectious diseases. After earning his doctoral degree from Harvard University in 1985, he worked at the Pasteur Institute in Dakar Senegal (1986-90), was on the faculty at the Yale University School of Medicine (1991-96), and then joined the University of Michigan. Dr. Wilson's research addresses the environmental determinants of zoonotic and arthropod-borne diseases, the evolution of vector-host-parasite systems, and the analysis of transmission dynamics. He is an author of more than 90 journal articles, book chapters and research reports, and has served on numerous government advisory groups concerned with environmental change and health. He currently is a member of the National Academy of Sciences panel on "Climate, Ecosystems, Infectious Diseases and Human Health."

 

John Bachmann
Mark L. Wilson
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Op-Ed: Getting It Right: Climate Change Problem Demands Thoughtful Solutions

OPINION EDITORIAL
"Getting It Right: Climate Change Problem Demands Thoughtful Solutions"

By Eileen Claussen, Executive Director for the Pew Center on Global Climate Change

Appeared in the Washington Post

November 14, 2000

Many of the government officials gathering this month for the climate change negotiations in The Hague are hoping to put the finishing touches on rules to implement the Kyoto Protocol. But getting those rules right is more important than getting them all completed.

Still unresolved on the eve of the meeting are a range of very complicated political and technical issues that will play a decisive role in determining whether we achieve our goal of stabilizing the earth's climate system. It is not a stretch to say that how we decide these issues will determine how we are judged by future generations.

Decision-makers in The Hague should remember that the Kyoto Protocol was designed as both a first step in reducing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases and as a framework for long-term, cost-effective action. In other words, this is a treaty that will have to stand the test of time. Short-term political considerations-including the desire to resolve all remaining issues this year-should therefore take a backseat to the goal of creating a global system that is transparent, fair, environmentally effective, economically efficient, and as simple as possible.

The Remaining Issues

Four key sets of issues remain in play as the negotiators come together:

  1. The Kyoto Mechanisms. The Kyoto mechanisms were designed to allow countries to pursue the most cost-effective means of reducing their emissions-for example, by engaging in international emissions trading. But there are provisions being negotiated that would make the Kyoto mechanisms totally inoperable, and others that would seriously limit their use. If the negotiators are careless in defining the rules, or determined to constrain when and how the mechanisms can be used, this will simply increase the costs of complying with the Protocol. And the result might be a higher level of noncompliance, an outcome that no one should want.
  2. Carbon Sequestration. The question here is whether and how countries should receive credit toward their emissions reduction targets for using agricultural lands and forests to store carbon. A related question is whether credit should be given for investments in sequestration projects in developing countries. The important role of soil and forest sequestration in stabilizing the global climate system cannot be denied. However, we have not yet defined what types of sequestration activities ought to count-or even how to count them.
  3. Compliance. Yet another unanswered question is whether the Kyoto Protocol will include binding consequences for noncompliance. In other words, how will we penalize those countries that miss their targets? This is a crucial issue to the Protocol's success. Only by establishing and enforcing significant noncompliance penalties can we create a fair and efficient global system, and one that yields results.
  4. Assistance to Developing Countries. Developing countries properly argue that the industrialized world is not doing enough to implement provisions of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. In that precursor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol, the United States and other nations pledged to support developing countries in their efforts to reduce emissions through capacity building, technology transfer, and funding for "adaptation" initiatives. Decision makers in The Hague will have to respond seriously to these concerns at the same time as they are working on the more fractious issues of the Kyoto framework.

Looking Ahead

As if resolving these immediate questions were not enough of a challenge, everyone concerned with this issue must also give serious thought to the future. After all, the 2008-2012 deadline for achieving the first round of emissions reductions under the Kyoto Protocol is fast approaching. And, even if these initial targets are met (an unlikely prospect), they represent only a first step toward the sustained and significant reductions in emissions that will be necessary to reduce the threat of climate change throughout the 21st century.

A crucial issue for the future, then, is to think about what kind of targets we will have to establish in the years after 2012. At the same time, we need to think about how to involve developing countries in these future global efforts in a more active way. Developing countries are struggling to lift their people to a higher standard of living, and doing so will mean absolute increases in energy use and emissions.

We will accomplish very little, if anything, by requiring developing countries to achieve short-term emissions reductions. The better approach is to craft an equitable and effective framework for future targets for all countries, bearing in mind that we face a common challenge: maximizing the environmental benefits we are able to achieve while minimizing the costs of reducing and limiting our emissions.

Meeting the challenge of global climate change calls for no less than a second industrial revolution. We need to promote new technologies and new investments that will put the entire world on a path to clean economic development. And, in creating the global legal framework to make this happen, we need to make absolutely certain that we get it right.

Appeared in the Washington Post, Tuesday, November 14, 2000— by Eileen Claussen

Press Release: New Report Explores Ways to Encourage Consumers To Buy Energy-Efficient Home Appliances

For Immediate Release:
October 31, 2000

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

New Report Explores Ways to Encourage Consumers To Buy Energy-Efficient Home Appliances

Washington, DC - Public policies to encourage turnover of aging home appliances and purchases of more efficient models could help reduce the emissions linked to global warming, according to a new report released by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.

"The economics are generally attractive for consumers to upgrade to energy-efficient models when they replace old or broken appliances," said Eileen Claussen, President of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. "But without targeted public policies, consumers may be unaware of the potential cost savings and environmental benefits of doing so."

"This important Pew Center report illustrates how the use of energy-efficient appliances can help combat climate change," said Jeff Fettig, President and CEO, Whirlpool Corporation. "At Whirlpool, we believe that sound policy can stimulate companies to produce more energy-efficient products and encourage consumers to buy them."

"At Maytag, the extraordinary consumer acceptance of our Neptune washer provides clear evidence that consumers will purchase environmentally friendly appliances if those products also provide superior performance," said Lawrence J. Blanford, President, Major Appliance Division, Maytag Corporation. "Consumer education programs, such as the recent Boston washer study conducted by the Department of Energy and Maytag, bring the message to consumers that they and the nation benefit when they replace their older, less efficient appliance with a newer, high efficiency model."

Lessons On What Works, What Doesn't

The report, entitled "Global Warming and Appliances: Increasing Consumer Participation in Reducing Greenhouse Gases," was written by two leading experts in the field: Everett Shorey of Shorey Consulting, Inc. and Tom Eckman of the Northwest Power Planning Council.

The paper frames the policy issues by identifying the major home appliances that require the most electricity, such as refrigerators, clothes washers, and room air conditioners. Then it analyzes the economic ramifications for consumers of various appliance purchase options. Next it identifies important consumer characteristics to be considered at different stages in the appliance purchase process. Finally, it reviews past attempts to influence consumer choice through public policy initiatives and suggests how new initiatives could be targeted more effectively.

Experience from these past programs has demonstrated that:
  • Well crafted programs including rebates, publicity, and assistance in disposing of old appliances appear to motivate consumers to replace refrigerators before the end of the expected life of the appliance. It is likely that the refrigerator experience can be generalized to other appliances.
  • There is little or no evidence that consumer tax credits are effective in influencing a significant number of consumers to change their purchasing behavior.
  • Energy labels and the US EPA's Energy Star logo are good indicators of cost-effective and energy-efficient appliances, but the labels in themselves are insufficient to cause substantial change in consumer purchasing practices.


The more successful programs offer insights that should drive the development of any future programs:

  • It is much easier to influence consumers who are actively engaged in appliance purchases than to influence the general public.
  • Retail appliance salespeople have significant influence on consumer choice. Incentives aimed at the salesperson, coupled with simple sales tools, can steer consumers in the direction of energy-efficient appliances.
  • Direct financial incentives for consumers may not be necessary.
Continuation of Solutions Series

The appliance report is the second in a new series of reports aimed at identifying solutions to the challenges presented by 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 these 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.

Press Release: Forests and Soils Can Play Significant Role In Mitigating Climate Change

For Immediate Release:
June 27, 2000

Contact: Dale Curtis, 202-777-3530
             Vicki Arroyo Cochran, 703-516-0601

Forests and Soils Can Play Significant Role In Mitigating Climate Change: New Report Explores the Potential and Unresolved Issues

Washington, DC — Forests and soils could play a significant role in helping to reduce the risks of global climate change, but many key issues must be resolved, according to a report being released today by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.

Under the international agreement on climate change known as the Kyoto Protocol, many developed countries have set targets to reduce or restrain their emissions of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide (CO2) from the combustion of fossil fuels. The treaty also encourages countries to reduce emissions by slowing deforestation or to remove CO2 from the atmosphere by planting trees. There is also the possibility of removing CO2 from the atmosphere through improved management of agricultural soils. These measures are collectively known as LULUCF — Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry -- but the details of how they would be handled are largely unresolved.

The Pew Center report, entitled "Land Use and Global Climate Change: Forests, Land Management and the Kyoto Protocol," was written by two internationally acknowledged experts on the issue. It explores whether land use and forestry activities can provide the same long-term benefit for the global climate system as direct reductions of greenhouse gas emissions. It also reviews the international negotiations on this issue to date, and suggests questions that must be answered before land management can become an effective part of the solution to climate change.

"Storing carbon is no panacea, but it could be an important part of the menu of options aimed at slowing the build-up of atmospheric carbon dioxide levels," said Eileen Claussen, President of the Pew Center. "However, key rules have been left undecided, allowing countries to push for interpretations that may weaken commitments made under the Protocol."

Among the key findings of the study:

  • LULUCF activities differ from emission reductions in several ways. One is "permanence," or whether carbon stored in the biosphere might be lost later, for example through a forest fire. Another long-term concern is "saturation," or whether the potential for LULUCF might be limited by the lands available and the amount of carbon that can be stored per unit of land.
  • Implementation of the Kyoto Protocol language on LULUCF is confounded by the lack of functional definitions for common words like "forest" and "reforestation."
  • Even if definitions of disputed terms and accounting rules can be agreed upon, the impacts on various countries of including LULUCF in emissions calculations will depend on the nature of their forests; whether the LULUCF sector is currently a net emitter or remover of atmospheric CO2; and trends in that sector.
  • Article 12 of the Kyoto Protocol allows developed countries to receive credits for projects undertaken in developing countries. But the article does not specifically mention LULUCF projects. Negotiators must decide whether LULUCF activities will be allowed in such projects, and if so, what accounting mechanisms are appropriate, including how to address "permanence" issues.
  • The Kyoto Protocol recognizes LULUCF selectively, sometimes awarding credits for increasing carbon storage, and sometimes not; sometimes charging losses in carbon stocks (e.g., as a result of deforestation) against national commitments, and sometimes not. A climate control effort that includes forests needs to account for both CO2 emissions and removals in a balanced manner.

The report authors are Bernhard Schlamadinger of the Institute of Energy Research, a division of Joanneum Research, in Graz, Austria; and Gregg Marland of the Environmental Sciences Division of Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

A complete copy of the report is available on the Pew Center's web site, www.c2es.org.

The Pew Center was established in May 1998 by the Pew Charitable Trusts, one of the nation's largest philanthropies and an influential voice in efforts to improve the quality of America's environment. The Pew Center supports businesses in developing marketplace solutions to reduce greenhouse gases; produces analytical reports on the science, economics, and policies related to climate change; conducts public education efforts; and promotes better understanding of market mechanisms globally. Eileen Claussen, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, is the President of the Pew Center. The Pew Center includes the Business Environmental Leadership Council, which is composed of 21 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.

Environmental Impacts of Climate Change Workshop

Promoted in Energy Efficiency section: 
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Pew Center Workshop on the Environmental Impacts of Climate Change

July 18-19, 2000
The Marriott at Metro Center, Washington, DC

On July 18-19, 2000, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change held a Workshop on the Environmental Impacts of Climate Change. This workshop brought together leading scientists, economists, and others interested in climate change science and policy. The purpose of the workshop was to investigate the potential environmental and economic implications of climate change for various sectors of the United States, including natural ecosystems and resources, human health, and infrastructure. Many of the papers commissioned for the workshop have been released as reports in the Pew Center's Environment Series.

Land Use & Global Climate Change: Forests, Land Management, and the Kyoto Protocol

Land Use & Global Climate Change: Forests, Land Management, and the Kyoto Protocol

Prepared for the Pew Center on Global Climate Change
June 2000

By:
Bernhard Schlamadinger, Joanneum Research, Austria
Gregg Marland, Environmental Sciences Division, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, USA

Press Release

Download Entire Report (pdf)

Foreword

Eileen Claussen, President, Pew Center on Global Climate Change

Allowing nations to receive credit under the Kyoto Protocol for using lands and forests to store carbon has been, and will continue to be, controversial until key issues are settled. The Protocol sets forth a partial system for including land-use change and forestry, and negotiators are left with the difficult task of closing potentially important gaps in the rules. Without specific crediting rules, countries can posture for interpretations that could allow them to weaken commitments made under the Protocol. With this situation in mind, the Pew Center commissioned this report to identify key issues in the debate regarding terrestrial carbon.

Report authors Bernhard Schlamadinger and Gregg Marland examine how forests and other lands can be managed to slow the rate of increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, review how the Kyoto Protocol deals with forests and other land uses, and identify outstanding issues that must be resolved if the Protocol is to be implemented.

The report finds the following:

  • Forests and the way we manage them provide significant opportunities to assist in climate control efforts.
  • The Kyoto Protocol includes land use, land-use change, and forestry, but it does so selectively: sometimes awarding credits for increasing carbon stored through forest and land management, and sometimes not; sometimes charging decreases in carbon stocks (e.g., as a result of deforestation) against national commitments, and sometimes not. As currently crafted, the system is only a partial one and requires further clarification and practical, effective implementation methodologies if potential benefits from land management are to be realized.
  • A climate control effort that includes forests needs to account for carbon dioxide both released and absorbed, and it needs to do so in a balanced manner that only rewards activities that contribute to slowing the rate of increase of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

While not a panacea, storing carbon could be an important part of a menu of options aimed at slowing the build-up of atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.

The authors have been part of the writing team for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Special Report on Land Use, Land-Use Change, and Forestry, and acknowledge the importance of discussions and interactions with other experts during that process in helping shape this report. Discussions within IEA (International Energy Agency) Bioenergy, Task 25 (Greenhouse Gas Balances of Bioenergy Systems) were also an important source of ideas and feedback. The Pew Center and authors are grateful to Don Goldberg, Mark Trexler, Kristiina Vogt, and Murray Ward, who reviewed the manuscript in draft form, and to Sandra Brown for her guidance as an expert consultant on this report. 

Executive Summary

There is increasing concern that the Earth's climate is changing because of the rising concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), drafted in 1992, expresses this concern, and the Kyoto Protocol, negotiated in 1997, sets forth binding targets for emissions of greenhouse gases from developed countries. The Kyoto Protocol represents considerable progress in building a global consensus on how to confront the growth of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, but it also contains many ambiguities and leaves many issues that need to be resolved before it can be implemented.

The Kyoto Protocol sets quantitative targets for countries to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, but it recognizes that the same goal can be achieved by removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. There are opportunities to reduce the rate of build-up of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2 ) through land management activities, referred to as Land Use, Land-Use Change, and Forestry (LULUCF) activities. These opportunities include slowing the loss of carbon from plants and soils — e.g., through reduced rates of deforestation — and encouraging the return of carbon from the atmosphere to plants and soils — e.g., by planting trees (afforestation and reforestation) or improving management of forests or agricultural soils.

This paper explores whether LULUCF activities provide the same long-term benefit for the climate system as does reducing emissions from fossil-fuel combustion; sketches the development of international negotiations on LULUCF issues; looks at the consensus negotiated so far on this issue; and examines the ambiguities of the Kyoto Protocol, the issues yet to be resolved, and the decisions yet to be made before the Protocol can serve as an effective international instrument. An effective instrument would encourage countries to manage the terrestrial biosphere in a way that minimizes net emissions of greenhouse gases while serving other goals such as sustainable development.

Important issues when designing incentives for land-based climate-change mitigation are whether net carbon sequestration can be considered permanent; whether there will be excessive leakage — a phenomenon where, for example, efforts to protect or increase forests in one place hastens their loss elsewhere; whether the potential for LULUCF activities is sufficiently large to offer real opportunity for reductions in atmospheric CO2; and whether analytical techniques permit an accurate measure of carbon gained or retained (or lost) in terrestrial ecosystems.

LULUCF activities differ from emission reductions from fossil fuels because their overall potential is limited by the lands available and the amount of carbon that can be stored per unit of land (“saturation”); and because carbon offsets in the biosphere are at risk of being lost at a later time, whereas emission reductions from fossil fuels not burned in one year do not generally trigger greater emissions in a subsequent year (“permanence”). Saturation is relevant especially in the long term (several decades). Options for addressing the lack of permanence of terrestrial carbon stocks exist and are discussed in this paper.

Several articles of the Kyoto Protocol address land management issues. Article 3.3 provides that some LULUCF activities — afforestation, reforestation, and deforestation (ARD) — will be accounted for in determining compliance with national commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Many negotiators did not want to sanction credits without actions. Consequently, credits in the LULUCF sector are restricted not just to ARD, but to those ARD activities that are directly human-induced, and then only to activities that are initiated after January 1, 1990. Article 3.4 outlines the procedure for including additional LULUCF activities in commitment periods after the first (i.e., after 2012), and in the first commitment period provided that activities have taken place since 1990.

Implementation of these articles is confounded by a lack of definitions for words like “reforestation” and “forest,” and the implications of choosing among commonly used definitions are very large. The precise definitions of terms and the rules for taking account of carbon emissions and removals due to LULUCF activities will have different impacts on different countries depending on: 1) the nature of their forests, 2) whether or not the LULUCF sector is currently a source (net emitter) or sink (net remover) for atmospheric CO2, and 3) the expected emissions balance of the LULUCF sector over the coming decades. The LULUCF provisions in the Kyoto Protocol can only be implemented once the accounting rules have been determined. Inevitably there is a problem when the commitments have already been agreed to, but agreement on the opportunities and rules for meeting those commitments has not yet been fully reached.

Implementation of the LULUCF provisions of the Protocol raises at least six principal issues for domestic LULUCF activities:

  • What is meant by a “direct human-induced” activity?
  • What is a forest and what is reforestation?
  • How will uncertainty and verifiability be dealt with?
  • How will accounts deal with the issues of (non)permanence (sequestration reversed by emissions at a later date, e.g. if a new forest is destroyed by a catastrophic event) and leakage?
  • Which activities beyond ARD, if any, will be included, and what accounting rules should apply?
  • Which carbon pools and which greenhouse gases should be considered?

The last point includes the issue of whether and how to consider that harvested materials from forests can result in an increasing stock of carbon in long-lived wood products and landfills. The Kyoto Protocol does recognize that greenhouse gas emissions will be reduced when sustainably-produced biomass products are used in place of fossil fuels or energy-intensive materials. Biomass fuels, for example, can be used in place of fossil fuels, and construction wood can be used in place of other, often more energy-intensive, materials such as steel or concrete.
In addition to encouraging certain domestic LULUCF activities, the Protocol, through Articles 6 and 12, provides for mitigation projects in other countries and trading of emission credits. When projects involve only developed countries (Article 6), emission reductions or enhancement of sinks that are credited to one country are subtracted from the assigned amount of the other, and there is no change in the global total of assigned amounts. Projects involving both developed and developing countries (Article 12), referred to as clean development mechanism (CDM) projects, result in an increase in the global total of assigned amounts because credits are added to the assigned amounts of developed countries whereas, in the absence of emission limits in developing countries, no subtraction takes place elsewhere. It is therefore critical that the credits result from real emission reductions, or sink enhancements, that go beyond what would have happened without the project. Herein arises the concept of “additionality.”

Article 12 of the Kyoto Protocol does not specifically include or exclude LULUCF projects. At least two important, project-level issues for LULUCF remain to be addressed:

  • Will LULUCF activities in developing countries be accepted in the CDM and, if so, which activities?
  • What accounting mechanisms are appropriate if LULUCF projects in developing countries can generate emission credits but there is no responsibility for debits if the carbon is subsequently lost?

The potential for increasing carbon stocks in the terrestrial biosphere might be limited compared to total greenhouse gas emissions, but their impact could be considerable in relation to the reductions necessary for compliance in the first commitment period (2008-2012). However, not all changes in carbon stocks in the biosphere are treated equally in the Protocol, some yield credits or debits and some do not. It is inevitable that a system cannot be optimized by treating only a portion of that system, and the definitions and rules for LULUCF will have to be carefully crafted to provide incentives for increasing carbon stocks while recognizing the other important roles played by the terrestrial biosphere and its products. It is, however, important that the transaction costs associated with these rules are not so high that they discourage participation toward the ultimate objective of stabilizing atmospheric CO2. If all of this can be achieved, improved management of the terrestrial biosphere can provide an important contribution toward meeting climate-change objectives, and the Kyoto Protocol can provide incentives for improved management of the terrestrial biosphere.

Bernhard Schlamadinger
Gregg Marland
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Press Release: Increases in Global Temperature Could Accelerate Historical Rate of Sea-Level Rise

For Immediate Release:
February 29, 2000

Contact: Kelly Sullivan, 202-289-5900

Increases in Global Temperature Could Accelerate Historical Rate of Sea-Level Rise

U.S. Coastal Development, Wetland Resources, and Recreation Affected

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A new report released today by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change states that climate change will lead to a rise in sea levels through the warming of oceans and melting of ice. Rising seas will affect coastal development, wetland resources and recreation along the U.S. coastline. The impacts will be greatest in coastal areas that already face a wide range of natural and human-induced stresses, including erosion, storms, and pressures from development and recreational uses. If the effects of sea-level rise are better assimilated into coastal planning decisions, many impacts of sea-level rise could be reduced and the costs of adapting minimized.

The report, Sea-Level Rise & Global Climate Change: A Review of Impacts to U.S. Coasts, finds that the vulnerability of a coastal area to sea-level rise varies according to the physical characteristics of the coastline, the population size, and amount of development, and the responsiveness of land-use and infrastructure planning at the local level.

"The potential impacts to our coastal areas are another reason for our policy makers to address the challenge of climate change," said Eileen Claussen, President of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. "Responses to sea-level rise at the national, state and local level must reflect an understanding of the complex interactions of human and ecological systems in coastal areas."

The report concludes that sea levels have already risen between 10 and 25 cm (4 and 10 inches) over the last century and climate change will accelerate these rates, with sea levels projected to rise by 50 cm (20 in) by 2100. Low-lying areas in the Gulf Coast, the South, and the mid-Atlantic regions are especially at risk. In addition, the rapid increase in coastal development over the last few decades has brought with it a greater likelihood of increased property damage in coastal areas and the need for more widespread, and more costly, protection of that property.

The major physical impacts of a rise in sea level include erosion of beaches, inundation of deltas as well as flooding and loss of many marshes and wetlands. Estimates of land in the United States inundated by a 50 cm (20 in) rise in sea level are about 24,000 km2 (9,000 mi2), divided almost equally between upland areas and wetlands. In addition, increased salinity will likely become a problem in coastal aquifers and estuarine systems as a result of saltwater intrusion. These changes, in turn, affect human uses of the coast, such as tourism, settlement, shipping, commercial and recreational fishing, agriculture and wildlife viewing.

Although there is some uncertainty about the effect of climate change on storms and hurricanes, rising sea level could result in more risks from coastal storms. Also, increases in the intensity or frequency or changes in the paths of these storms could increase storm damage in coastal areas. Damage to and loss of coastal areas would compromise the economic and ecological amenities provided by coastal wetlands and marshes, including flood control, critical ecological habitat, and water purification. Major coastal cities such as New Orleans, Miami, New York, and Washington, DC, will have to upgrade flood defenses and drainage systems or risk adverse consequences.

"Damages and economic losses could be reduced if local decision-makers understand the potential impacts of sea-level rise and use this information for planning," Claussen said.

There are three options for responding to coastal threats: planned retreat, accommodation, and protection. Impact and adaptation assessments, which evaluate the costs of these options and the damages to unprotected resources, indicate that property losses or the costs to protect property dominate the existing impact estimates for the United States. Estimates of the impacts of a 50 cm (20 in) sea-level rise by 2100 on coastal property range from about $20 billion to about $150 billion. In addition, although current assessments do not include the monetary costs of impacts to wetlands, the implications of this loss could also be significant

The report is the fourth in a series of reports examining the potential impacts of climate change on the U.S. environment and society. The report's principal authors are James E. Neumann of the Industrial Economics, Inc., Gary Yohe of Wesleyan University, and Robert Nicholls of Middlesex University.

A complete copy of the report is available on the Pew Center's web site, www.c2es.org.

The Pew Center was established in May 1998 by the Pew Charitable Trusts, one of the nation's largest philanthropies and an influential voice in efforts to improve the quality of the U.S. environment. The Pew Center is conducting studies, launching public education efforts, promoting climate change solutions globally and working with businesses to develop marketplace 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 21 major, largely Fortune 500 corporations working with the Center to address issues related to climate change. The companies do not contribute financially to the Pew Center, which is solely supported by contributions from charitable foundations.

Address by Eileen Claussen at Commonwealth Club

Address by Eileen Claussen President
Pew Center on Global Climate Change

Commonwealth Club
San Francisco, CA

February 23, 2000

Thank you very much. It is a pleasure to be here. While I know this is really a speech on global warming, you will find that I have drawn some of my inspiration from Alice in Wonderland. And so I would like to start with a quote that I believe really sets the stage for my remarks, where Alice asks the Cheshire Cat "Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?" "That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat. "I don't much care where---" said Alice. "Then it doesn't matter which way you go," said the Cat. "---so long as I get somewhere," Alice added as an explanation. "Oh, you're sure to do that," said the Cat, "if only you walk long enough."

I bring up this quotation because I believe that, on the issue of global climate change, it is truly important to get somewhere, and walking long enough is clearly not the answer. What I want to do today is to reach through the looking glass and pull the issue of global climate change out of the wonderland where it too often resides. And I want to paint a picture for you of exactly where things stand in the global effort to meet what may be the most important challenge of the 21st century.

I want to talk to you first about the science of global climate change. I also want to talk about how the growing scientific consensus around this issue is forcing many countries around the world to pay attention and to do something—both unilaterally and by continuing their work on an international treaty designed to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, I want to talk about the United States and what we as a nation are—or, more precisely, are not—doing to move this issue forward. And I want to leave you with an understanding that the one sector of our society where people seem to taking concrete steps to address this issue is in the American business community.

The Science of Global Climate Change
So let me begin by talking briefly about the science of global climate change. And let me quote something else from Alice in Wonderland that I think wonderfully illustrates some of the discussion we've seen in recent years on the question of whether or not climate change is real. This from Alice's encounter with Tweedledum and Tweedledee.


"I know what you're thinking about," said Tweedledum, "but it isn't so, no-how."
"Contrariwise," continued Tweedledee, "if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn't, it ain't. That's logic."

Although there are still some who argue like Tweedledum and Tweedledee that "it isn't so, no-how," the truth is it's becoming harder and harder to brush aside the possibility—indeed, the reality—of global climate change. Over the last two to three years, we have seen a remarkable shift in the discussion of this issue. Even many former skeptics now acknowledge that it is happening in some way—or, at the very least, that it is something we should be concerned about.

While this attitude shift may be in part a consequence of the strange weather we've been having around the world, the main reason people are paying more attention to this issue of late, without a doubt, is the science. And, more specifically, the growing scientific consensus that global warming is so.

So, at the risk of sounding like your ninth grade science teacher, I want to take a minute to talk through some of the scientific issues involved in climate change. The earth's atmosphere, as we all know, is made up mainly of oxygen and nitrogen, but it also contains other naturally occurring gases, including water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. It is these gases that are responsible for the natural greenhouse effect without which the earth would be about 34 degrees colder than it is now.

For years scientists have noted that atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases have been rising, particularly since the late 1800s. The primary reason: human activities such as the burning of oil, coal and natural gas. Since 1860, atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide alone have increased by 30 percent.

At the same time, the average surface temperature around the globe also has been rising—by anywhere from 0.72 to 1.44 degrees Fahrenheit over the last century. This finding was affirmed just last month by a panel of the National Academy of Sciences, which asserted that the warming trend has accelerated during the past 20 years.

In their analyses of these and other data, most of the world's best scientists agree on two things:


First, they agree that the earth will continue to warm. Last year, we at the Pew Center commissioned a report predicting that future changes in global-mean temperatures will be two to seven times more rapid than the changes we saw in the 20th century. We concluded that the earth will warm by 1.5 to 6 degrees Fahrenheit by the year 2100. That is in addition to the warming we have already seen.

The second thing that most of the world's best scientists agree on is that human-induced greenhouse gases will be at least partly responsible for the continuing warming trend.

I don't want to oversimplify the consensus that exists here. There remain significant uncertainties (such as how the formation and dissipation of clouds affect the climate). And there are still some skeptical scientists, although their numbers appear to be dwindling. The biggest question today, however, is not whether there is, or will be, a change in the global climate, but rather what the effects of that change will be, where they will be felt, and when.
What do we know about the effects of global climate change? If the predictions are right about the amount of warming we will experience over the next century—and I have seen nothing to suggest they are not—it is quite clear we will see a rise in sea level of anywhere from 6 to 37 inches. This will be caused by two things: the first is the fact that water expands when it is heated, and the second is that global warming will result in the melting of some glacial ice.

California, of course, will not be able to escape the effects of the rising sea levels brought on by global climate change. You could see flooding of low-lying property, loss of coastal wetlands, erosion of beaches, saltwater contamination of drinking water, and decreased longevity of low-lying roads, causeways, and bridges. Rising sea levels also could increase the vulnerability of coastal areas to storms and associated flooding.

OK, so what about the weather? What sorts of changes are we likely to see there? Based on projections by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and results from the United Kingdom Hadley Centre's climate model, by the year 2100, temperatures in California could increase by about 5 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter and summer and slightly less in the spring and fall. Researchers project increases in precipitation of anywhere from 10 to 50 percent in the spring and fall here in California, with somewhat larger increases in winter.

Another weather issue that has been in the news of late is extreme weather—or, more precisely, the potential role of global climate change in increasing the incidence of extreme weather events. Measuring changes in daily precipitation extremes around the world can be highly uncertain, but there is some evidence suggesting an increase in the frequency of wet extremes—not a happy prospect in a state that in recent years has added the mudslide to the list of natural disasters that keep Americans up at night.

Now please don't get me wrong. My objective here is not to scare you about the future or to give you a laundry list of possible or probable environmental effects, but simply to suggest this: we know enough about the science and the environmental impacts of climate change to begin taking steps to address its consequences now. We all live in worlds where we analyze risks, make decisions, and take appropriate actions based on our risk assessments. This issue is clearly at a stage where we must move beyond denial and debate, and focus ourselves on rational action, based on what we know from the science.

The World Responds
It was the strengthening scientific consensus about global climate change—a consensus that is even stronger today—that brought 150 nations together in Kyoto, Japan in 1997 to negotiate a framework for reducing greenhouse gas emissions around the world.

The Kyoto Protocol essentially requires developed countries to reduce or limit their emissions of greenhouse gases in relation to their emission levels in 1990. It also permits the use of various "flexible mechanisms" that can assist these countries in reaching their legally binding targets in a cost-effective manner. These mechanisms include: international emissions trading; joint implementation, which allows countries to receive credit for emission-reduction projects undertaken in other developed countries; and the Clean Development Mechanism-which allows trading in certified emission reductions between industrialized and developing nations. Fifty-five countries representing 55 percent of all developed country greenhouse gas emissions must ratify the Kyoto Protocol for it to enter into force.

The international negotiations that produced the Kyoto Protocol are still under way. Many terms in the original Protocol were left undefined, just as many of its provisions were not adequately explained. Issues that remain up in the air, so to speak, are: the structure and definition of the flexible mechanisms I mentioned; how to handle the issue of carbon sequestration, or the application of land use and forestry practices to help reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide; and how to establish a compliance regime—in other words, how does the world go about policing this enormously complex international agreement?

But despite the continuing negotiations, much work is under way to move forward with the emission reductions that are required under the Kyoto Protocol. I will give you a few examples:


The United Kingdom is now in the process of planning a domestic emission-trading experiment.

The Danish government already has secured legislative authority to implement a trading program of its own, and similar programs are under development in Norway and Sweden.

Looking elsewhere, the Germans are implementing a modest tax program, and a parliament in the Netherlands has approved a more traditional program that draws on a variety of policies and measures in an effort to curb emissions.

Last but not least, Japan, as a major player in the development of the Kyoto framework, is viewing this issue from a competitiveness standpoint and is developing strategies for its own emission reduction programs.

Whether any of these countries' efforts will work, or how well they will work, remains uncertain. But they do reflect serious attempts to experiment and move forward, to take necessary risks, and to determine what approaches ultimately will be successful.

The U.S. Government: AWOL on Warming
So what about the United States? What is our government doing to ensure that the necessary emission reductions are made? Before I answer this question, let me remind you that we are responsible for 25 percent of global emissions of these pollutants. This in a country that is home to less than 5 percent of the global population. If international leadership on this issue should come from anywhere, it should come from us.

But leadership is not coming from us. It is rare both in Washington and on the presidential campaign trail for the discussion of this issue to get past the question of whether to support the Kyoto Protocol or whether to declare it dead. What the discussion has not touched on—and should—is the further development and implementation of programs that would change the expected trajectory of our nation's greenhouse gas emissions. The U.S. Congress, in particular, appears determined to let absolutely nothing happen that would even remotely suggest that the United States is concerned about this issue. And while there have been several climate change bills introduced in the Congress, the prevailing wisdom is to view any effort to move forward on this issue as a quote-unquote "backdoor" attempt to implement the Kyoto Protocol and therefore to block it.

And what about the White House? President Clinton, in the budget he submitted in February, proposed spending $2.4 billion on various clean energy and energy conservation projects designed to -quote--"combat global climate change." This is important and politically safe, but it is clearly not enough. And how it will fare in the Congress remains to be seen.

The reality is that this White House has done very little since signing the Kyoto Protocol to make the treaty's goals and its mechanisms for reducing emissions a fundamental part of U.S. policy. Instead, the Administration regularly cites the leadership of U.S. businesses and local governments as evidence of our nation's commitment on this issue. As a former member of the Administration, it pains me to say this, but the White House is simply not doing what's needed to make this issue the national priority it should be. As Gertrude Stein put it, "There's no 'there' there."

U.S. Stumbling Blocks: Economics and Fairness
What, you may ask, is driving our elected leaders' reluctance to meet the challenge of global climate change in a serious way? I would like to suggest that there are two issues at the heart of the debate. And, while these issues are significant, my belief is that they have not been framed in ways that are honest or open to solution.

The first issue relates to the economic costs of action to reduce emissions. We all have heard the joke that economists have predicted nine of the last five U.S. recessions. And it is hard to argue with the premise of the joke when one looks at the varying predictions that have been made about the potential impacts of achieving the Kyoto targets on the U.S. economy. Interest groups across the ideological spectrum have produced markedly different results from economic models that are not that different in their structure but that use very different assumptions to achieve the results these groups want to achieve. And the only result that is truly achieved is confusion.

How do we get beyond this confusion? We get beyond it by admitting that the models we are using-even when stripped of assumptions that bear no resemblance to reality-are not infallible. For example, our ability to quantify the risks of not taking action to address global climate change is still in its infancy. In addition, we have yet to meet the challenge of modeling technological innovation--as far as I know, no economic model would have predicted the information technology or communications revolutions we are now witnessing.

I am not mentioning these things to suggest there will be no costs to the United States should we act decisively to reduce emissions. There is almost always a cost associated with major changes to the economy. What I would like to suggest is that a fixation with 10-year-out predictions of increases or decreases in the U.S. GDP really misses the mark. To argue, as some have done, that the costs will be catastrophic and that entire industrial sectors will immediately be wiped out is less than honest, as is the argument that major reductions can be achieved at no cost. What the United States should be concerned about are the impacts that are likely to occur in certain industries, certain labor categories, and certain regions of the country. The questions we should be asking have to do with: 1) how we can minimize these impacts; and 2) what we can do to deal with those impacts that we are not able to minimize—in other words, the impacts that remain.

The second issue that has become a roadblock to progress in the United States is the issue of developing country commitments. Is it fair, people ask, for the United States to have to abide by the Kyoto targets while competitors such as China, India and Mexico get a quote-unquote "free ride?" One fear is that American jobs will be lost to these and other countries because their production costs will be lower. But lost in the debate is the reality that fairness demands a decisive U.S. response for two reasons. First, because the United States is responsible, both historically and currently, for more emissions than anyone else. And second, because the United States, unlike many other countries, plainly has the ability to pay to reduce its emissions.

The reality, whether we like it or not, is that most developing countries are unlikely to agree to binding emission reduction targets that would take effect in this decade. The primary reason for the reluctance of these countries to "join in" is concern about their economic growth and its relationship to energy use, at least in the early stages of development. There is also a view in these countries that those who bear the historic responsibility for the problem of mounting atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases should act first.

But the developing world's opposition to targets cannot be allowed to hide the fact there is movement on this issue among these countries—movement that many of the opponents of the Kyoto Protocol prefer to ignore:


China, for example, which has dramatically lowered its energy consumption per unit of output over the last decade, is on a path to continue making significant energy-saving improvements over the decade to come.
Privatization of the electricity sector is moving forward in India, where competition is expected to increase the use of natural gas and lower greenhouse gas emissions.
And Korea is beginning to plan for opening up its power sector to competition, again with a projected increase in the use of natural gas.

In these and other developing nations, investment decisions made in the power and transportation sectors in the coming years will have a significant impact on global greenhouse emissions for decades to come. And the reality is that many opportunities exist for lowering these countries' emissions. In other words, binding commitments for these countries may not be possible, but significant action to lower emissions from their expected path may very well be. And that, in turn, would lay the groundwork for environmentally sustainable economic growth, something that is in everybody's interest.
To those in the U.S. Congress and elsewhere who continue to insist that China and other developing nations should have to live by the same requirements as the industrialized world as we work to reduce global greenhouse emissions, I say fairness demands we think differently. I believe that the 1992 Framework Convention on Climate Change, the agreement that led to the development of the Kyoto Protocol and was ratified by the U.S. Congress, took the right tack in asserting that industrialized countries should—quote—"take the lead" in reducing emissions. The Convention went on to state that developing countries have a right to development, even though their development will surely increase these countries' greenhouse gas emissions.

Does this mean we should expect nothing of the developing world as we work to reduce emissions in the years ahead? Of course not. I believe strongly that the world should take advantage of emission reduction opportunities where they exist—and whether they exist in industrialized or developing countries. The real issue, therefore, is not how to pressure developing countries into accepting binding emission reduction targets in this decade. Rather, the issue should be how to influence the character of the investments made in these countries so that they become more climate-friendly.

Moving Forward: American Businesses Take the Lead
If we want ideas for how to move forward on this issue in a proactive way, we should look to many of the American businesses that have accepted the need for strong action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and are working to do so.

In late 1999, as many of you may know, the Ford Motor Company announced it was resigning from a coalition of oil companies, auto makers, electric utilities and others who stubbornly argue that we still don't have enough evidence to know whether or not global warming is real—and that we shouldn't do anything serious about it until more is known. Word of Ford's decision was followed closely by the news that Daimler Chrysler also would be leaving the group known as the Global Climate Coalition. The companies' moves were seen as an indication of the growing acceptance of the reality and the urgency of this issue—even in the nation's corporate boardrooms—and as yet another sign of a growing consensus for rational action to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

But the fact is that many American businesses have long been way ahead of our government in their willingness to acknowledge and work on this issue. This progressive stance became obvious when a large group of mostly Fortune 500 companies became affiliated with my organization, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, to help forge a consensus response to the problem. The Pew Center's Business Environmental Leadership Council now includes 21 companies with combined annual revenues of more than $550 billion. Working together, these companies developed a joint statement asserting that in the new millennium—quote—"one of our most important challenges at home and abroad will be addressing global climate change as we work to sustain a growing global economy."

"One of our most important challenges." That is an enormously powerful statement coming from these companies, which include such household names as American Electric Power, Boeing, BP Amoco, Lockheed Martin, Shell International, Sunoco, Toyota, United Technologies and Whirlpool. And, in making this statement, these companies announced publicly that they:

Accepted the science of global climate change;
Would establish their own emission reduction targets--and meet them;
Viewed the Kyoto Protocol as a first although incomplete step to addressing the issue internationally; and
Believed that addressing climate change can be compatible with sustained economic growth in the United States.

Some of the member companies of our Business Environmental Leadership Council have already announced their emission reduction targets, all of which are at least as stringent as those in the Kyoto Protocol. One large company affiliated with the Pew Center, DuPont, has established a goal of reducing emissions to 65-percent below 1990 levels by 2010, with an additional commitment of obtaining 10 percent of their energy needs from renewable sources. This is a stunning target, far in excess of the 7-percent reduction required for the United States as a whole in the Kyoto Protocol.
The commitment of DuPont and these other companies is an important reminder that there are many steps industry can and should be taking now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But it is important to realize that industry alone cannot solve this problem. The public, too, has an important role to play. And, while there is remarkable consensus among the public that global climate change is an important issue and an issue we should be doing something about as a nation, Americans have yet to translate this general concern into their behavior in the marketplace.

Here are a few polling numbers to illustrate my point. A 1998 survey conducted for the World Wildlife Fund revealed that nearly 60 percent of Americans believe global warming is happening now, and another 26 percent believe it will happen in the future. According to the survey, fully three-quarters of the public want the United States to take action to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide as a way to address the problem.

But when confronted with product choices, the climate-friendly road is often not the road taken. Why else would more than 50 percent of all new car choices be four-wheel drive SUVs?

I believe these numbers illustrate that there is a difference between caring about this issue and actually doing something about it. And in the same way that the American public expresses concern about our changing climate but stops short of taking actions that might help turn the situation around, many of our elected leaders—no doubt tapping into the public mood—get away with talking a good game about climate change but avoid taking serious action to address it. And the result is that the private sector is the only place right now where we see the combination of caring and commitment that is needed to move this issue forward.

Moving Forward: A U.S. Agenda
How can the United States government get back on track and assume its rightful leadership role in meeting the challenge of climate change? The answer is by forging a national policy designed to deal seriously and responsibly with this issue. Let me suggest four items to place at the top of the U.S. agenda.

The first item should be to depoliticize and depolarize this issue in Washington. American businesses need to know what will be expected of them in the future. If we can move beyond political agendas and focus on economically sound, stable, and serious actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we will provide a platform for business planners to look ahead. And that will allow them to develop cost-effective investment strategies that will permit the needed replacement of capital equipment with greenhouse-friendly technologies.

Our second agenda item should be to design a straightforward system that will legally recognize the contributions of corporations that take early action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Put very simply, these companies need to know that reducing their emissions now won't put them at a competitive disadvantage down the line.

Our agenda for the next decade also should include some serious planning for how we as a nation will reduce our greenhouse gas emissions over the long haul. We know there are policies and programs that can lower the costs, and we should analyze and discuss all the alternatives. We know there are likely to be sectors of the economy that will be more affected than others. And we know we need to balance our environmental and economic goals in ways that minimize the costs and impacts, and that treat those who will be adversely affected in ways that are fair and equitable. But despite knowing all this, we haven't even begun to discuss a national plan of action. What we need is not a debate about Kyoto—a prospect that delights the opponents of serious U.S. action on this issue because they believe they will win it. Rather, we need to start discussing what has to happen to address the challenge of global climate change in ways that are smart and fair and that give us a competitive edge.

And finally, we need to continue to work abroad to make the Kyoto Protocol into an instrument that is worthy of U.S. ratification, and that is a step along the path toward a genuinely global solution to what is clearly a global problem.

At the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland last month, the business and government leaders in attendance were polled about the greatest challenge facing the world at the dawn of this new century. The winning answer was climate change—a clear indication that there is a real understanding among the world's movers and shakers that we need to do something. So what needs to happen now is for all of those movers and shakers to move from understanding to action and to shake up their governments so they meet this challenge head-on.

I began these remarks with a couple of quotes from Alice in Wonderland, so let me close with one, too. When Alice is playing on the Queen's croquet ground, she becomes very uneasy about the game and her fellow players. The story continues:

"I don't think they play at all fairly," Alice began, in a rather complaining tone, "and they all quarrel so dreadfully one can't hear oneself speak—and they don't seem to have any rules in particular; at least, if there are nobody attends to them."
Unfortunately, I think the current discussion of global climate change and what to do about it too often resembles the chaos and unruliness of the queen's croquet game. And I believe our priority in the months and years ahead—both in the United States and internationally—should be to provide some rules and direction to guide the players as we all work together to meet this global challenge.

Sea-Level Rise & Global Climate Change: A Review of Impacts to U.S. Coasts

Sea-Level Rise & Global Climate Change: A Review of Impacts to U.S. Coasts

Prepared for the Pew Center on Global Climate Change
February 2000

By:
James E. Neumann, Industrial Economoics, Inc.
Gary Yohe, Wesleyan University
Robert Nicholls, Middlesex University
Michelle Manion, Industrial Economics, Inc.

Press Release

Download Entire Report (pdf)

Foreword

Eileen Claussen, President, Pew Center on Global Climate Change

Coastal regions play an integral role in the United States, serving as home to over half of the U.S. population, providing recreational opportunities to many, and supplying numerous valuable ecological services. At the same time, these areas are constantly evolving and face a wide range of natural and human-induced stresses, including erosion, storms, and pressures from development and recreational uses.

Current scientific research shows that climate change will lead to substantial sea-level rise along much of the U.S. coastline. Sea levels have already risen between 10 and 25 cm over the last century. Global warming will accelerate these rates, with sea levels projected to rise by 50 cm by 2100.

"Sea-Level Rise and Global Climate Change" is the fourth in a series of reports examining the potential impacts of climate change on the U.S. environment and society. This report finds that the vulnerability of a coastal area to sea-level rise varies according to the physical characteristics of the coastline, the population size and amount of development, and the responsiveness of land-use and infrastructure planning at the local level. The authors conclude the following:

  • Low-lying developed areas in the Gulf Coast, the South, and the mid-Atlantic regions are especially at risk from sea-level rise.
  • The rapid growth of coastal areas in the last few decades has resulted in larger populations and more valuable coastal property being at risk from sea-level rise. This growth, which is expected to continue, brings with it a greater likelihood of increased property damage in coastal areas.
  • The major physical impacts of a rise in sea level include erosion of beaches, inundation of deltas as well as flooding and loss of many marshes and wetlands. Increased salinity will likely become a problem in coastal aquifers and estuarine systems as a result of saltwater intrusion.
  • Although there is some uncertainty about the effect of climate change on storms and hurricanes, increases in the intensity or frequency or changes in the paths of these storms could increase storm damage in coastal areas. Damage to and loss of coastal areas would jeopardize the economic and ecological amenities provided by coastal wetlands and marshes, including flood control, critical ecological habitat, and water purification.


Damages and economic losses could be reduced if local decision-makers understand the potential impacts of sea-level rise and use this information for planning.

The authors and the Pew Center gratefully acknowledge Dr. Donald Boesch and Dr. George Parsons for their review of previous drafts of this report. In addition, the Pew Center would like to thank Joel Smith and Brian Hurd of Stratus Consulting for their management and oversight of this Environmental Impacts Series.

Executive Summary

Climate change is likely to accelerate the historical rise in sea level through warming of oceans and melting of ice, which in turn will affect coastal development, wetland resources, and recreation along the U.S. coast. The impacts of sea-level rise will occur in coastal areas that are continually evolving and already face a wide range of natural and human-induced stresses, including erosion, storms, land subsidence, wetland loss, and environmental degradation from recreation and development pressures. Responses to sea-level rise at the national, state, and local level must therefore reflect an understanding of the complex interactions of human and ecological systems in coastal areas. In this report, we review the state of understanding of the impacts of sea-level rise on U.S. coasts.

Impact assessment for sea-level rise requires careful assessment of local conditions, the magnitude and uncertainties of global sea-level rise, and the costs and feasibility of response options. Important local conditions include coastal topography, geology, and economic and demographic factors. The areas in the United States most vulnerable to sea-level rise are in the mid-Atlantic and south-Atlantic states (because of their low-lying topography, high economic value, and relatively high storm frequency) and along the Gulf Coast (because of low-lying topography and rapid land subsidence). Parts of New England are also at risk, particularly coastal islands in southern New England. The West Coast is generally at lower risk, with the exception of San Francisco Bay and Puget Sound.

Existing threats to coasts that may be increased by climate change include: gradual sea-level rise, catastrophic sea-level rise (i.e., Antarctic ice sheet melt), and changes in storm frequency or intensity. Impact assessments have focused on the first threat, with some consideration in recent studies of the effect of storms on development and redevelopment patterns in the coastal zone. Although evidence of Antarctic ice sheet melt exists in the geologic record, recent evaluations suggest the probability of this event occurring in the next century is very low. Research on the effects of climate change on storm frequency and intensity is active, but currently inconclusive.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes that increases in global temperatures over the next century could accelerate the historical rate of global mean sea-level rise from 1 to 2.5 millimeters per year to about 5 mm/yr (50 cm/century), with an uncertainty range of 2 to 9 mm/yr (IPCC, 1996a). More recent work using new greenhouse gas emissions scenarios shows a slightly higher rate of sea-level rise (Wigley, 1999).

The impacts of sea-level rise will vary by location and depend on a range of biophysical characteristics and socioeconomic factors, including human response. The primary impacts of sea-level rise are physical changes to the environment. These changes, in turn, affect human uses of the coast such as tourism, settlement, shipping, commercial and recreational fishing, agriculture, and wildlife viewing. The most serious physical impacts of gradual sea-level rise on coastal lowlands are (1) inundation and displacement of wetlands and lowlands; (2) coastal erosion; (3) increased vulnerability to coastal storm damage and flooding; and (4) salinization of surface water and groundwater.

National assessments suggest that a one-meter rise in global sea levels could have significant impacts, including the inundation of about 35,000 square kilometers (km2) (13,000 square miles (mi2)) of land, divided about equally between wetlands and upland. In addition, the 100-year coastal flood plain could increase by 38 percent, or at least 18,000 km 2 (7,000 mi2). Estimates of land inundated if global sea levels rise 0.5 meter are closer to 24,000 km 2 (9,000 mi2). Major coastal cities such as New Orleans, Miami, New York, and Washington, DC, will have to upgrade flood defenses and drainage systems or risk adverse consequences.

Three options have been proposed to respond to coastal threats: planned retreat, accommodation, and protection. Impact and adaptation assessments evaluate where these responses might be implemented and then calculate the costs of implementation and the damages to resources that are not protected. Generally, property losses or the costs to protect property dominate the existing impact estimates for the United States. The implications of lost wetlands, which are not reflected in most current impact estimates, could also be significant. Based on a review of the existing literature, estimates of the cumulative impacts of a 50-cm sea-level rise by 2100 on coastal property range from about $20 billion to about $150 billion. Estimates at the low end of the range reflect modeling of the most economically efficient adaptation to sea-level rise. Those estimates at the high end reflect assessments of vulnerability or protection costs, and assume that all currently developed vulnerable areas will be protected, regardless of costs.

Although these cumulative costs are a relatively small percentage of total property values in the coastal zone, these aggregate estimates do not reflect the potentially large effects on coastal wetlands and, perhaps more important, provide no information on the distribution of impacts. Depending on the policy options chosen to respond to sea-level rise, the impact of rising seas could fall disproportionately on a small number of people or communities in the most vulnerable areas.

In many cases, the impacts of sea-level rise could be mitigated by forwardlooking state or local land-use policies. The major challenges of future impact assessments include improving their comprehensiveness and accuracy and making their results more accessible and useful to state and local decision-makers who are most able to prepare coastal areas to respond to the threat of sea-level rise.

About the Authors

JAMES E. NEUMANN
James E. Neumann is a Principal and Managing Director at Industrial Economics, Incorporated, a Cambridge, Massachusetts consulting firm specializing in economic analysis of environmental policies. Since joining the firm in 1991, Mr. Neumann has worked for U.S. government agencies and private research organizations with a focus on valuation of natural resource and human health impacts of environmental policies. He is the co-editor, with Robert Mendelsohn, of The Impact of Climate Change on the United States, (Cambridge University Press, 1999) an integrated analysis of welfare impacts in the agriculture, water resources, forestry, coastal structures, commercial and residential energy use, recreation, and commercial fishing sectors. Mr. Neumann has also co-authored a series of published studies with Dr. Gary Yohe on the national economic impacts of sea-level rise in the United States.

Mr. Neumann holds a Masters in Public Affairs and a Masters in Urban and Regional Planning from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. His other recent projects include a comprehensive analysis of the costs and benefits of the U.S. Clean Air Act and evaluation of the benefits of pollution control options in the coal-mining region of the Czech Republic.

DR. GARY YOHE
Gary Yohe is Professor of Economics and Director of Research and Sponsored Programs at Wesleyan University. He is also a collaborator at the Center for Integrated Study of the Human Dimensions of Global Change at Carnegie Mellon University. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, he received a M.S. in mathematics from the State University of New York at Stony Brook and a M.Phil and PhD from Yale University. He has contributed over 75 articles to the economics and climate change literature; and will be co-author with Edwin Mansfield on the 10th edition of Microeconomics. His major research foci have led him to apply the first principles of microeconomic analysis to decision-making under uncertainty and to exploring the tradeoff between mitigating climate change and abating its potential damage. Most recently, Dr. Yohe has been concerned with judging the vulnerability of economic, political and social systems to climate change and climate variability when adaptation is included in the calculus of cost accounting.

Dr. Yohe has served as an advisor and researcher for a variety of domestic and international organizations including the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, the Socio-Economic Data Achieve Center funded by NASA, the International Human Dimensions Program, the United Nations Environment Program, the World Meteorological Program, and the World Climate Research Program. He has collaborated with many researchers over the past few decades, most recently serving as a lead author for Chapters 2, 18 and 19 and a review editor for Chapter 6 of the Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Working Group II).

DR. ROBERT NICHOLLS
Robert J. Nicholls has a BSc in geology and a PhD in coastal geomorphology: both degrees were awarded by the University of Southampton. Presently he is the Reader in Coastal Geomorphology and Management at the Flood Hazard Research Centre, Middlesex University, London. His research concerns understanding, predicting abd managing long-term coastal change. A major theme has been biophysical and socio-economic vulnerability to sea-level rise, including possible adaptation measures. His work has included morphodynamic research using data from the US Army Corps of Engineers Research Facility at Duck, NC, methodological frameworks for analysing potential impacts and adaptation to sea-level rise and co-ordinating at number of national vulnerability assessment studies under US Environmental Protection Agency funds. He currently leads the SURVAS Project, which is developing a global database on national impacts to sea-level rise and is involved in several British and European initiatives on climate change.

He has been a lead author of chapters in four reports of the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC): "Coastal Zones and Small Islands" in the Second Assessment Report (1996); "Europe" in the Regional Assessment (1998); "Coastal Adaptation Technologies" in the Special Report on Technology Transfer (2000); and "Europe" in the Third Assessment Report (due to be completed in 2001). He is author of more than 80 papers and book chapters.

MICHELLE M. MANION
Michelle M. Manion is a Senior Associate at Industrial Economics, Incorporated (IEc) in Cambridge, MA. She has a strong background in applied environmental and natural resource economics, as well as financial, regulatory, and cost-benefit analysis. Ms. Manion's recent work includes economic assessments of natural resource policy issues for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In addition to her work on the economic impacts of sea level rise for the Center and the Electric Power Research Institute, other projects addressing global resource issues include: economic assessments of tropical commodities for Conservation International, and a review of applied cost-benefit analysis for the World Commission on Dams. Ms. Manion holds an M.S. (Natural Resources and Environmental Studies) and an M.P.P. (Public Policy), both from the University of Michigan.

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