Aquatic Ecosystems and Global Climate Change

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

Prepared for the Pew Center on Global Climate Change
January 2002

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

Press Release

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Eileen Claussen, President, Pew Center on Global Climate Change

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

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

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

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

Executive Summary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the Authors


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


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


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


Ecosystems and Global Climate Change

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

Prepared for the Pew Center on Global Climate Change
December 2001

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

Press Release

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Eileen Claussen, President, Pew Center on Global Climate Change

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

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

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

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

Executive Summary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the Authors

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

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

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


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

Climate Change: A Strategy for the Future

Climate Change: A Strategy for the Future

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

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

September 25, 2001

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

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

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

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

The Science of Climate Change: A Few Observations

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

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

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

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

A Second Industrial Revolution

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

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

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

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

Industry Takes the Lead

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

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

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

The States are Moving

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

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

The Role of Federal Government Action

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

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

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

The Significance of the "Kyoto Compromise"

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

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

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

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

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

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

Launching Domestic Efforts in the U.S.

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

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

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

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

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

Resolving the Equity Issue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Immediate Release :
December 13, 2000

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

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

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

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

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

"There have been a lot of claims and counter-claims about the potential human health impacts of global climate change," said Pew Center President Eileen Claussen. "An honest assessment must acknowledge that the United States can probably avoid the worst scenarios of disease outbreaks from climate-related causes. "At the same time, we should pay more attention to the climate-related health risks faced by people in less developed countries, and by the most vulnerable people in our own country," Claussen said. "And we need to beef up health surveillance systems to guard against the possible emergence of unexpected health threats." A complete copy of this report and other Pew Center reports can be accessed from the Pew Center's web site, About the Pew Center: The Pew Center was established in May 1998 by the Pew Charitable Trusts, one of the United States' largest philanthropies and an influential voice in efforts to improve the quality of the environment. The Pew Center is a nonprofit, non-partisan and independent organization dedicated to providing credible information, straight answers and innovative solutions in the effort to address global climate change. Eileen Claussen, the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, leads the Pew Center. For more information, visit

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

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

For Immediate Release :
Wednesday, December 13, 2000

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

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

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

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

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

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

A complete copy of this report and other Pew Center reports can be accessed from the Pew Center's web site, 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

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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

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

Press Release

Download Entire Report (pdf)


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

Op-Ed: Getting It Right: Climate Change Problem Demands Thoughtful Solutions

"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,

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,

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

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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.

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