Throughout this year I have posted a number of blogs on the record-breaking extreme weather events of recent years, particularly 2010. Events ranged from unprecedented blizzards on the U.S. East Coast to the cataclysmic Russian heat wave and flooding in Pakistan. The key message I’ve tried to communicate is that, rather than debating whether these particular events are being caused by climate change – an interesting academic question that is unanswerable on a practical level – we should learn from these events about our individual and societal vulnerabilities and the real costs of climate change.
In an op-ed in The New York Times, Jack Hedin, a Minnesota farmer, offers an excellent example of the type of practical learning I’m talking about:
“The past four years of heavy rains and flash flooding here in southern Minnesota have left me worried about the future of agriculture in America’s grain belt. For some time computer models of climate change have been predicting just these kinds of weather patterns, but seeing them unfold on our farm has been harrowing nonetheless.”
Mr. Hedin’s family has farmed the soils of southern Minnesota since the late 19th century. Today he runs a small farm in Rushville, where an onslaught of extreme weather events over several years forced him to retreat to higher ground. This is an example of forced adaptation where abandonment was the best choice. But even in the new location, his farm lost $100,000 worth of crops to excessive soil moisture this summer.
Notice that Hedin doesn’t waste time worrying about whether particular weather events were caused by human-induced climate change:
“The weather in our area has become demonstrably more hostile to agriculture, and all signs are that this trend will continue. Minnesota’s state climatologist, Jim Zandlo, has concluded that no fewer than three “thousand-year rains” have occurred in the past seven years in our part of the state. And a University of Minnesota meteorologist, Mark Seeley, has found that summer storms in the region over the past two decades have been more intense and more geographically focused than at any time on record.”
Climate scientists know the climate is changing, that many mid-latitude locations are becoming wetter as a result (see figure below), and that we can expect that trend to continue. What does it matter whether a particular storm on a particular day in a particular year was caused by human intervention with the climate system? After all, it isn’t one particular event that has Mr. Hedin worried about the future of farming in America’s grain belt; it’s the preponderance of evidence that the climate is already shifting and the common sense realization that farming is getting harder because of that shift.
Please read Jack Hedin’s op-ed in The New York Times. He has the right idea about learning from extreme weather events.
Jay Gulledge is Senior Scientist and Director of the Science and Impacts Program
We’ve been talking and hearing a lot about the notion of “mainstreaming” consideration of climate change into decision-making processes and figuring out ways to adapt to an already changing climate. A lot has been happening on the adaptation front at the Federal level – and we’ve been trying to keep you posted on all of the new initiatives. It was getting a bit challenging to keep up with everything and so over the last couple of months we’ve been compiling a lot of what we know into one place. The resulting report—Climate Change Adaptation: What Federal Agencies are Doing—is now available on our website.
As the report illustrates, Federal agency activities are numerous and diverse. Some agencies, such as the Department of Defense, are mainstreaming climate change adaptation by updating existing strategies or policies to include climate change impacts and adaptation options. Other agencies are more focused on enabling other entities—state and local governments, businesses, and communities—in furthering their adaptation planning and projects, as NOAA is doing with Climate Services. Figure 1 below includes some additional examples from the report. Of course, not all federal projects addressing climate change impacts or adaptations are included in this report. We’ve tried to at least include instances where a Federal department or agency has implemented specific institutional mechanisms, developed an agency-wide adaptation plan or set of policies, or is providing adaptation resources or tools.
Happy reading – and if you are familiar with any Federal programs or initiatives that should be included in the report, please send them my way. We plan to expand on the information included in this new report with the hope that it will serve as a resource for collaboration and information sharing amongthe growing adaptation community.
Heather Holsinger is a Senior Policy Fellow and Program Manager for Adaptation
We’ve been tracking federal government efforts towards reducing our vulnerability and increasing our resiliency in the face of the potential impacts and risks from climate change. I continue to be impressed by the steps that many federal agencies are taking in this regard—a lot of work is going on to mainstream climate change adaptation.
Yesterday the Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force released its report to the President. During the past year this task force—which includes about 20 different Federal agencies—worked on developing recommendations and guiding principles on a strategic approach to climate change adaptation. The Task Force’s recommendations include: making sure that adaptation is a standard part of Agency planning (mainstreaming!), ensuring information about the impacts of climate change is accessible, and aligning federal efforts that cut across agency jurisdictions and missions.
A number of agencies have already gotten started on this. Two agencies within the Department of the Interior (DOI) released climate change strategies last month—the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service. These efforts build on DOI’s overarching strategic response to climate change.
The Fish and Wildlife Service manages more than 150 million acres of wildlife refuges across the United States and has additional responsibilities related to the protection of fish populations, endangered species, and migratory birds. (Interesting side note: according to the Service, about 41 million people visit national wildlife refuges each year and their spending generates almost $1.7 billion in sales for regional economies.) The Service defines adaptation as “minimizing the impact of climate change on fish and wildlife through the application of cutting-edge science in managing species and habitats” and has made adaptation the centerpiece of its Strategic Plan.
Charged with preserving the natural and cultural heritage of our nation, adapting to climate change presents the National Park Service with many challenges. What should it do about the melting glaciers at Glacier National Park? Or the threats of flooding to historic Jamestown, VA (part of the Colonial National Historical Park)? The National Park Service’s Climate Change Response Strategy details long- and short-term actions in three major areas: mitigation, adaptation, and public communication. Measures to tackle the adaptation piece include planning, promoting ecosystem resilience, preserving the nation’s heritage, and protecting facilities and infrastructure.
Earlier this month, the EPA released its 2011-2015 Strategic Plan containing five strategic goals for advancing its environmental and human health missions, the first of which is “Taking Action on Climate Change and Improving Air Quality.” As part of its Strategy, the EPA recognizes that it “must adapt and plan for future changes in climate” and “incorporate the anticipated, unprecedented changes in climate into its programs and rules.”
And just last week at the first White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) GreenGov Symposium there were three separate panels devoted to climate change adaptation. We heard presentations from the Army Corps of Engineers, CDC, CEQ, DOT, the Forest Service, HUD, OSTP, USDA, as well as a number of stakeholders including the state of Maryland, the Nature Conservancy, and the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA). All of which are very much engaged on the adaptation issue.
Finding it hard to keep track of all of these agencies and what they are up to? Don’t worry – we’ll be posting our newest adaptation report, Climate Change Adaptation: What Federal Agencies are Doing, to this site very soon.
Heather Holsinger is a Senior Fellow for Domestic Policy
Last week we held a workshop at the Newseum in Washington, DC, entitled Federal Government Leadership: Mainstreaming Adaptation to Climate Change. The workshop was intended to build on our recent report highlighting the important role of the federal government in climate change adaptation and the recent National Academies’ report—Adapting to the Impacts of Climate Change—which emphasized that the federal government should not only serve as a “role model,” but also play a significant role as a “catalyst and coordinator” in identifying vulnerabilities to climate change impacts and the adaptation options that could increase our resilience to these changes.
Today we released a report on climate change adaptation and the role of the federal government.
As we continue to await Senate action on a comprehensive bill that limits carbon pollution and grows the clean energy economy, the words of NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco resonate:
“Climate change is happening now and it's happening in our own backyards and it affects the kinds of things people care about.”
Ambitious greenhouse gas reduction programs are essential to prevent the worst impacts, but some impacts are unavoidable, such as more intense Midwestern heat waves, Western wildfires, and coastal threats from rising sea levels. If you haven’t already, check out this great map from the U.S. Global Change Research Program’s report on climate change impacts across the United States or look at EPA’s recent report on climate change indicators.
Source: U.S. Global Change Research Program. Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States. 2009. http://www.globalchange.gov/publications/reports/scientific-assessments/us-impacts/usimpacts-brochures.
If we hope to minimize the costs of these impacts we’re going to have to better understand our vulnerabilities to climate change and begin to take steps to adapt.
ANCHORAGE - "Hello. I'm a Republican, and I believe in climate change." These words opened a presentation at the Alaska Forum on the Environment and indicate that, here in Alaska, issues surrounding climate change have often transcended the partisanship that sometimes dominates the issue 3,000 miles away in Washington.
This bipartisanship has evolved because probably no place in America is the evidence of climate change more clearly on display than in Alaska. Climate change’s leading edge is in the Arctic, and temperatures in Alaska have risen 4 degrees or even more depending on location. With warming and its impacts visible to all and being increasingly analyzed on a local level, discussions of climate change, especially as it relates to adaptation, take on a tone all too unfamiliar inside the Beltway.
This morning, the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming held a hearing titled “Building US Resilience to Global Warming Impacts.” The hearing took place just as the Government Accountability Office released a new report finding that US reaction to climate change is happening on an ad hoc basis and is not coordinated among Federal, state, and local agencies.
Given the absence of a coordinated Federal adaptation strategy, we’ve been looking at what the options might be to fill that void. As the Pew Center’s Steve Seidel stated in his testimony to the Committee, an improved Federal mechanism would begin with each agency developing an adaptation strategic plan to build greater resilience to climate change into its programs and mission. He pointed to a recent announcement by the Dept. of Interior as an example. A National Climate Service that can develop and communicate credible and actionable climate scenarios and projections for use in adaptation planning by Federal, state and local governments and the private sector is also needed.
Executive office leadership is critical. After reviewing other climate-related interagency programs in existence, it’s clear that a national adaptation program needs to be established and chaired or co-chaired by CEQ or the Office of Science and Technology Policy. To ensure that adaptation is truly “mainstreamed” by the federal government, CEQ should also update NEPA regulations to require the consideration of adaption needs in all major federal actions.
Michael Tubman is a Congressional Affairs Fellow
Adapting to Climate Change: A Business Approach
Prepared for the Pew Center on Global Climate Change
Frances G. Sussman and J. Randall Freed
This report outlines a sensible business approach to analyzing and adapting to the physical risks of climate change. It focuses on a critical first step in assessing these climate impacts: understanding the potential risks to business and the importance of taking action to mitigate those risks. Not all businesses need to take action now; this paper develops a qualitative screening process to assess whether a business is likely to be vulnerable to the physical risks associated with climate change, and whether a more detailed risk assessment is warranted.
Download entire report (pdf)
In 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) affirmed that warming of the climate system is unequivocal, with effects such as increasing land and ocean temperatures, rising global average sea level, and reduced snow and ice already being observed. These changes—which are linked directly to human activities producing greenhouse gases—are already causing changes in ecosystems, water supply and availability, and patterns of extreme events, with (in many but not all cases) consequent damages to human health, buildings, livelihoods, and infrastructure. The question is no longer, “Is there human-caused climate change?” but “What can be done to react and adapt to it?” Adaptation does not preclude steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but recognizes that we are unavoidably committed to some amount of climate change, and that changes are already occurring.
The business community has for some time been aware of the risks and opportunities associated with greenhouse gas mitigation and current and future climate change policies. Many businesses have taken steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions voluntarily. Many are taking into account some of the impacts of climate change—potential state and federal regulations, shareholder perceptions, and changes in consumer and supplier markets, for example—on the cost of doing business now and in the future. Fewer businesses, however, are incorporating the risks and opportunities associated with the physical effects of climate change in their business planning. As trends in climate become clearer and the uncertainty surrounding future changes is reduced, more businesses will want to consider whether to adapt to projected changes by taking action now. This, in turn, involves reacting to and managing risks as well as taking advantage of opportunities.
Climate change represents a new and somewhat daunting topic for many businesses. The challenge is compounded by the diverse and uncertain projections of changes in temperature, precipitation patterns, extreme events, and other effects. This paper outlines a sensible business approach to analyzing and adapting to the physical risks of climate change. It focuses on a critical first step in assessing these climate impacts: understanding the potential risks to business and the importance of taking action to mitigate those risks. Not all businesses need to take action now; this paper develops a qualitative screening process to assess whether a business is likely to be vulnerable to the physical risks associated with climate change, and whether a more detailed risk assessment is warranted.
Section I of this paper offers context on the broader risks and opportunities presented by climate change. Sections II and III summarize the case for business action to adapt to the physical effects of climate change, and the pathways by which climate can affect business. Section IV describes a screening process that businesses can use to assess whether they are likely to be vulnerable to the physical risks associated with climate change. If the screening indicates that climate change may pose a significant risk, a business can decide whether to undertake a more detailed financial risk assessment, and then, if indicated, take action. Section V presents case studies of three companies that have begun to look at climate risks. These case studies highlight the very different circumstances that motivated each company, and how the companies may be moving towards different conclusions about the appropriate response to the changing climate. Section VI concludes with a summary of key points.
About the Authors
Frances Sussman is a senior economist with ICF International and has been analyzing issues associated with the economics of climate change for nearly two decades. For several years following the adoption of the UNFCCC in 1992, Dr. Sussman led ICF’s climate change economics group, which conducted pioneering research on design options and practical considerations for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions trading and credit programs, and developed the seminal GHG mitigation cost curves for the United States. Recently, her research has focused on the appropriate use and interpretation of economics and economic models in policy analysis. As part of this, she has been investigating approaches to setting priorities for adaptation and evaluating the business opportunities and risks associated with the physical effects of climate change. She is also the one of the lead authors of a Synthesis and Assessment Report of the Climate Change Science Program (CCSP), Analyses of the Effects of Global Change on Human Health and Welfare and Human Systems. In addition to her affiliation with ICF, she is an adjunct instructor at Southern Connecticut State University. Prior to joining ICF, she worked as an economist in the Office of Toxic Substances at the Environmental Protection Agency and at the Congressional Budget Office. She received her doctorate in Economics from the University of Maryland.
Randall Freed leads ICF International’s Climate and Energy Policy group, with staff in the US, Canada, UK, Brazil, Russia, and India. The group develops GHG inventories/ carbon footprints, programs and strategies for mitigating GHG emissions, risk assessments of climate change impacts, and risk management plans to promote sustainability and adapt to climate change. Mr. Freed’s expertise includes analyzing climate change impacts and adaptation related to water resources, ecosystems, land use, and infrastructure; GHG emissions and sinks associated with waste management and non-energy uses of fossil fuels; and policies and programs to mitigate emissions. He has over 30 years’ experience and is an internationally recognized expert in exposure and risk assessment, environmental program development and policy analysis, and water quality issues. Mr. Freed has an MS in Water Resource Management and a BS in Zoology, both from the University of Maryland.
Adaptation to Climate Change: International Policy Options
Prepared for the Pew Center on Global Climate Change
Ian Burton, University of Toronto
Elliot Diringer, Pew Center on Global Climate Change
Joel Smith, Stratus Consulting Inc.
This report examines options for future international efforts to help vulnerable countries adapt to the impacts of climate change both within and outside the climate framework. Options outlined in the report include stronger funding and action under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, mandatory climate risk assessments for multilateral development finance, and donor country support for climate "insurance" in vulnerable countries.
Download entire report (pdf)
From its inception, the international climate effort has focused predominantly on mitigation—reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to prevent dangerous climate change. The next stage of the international effort must deal squarely with adaptation—coping with those impacts that cannot be avoided. This is both a matter of need, as climate change is now underway, and a matter of equity, as its impacts fall disproportionately on those least able to bear them. It also may be a condition for further progress on mitigation. Indeed, substantial new mitigation commitments post-2012 may be politically feasible only if accompanied by stronger support for adaptation.
Ambitious mitigation efforts can lessen, but not prevent, future climate change. While steep reductions in emissions could stabilize atmospheric GHG concentrations at lower levels than under “business as usual,” they likely would be well above current, let alone pre-industrial, levels.2 With higher concentrations will come further rises in temperatures and sea level, changes in precipitation, and more extreme weather. The early impacts of climate change already are being felt worldwide.3 Future impacts will affect a broad array of human and natural systems, with consequences for human health, food and fiber production, water supplies, and many other areas vital to economic and social well being. While certain impacts may in the nearer term prove beneficial to some, in the long term, the effects will be largely detrimental.4
Anticipating and adapting to these impacts in order to minimize their human and environmental toll is a significant challenge for all nations. Meeting it requires action at multiple levels, from the local to the international, within both public and private spheres. This paper explores one critical dimension of this multifaceted challenge—how adaptation can be best promoted and facilitated through future multilateral efforts.
Among the many issues confronting governments, two are especially daunting. The first is equity and its relation to cost. Difficult questions of fairness suffuse the climate debate but are particularly stark in the case of adaptation: those most vulnerable to climate change are the ones least responsible for it. Stronger international adaptation efforts—whatever form they might take, and whether understood as assistance or as compensation—will be possible, let alone effective, only insofar as affluent countries are prepared to commit resources. This is a question not of policy design but, rather, of negotiation and political will. Second, reliable information and relevant experience are in short supply. Relative to mitigation, the adaptation challenge is much less well understood—needs as well as solutions. A high priority in the near term is strengthening the knowledge base with better data and modeling to refine projections of future impacts, and with early insights from the field on the most effective responses.
It is at the same time essential to begin considering how future international efforts can best be structured. This paper examines underlying issues and lays out an array of possibilities. To set the issue in context, it looks first at the history and evolving nature of human adaptation to climate. It then highlights key issues in the design of adaptation policy, and summarizes and assesses international adaptation efforts to date. Finally, the paper outlines three broad and potentially complementary approaches to future international efforts:
- Adaptation Under the UNFCCC—Initiating new steps under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to facilitate comprehensive national adaptation strategies and to provide reliable assistance for high-priority implementation projects.
- Integration with Development—Integrating adaptation across the full range of development-related assistance through measures such as mandatory climate risk assessments for projects financed with bilateral or multilateral support.
- Climate “Insurance”—Committing stable funding for an international response fund or to support insurance-type approaches covering climate-related losses and promoting proactive adaptation in vulnerable countries.
1. This report was prepared initially as input to the Climate Dialogue at Pocantico convened by the PewCenterin 2004-5, and in its final form reflects contributions from the dialogue. The Pocantico dialogue brought together 25 senior policymakers and stakeholders from 15 countries to recommend options for advancing the international climate change effort beyond 2012. The group’s report is available at: /global-warming-in-depth/all_reports/climate_dialogue_at_ pocantico/index.cfm.
2. Metz et al. (2001).
3. Parmesan, C. and G. Yohe (2003); Root, T. L. et al. (2003); Stott et al. (2004).
4. McCarthy et al. (2001).