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

For Immediate Release:
June 15, 2004
                                                             
Contact:  Katie Mandes
703.516.0606 

Adapting to Global Climate Change
New Report Discusses the Ability of the United States to Adapt

Washington, DC — The mainstream scientific community agrees that the earth is warming, the warming is caused primarily by the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and that the warming will continue if we don’t reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. But even if extreme measures could be taken immediately to curtail emissions, the momentum of the earth’s atmosphere is such that the earth will continue to warm for many years to come.

"Unfortunately, we’re already past the point where climate change can be prevented entirely," said Eileen Claussen, President of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. “Now we need a two-pronged approach that combines reductions in greenhouse gas emissions with policies that will help us adapt to the climate change that is going to occur.”

A new Pew Center report, Coping with Global Climate Change: The Role of Adaptation in the United States, by William Easterling of Pennsylvania State University, Brian Hurd of New Mexico State University, and Joel Smith of Stratus Consulting Inc., discusses the importance of adapting to climate change, the options available for adaptation, and the challenges of implementing them in the United States.

Adaptation will not be an easy or cost-free process, according to the report. Despite the challenges, however, the capacity of the U.S. economy to adapt to climate change is high, because of the broad range of resources (including wealth, technology and information) that can be directed at the problem.

“But the longer we delay," cautioned Claussen,  "the greater the cost will be.”

Even if the country as a whole adapts well, individual regions and communities may still face damages and disruption, and the more quickly the climate changes, the more difficult and costly adaptation will be.  Other regions of the world, particularly developing countries that lack the tools and resources for adaptation are even more vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change.

Finally, natural ecosystems, such as coral reefs and coastal wetlands, are facing dire consequences if the climate changes at the rates and magnitude currently predicted. Existing stresses, including habitat loss and pollution, have already weakened the ability of species to adapt by reducing resilience and introducing barriers to migration.  

The report highlights the importance of anticipating the impacts of climate change rather than simply reacting to challenges as they occur.  Making climate-conscious decisions now while designing and investing in long-lived infrastructures, such as water management, transportation and health care systems, will help the United States adapt to climate change later. Government policies can promote the development and adoption of strategies and technologies for adaptation through research, information sharing and institutional reform.

“Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is critical, but that alone will not be enough to protect the United States from climate change,” said Claussen.  “There are actions we can take now that will reduce the severity of some of its worst effects.”

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