"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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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."
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.
- 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.
The appliance report is the second in a new series of reports aimed at identifying solutions to the challenges presented by climate change. Other Pew Center series focus on domestic and international policy issues, environmental impacts, and the economics of climate change.
A complete copy of these and other Pew Center reports can be accessed from the Pew Center's web site, www.c2es.org.
About the Pew Center: The Pew Center was established in May 1998 by the Pew Charitable Trusts, one of the United States' largest philanthropies and an influential voice in efforts to improve the quality of the environment. The Pew Center is a nonprofit, non-partisan and independent organization dedicated to providing credible information, straight answers and innovative solutions in the effort to address global climate change. Eileen Claussen, the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, leads the Pew Center. The Pew Center includes the Business Environmental Leadership Council, a group of large, mostly Fortune 500 corporations all working with the Pew Center to address issues related to climate change. The companies do not contribute financially to the Pew Center; it is solely supported by contributions from charitable foundations.
For Immediate Release:
June 27, 2000
Contact: Dale Curtis, 202-777-3530
Vicki Arroyo Cochran, 703-516-0601
Forests and Soils Can Play Significant Role In Mitigating Climate Change: New Report Explores the Potential and Unresolved Issues
Washington, DC — Forests and soils could play a significant role in helping to reduce the risks of global climate change, but many key issues must be resolved, according to a report being released today by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.
Under the international agreement on climate change known as the Kyoto Protocol, many developed countries have set targets to reduce or restrain their emissions of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide (CO2) from the combustion of fossil fuels. The treaty also encourages countries to reduce emissions by slowing deforestation or to remove CO2 from the atmosphere by planting trees. There is also the possibility of removing CO2 from the atmosphere through improved management of agricultural soils. These measures are collectively known as LULUCF — Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry -- but the details of how they would be handled are largely unresolved.
The Pew Center report, entitled "Land Use and Global Climate Change: Forests, Land Management and the Kyoto Protocol," was written by two internationally acknowledged experts on the issue. It explores whether land use and forestry activities can provide the same long-term benefit for the global climate system as direct reductions of greenhouse gas emissions. It also reviews the international negotiations on this issue to date, and suggests questions that must be answered before land management can become an effective part of the solution to climate change.
"Storing carbon is no panacea, but it could be an important part of the menu of options aimed at slowing the build-up of atmospheric carbon dioxide levels," said Eileen Claussen, President of the Pew Center. "However, key rules have been left undecided, allowing countries to push for interpretations that may weaken commitments made under the Protocol."
Among the key findings of the study:
- LULUCF activities differ from emission reductions in several ways. One is "permanence," or whether carbon stored in the biosphere might be lost later, for example through a forest fire. Another long-term concern is "saturation," or whether the potential for LULUCF might be limited by the lands available and the amount of carbon that can be stored per unit of land.
- Implementation of the Kyoto Protocol language on LULUCF is confounded by the lack of functional definitions for common words like "forest" and "reforestation."
- Even if definitions of disputed terms and accounting rules can be agreed upon, the impacts on various countries of including LULUCF in emissions calculations will depend on the nature of their forests; whether the LULUCF sector is currently a net emitter or remover of atmospheric CO2; and trends in that sector.
- Article 12 of the Kyoto Protocol allows developed countries to receive credits for projects undertaken in developing countries. But the article does not specifically mention LULUCF projects. Negotiators must decide whether LULUCF activities will be allowed in such projects, and if so, what accounting mechanisms are appropriate, including how to address "permanence" issues.
- The Kyoto Protocol recognizes LULUCF selectively, sometimes awarding credits for increasing carbon storage, and sometimes not; sometimes charging losses in carbon stocks (e.g., as a result of deforestation) against national commitments, and sometimes not. A climate control effort that includes forests needs to account for both CO2 emissions and removals in a balanced manner.
The report authors are Bernhard Schlamadinger of the Institute of Energy Research, a division of Joanneum Research, in Graz, Austria; and Gregg Marland of the Environmental Sciences Division of Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
A complete copy of the report is available on the Pew Center's web site, www.c2es.org.
The Pew Center was established in May 1998 by the Pew Charitable Trusts, one of the nation's largest philanthropies and an influential voice in efforts to improve the quality of America's environment. The Pew Center supports businesses in developing marketplace solutions to reduce greenhouse gases; produces analytical reports on the science, economics, and policies related to climate change; conducts public education efforts; and promotes better understanding of market mechanisms globally. Eileen Claussen, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, is the President of the Pew Center. The Pew Center includes the Business Environmental Leadership Council, which is composed of 21 major, largely Fortune 500 corporations all working with the Pew Center to address issues related to climate change. The companies do not contribute financially to the Pew Center — it is solely supported by contributions from charitable foundations.
Pew Center Workshop on the Environmental Impacts of Climate Change
The Marriott at Metro Center, Washington, DC
On July 18-19, 2000, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change held a Workshop on the Environmental Impacts of Climate Change. This workshop brought together leading scientists, economists, and others interested in climate change science and policy. The purpose of the workshop was to investigate the potential environmental and economic implications of climate change for various sectors of the United States, including natural ecosystems and resources, human health, and infrastructure. Many of the papers commissioned for the workshop have been released as reports in the Pew Center's Environment Series.
Land Use & Global Climate Change: Forests, Land Management, and the Kyoto Protocol
Prepared for the Pew Center on Global Climate Change
Bernhard Schlamadinger, Joanneum Research, Austria
Gregg Marland, Environmental Sciences Division, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, USA
Eileen Claussen, President, Pew Center on Global Climate Change
Allowing nations to receive credit under the Kyoto Protocol for using lands and forests to store carbon has been, and will continue to be, controversial until key issues are settled. The Protocol sets forth a partial system for including land-use change and forestry, and negotiators are left with the difficult task of closing potentially important gaps in the rules. Without specific crediting rules, countries can posture for interpretations that could allow them to weaken commitments made under the Protocol. With this situation in mind, the Pew Center commissioned this report to identify key issues in the debate regarding terrestrial carbon.
Report authors Bernhard Schlamadinger and Gregg Marland examine how forests and other lands can be managed to slow the rate of increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, review how the Kyoto Protocol deals with forests and other land uses, and identify outstanding issues that must be resolved if the Protocol is to be implemented.
The report finds the following:
- Forests and the way we manage them provide significant opportunities to assist in climate control efforts.
- The Kyoto Protocol includes land use, land-use change, and forestry, but it does so selectively: sometimes awarding credits for increasing carbon stored through forest and land management, and sometimes not; sometimes charging decreases in carbon stocks (e.g., as a result of deforestation) against national commitments, and sometimes not. As currently crafted, the system is only a partial one and requires further clarification and practical, effective implementation methodologies if potential benefits from land management are to be realized.
- A climate control effort that includes forests needs to account for carbon dioxide both released and absorbed, and it needs to do so in a balanced manner that only rewards activities that contribute to slowing the rate of increase of atmospheric carbon dioxide.
While not a panacea, storing carbon could be an important part of a menu of options aimed at slowing the build-up of atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.
The authors have been part of the writing team for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Special Report on Land Use, Land-Use Change, and Forestry, and acknowledge the importance of discussions and interactions with other experts during that process in helping shape this report. Discussions within IEA (International Energy Agency) Bioenergy, Task 25 (Greenhouse Gas Balances of Bioenergy Systems) were also an important source of ideas and feedback. The Pew Center and authors are grateful to Don Goldberg, Mark Trexler, Kristiina Vogt, and Murray Ward, who reviewed the manuscript in draft form, and to Sandra Brown for her guidance as an expert consultant on this report.
There is increasing concern that the Earth's climate is changing because of the rising concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), drafted in 1992, expresses this concern, and the Kyoto Protocol, negotiated in 1997, sets forth binding targets for emissions of greenhouse gases from developed countries. The Kyoto Protocol represents considerable progress in building a global consensus on how to confront the growth of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, but it also contains many ambiguities and leaves many issues that need to be resolved before it can be implemented.
The Kyoto Protocol sets quantitative targets for countries to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, but it recognizes that the same goal can be achieved by removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. There are opportunities to reduce the rate of build-up of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2 ) through land management activities, referred to as Land Use, Land-Use Change, and Forestry (LULUCF) activities. These opportunities include slowing the loss of carbon from plants and soils — e.g., through reduced rates of deforestation — and encouraging the return of carbon from the atmosphere to plants and soils — e.g., by planting trees (afforestation and reforestation) or improving management of forests or agricultural soils.
This paper explores whether LULUCF activities provide the same long-term benefit for the climate system as does reducing emissions from fossil-fuel combustion; sketches the development of international negotiations on LULUCF issues; looks at the consensus negotiated so far on this issue; and examines the ambiguities of the Kyoto Protocol, the issues yet to be resolved, and the decisions yet to be made before the Protocol can serve as an effective international instrument. An effective instrument would encourage countries to manage the terrestrial biosphere in a way that minimizes net emissions of greenhouse gases while serving other goals such as sustainable development.
Important issues when designing incentives for land-based climate-change mitigation are whether net carbon sequestration can be considered permanent; whether there will be excessive leakage — a phenomenon where, for example, efforts to protect or increase forests in one place hastens their loss elsewhere; whether the potential for LULUCF activities is sufficiently large to offer real opportunity for reductions in atmospheric CO2; and whether analytical techniques permit an accurate measure of carbon gained or retained (or lost) in terrestrial ecosystems.
LULUCF activities differ from emission reductions from fossil fuels because their overall potential is limited by the lands available and the amount of carbon that can be stored per unit of land (“saturation”); and because carbon offsets in the biosphere are at risk of being lost at a later time, whereas emission reductions from fossil fuels not burned in one year do not generally trigger greater emissions in a subsequent year (“permanence”). Saturation is relevant especially in the long term (several decades). Options for addressing the lack of permanence of terrestrial carbon stocks exist and are discussed in this paper.
Several articles of the Kyoto Protocol address land management issues. Article 3.3 provides that some LULUCF activities — afforestation, reforestation, and deforestation (ARD) — will be accounted for in determining compliance with national commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Many negotiators did not want to sanction credits without actions. Consequently, credits in the LULUCF sector are restricted not just to ARD, but to those ARD activities that are directly human-induced, and then only to activities that are initiated after January 1, 1990. Article 3.4 outlines the procedure for including additional LULUCF activities in commitment periods after the first (i.e., after 2012), and in the first commitment period provided that activities have taken place since 1990.
Implementation of these articles is confounded by a lack of definitions for words like “reforestation” and “forest,” and the implications of choosing among commonly used definitions are very large. The precise definitions of terms and the rules for taking account of carbon emissions and removals due to LULUCF activities will have different impacts on different countries depending on: 1) the nature of their forests, 2) whether or not the LULUCF sector is currently a source (net emitter) or sink (net remover) for atmospheric CO2, and 3) the expected emissions balance of the LULUCF sector over the coming decades. The LULUCF provisions in the Kyoto Protocol can only be implemented once the accounting rules have been determined. Inevitably there is a problem when the commitments have already been agreed to, but agreement on the opportunities and rules for meeting those commitments has not yet been fully reached.
Implementation of the LULUCF provisions of the Protocol raises at least six principal issues for domestic LULUCF activities:
- What is meant by a “direct human-induced” activity?
- What is a forest and what is reforestation?
- How will uncertainty and verifiability be dealt with?
- How will accounts deal with the issues of (non)permanence (sequestration reversed by emissions at a later date, e.g. if a new forest is destroyed by a catastrophic event) and leakage?
- Which activities beyond ARD, if any, will be included, and what accounting rules should apply?
- Which carbon pools and which greenhouse gases should be considered?
The last point includes the issue of whether and how to consider that harvested materials from forests can result in an increasing stock of carbon in long-lived wood products and landfills. The Kyoto Protocol does recognize that greenhouse gas emissions will be reduced when sustainably-produced biomass products are used in place of fossil fuels or energy-intensive materials. Biomass fuels, for example, can be used in place of fossil fuels, and construction wood can be used in place of other, often more energy-intensive, materials such as steel or concrete.
In addition to encouraging certain domestic LULUCF activities, the Protocol, through Articles 6 and 12, provides for mitigation projects in other countries and trading of emission credits. When projects involve only developed countries (Article 6), emission reductions or enhancement of sinks that are credited to one country are subtracted from the assigned amount of the other, and there is no change in the global total of assigned amounts. Projects involving both developed and developing countries (Article 12), referred to as clean development mechanism (CDM) projects, result in an increase in the global total of assigned amounts because credits are added to the assigned amounts of developed countries whereas, in the absence of emission limits in developing countries, no subtraction takes place elsewhere. It is therefore critical that the credits result from real emission reductions, or sink enhancements, that go beyond what would have happened without the project. Herein arises the concept of “additionality.”
Article 12 of the Kyoto Protocol does not specifically include or exclude LULUCF projects. At least two important, project-level issues for LULUCF remain to be addressed:
- Will LULUCF activities in developing countries be accepted in the CDM and, if so, which activities?
- What accounting mechanisms are appropriate if LULUCF projects in developing countries can generate emission credits but there is no responsibility for debits if the carbon is subsequently lost?
The potential for increasing carbon stocks in the terrestrial biosphere might be limited compared to total greenhouse gas emissions, but their impact could be considerable in relation to the reductions necessary for compliance in the first commitment period (2008-2012). However, not all changes in carbon stocks in the biosphere are treated equally in the Protocol, some yield credits or debits and some do not. It is inevitable that a system cannot be optimized by treating only a portion of that system, and the definitions and rules for LULUCF will have to be carefully crafted to provide incentives for increasing carbon stocks while recognizing the other important roles played by the terrestrial biosphere and its products. It is, however, important that the transaction costs associated with these rules are not so high that they discourage participation toward the ultimate objective of stabilizing atmospheric CO2. If all of this can be achieved, improved management of the terrestrial biosphere can provide an important contribution toward meeting climate-change objectives, and the Kyoto Protocol can provide incentives for improved management of the terrestrial biosphere.
For Immediate Release:
February 29, 2000
Contact: Kelly Sullivan, 202-289-5900
Increases in Global Temperature Could Accelerate Historical Rate of Sea-Level Rise
U.S. Coastal Development, Wetland Resources, and Recreation Affected
WASHINGTON, D.C. — A new report released today by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change states that climate change will lead to a rise in sea levels through the warming of oceans and melting of ice. Rising seas will affect coastal development, wetland resources and recreation along the U.S. coastline. The impacts will be greatest in coastal areas that already face a wide range of natural and human-induced stresses, including erosion, storms, and pressures from development and recreational uses. If the effects of sea-level rise are better assimilated into coastal planning decisions, many impacts of sea-level rise could be reduced and the costs of adapting minimized.
The report, Sea-Level Rise & Global Climate Change: A Review of Impacts to U.S. Coasts, finds that the vulnerability of a coastal area to sea-level rise varies according to the physical characteristics of the coastline, the population size, and amount of development, and the responsiveness of land-use and infrastructure planning at the local level.
"The potential impacts to our coastal areas are another reason for our policy makers to address the challenge of climate change," said Eileen Claussen, President of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. "Responses to sea-level rise at the national, state and local level must reflect an understanding of the complex interactions of human and ecological systems in coastal areas."
The report concludes that sea levels have already risen between 10 and 25 cm (4 and 10 inches) over the last century and climate change will accelerate these rates, with sea levels projected to rise by 50 cm (20 in) by 2100. Low-lying areas in the Gulf Coast, the South, and the mid-Atlantic regions are especially at risk. In addition, the rapid increase in coastal development over the last few decades has brought with it a greater likelihood of increased property damage in coastal areas and the need for more widespread, and more costly, protection of that property.
The major physical impacts of a rise in sea level include erosion of beaches, inundation of deltas as well as flooding and loss of many marshes and wetlands. Estimates of land in the United States inundated by a 50 cm (20 in) rise in sea level are about 24,000 km2 (9,000 mi2), divided almost equally between upland areas and wetlands. In addition, increased salinity will likely become a problem in coastal aquifers and estuarine systems as a result of saltwater intrusion. These changes, in turn, affect human uses of the coast, such as tourism, settlement, shipping, commercial and recreational fishing, agriculture and wildlife viewing.
Although there is some uncertainty about the effect of climate change on storms and hurricanes, rising sea level could result in more risks from coastal storms. Also, increases in the intensity or frequency or changes in the paths of these storms could increase storm damage in coastal areas. Damage to and loss of coastal areas would compromise the economic and ecological amenities provided by coastal wetlands and marshes, including flood control, critical ecological habitat, and water purification. Major coastal cities such as New Orleans, Miami, New York, and Washington, DC, will have to upgrade flood defenses and drainage systems or risk adverse consequences.
"Damages and economic losses could be reduced if local decision-makers understand the potential impacts of sea-level rise and use this information for planning," Claussen said.
There are three options for responding to coastal threats: planned retreat, accommodation, and protection. Impact and adaptation assessments, which evaluate the costs of these options and the damages to unprotected resources, indicate that property losses or the costs to protect property dominate the existing impact estimates for the United States. Estimates of the impacts of a 50 cm (20 in) sea-level rise by 2100 on coastal property range from about $20 billion to about $150 billion. In addition, although current assessments do not include the monetary costs of impacts to wetlands, the implications of this loss could also be significant
The report is the fourth in a series of reports examining the potential impacts of climate change on the U.S. environment and society. The report's principal authors are James E. Neumann of the Industrial Economics, Inc., Gary Yohe of Wesleyan University, and Robert Nicholls of Middlesex University.
A complete copy of the report is available on the Pew Center's web site, www.c2es.org.
The Pew Center was established in May 1998 by the Pew Charitable Trusts, one of the nation's largest philanthropies and an influential voice in efforts to improve the quality of the U.S. environment. The Pew Center is conducting studies, launching public education efforts, promoting climate change solutions globally and working with businesses to develop marketplace solutions to reduce greenhouse gases. The Pew Center is led by Eileen Claussen, the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs.
The Pew Center includes the Business Environmental Leadership Council, which is composed of 21 major, largely Fortune 500 corporations working with the Center to address issues related to climate change. The companies do not contribute financially to the Pew Center, which is solely supported by contributions from charitable foundations.
Address by Eileen Claussen President
Pew Center on Global Climate Change
San Francisco, CA
February 23, 2000
Thank you very much. It is a pleasure to be here. While I know this is really a speech on global warming, you will find that I have drawn some of my inspiration from Alice in Wonderland. And so I would like to start with a quote that I believe really sets the stage for my remarks, where Alice asks the Cheshire Cat "Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?" "That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat. "I don't much care where---" said Alice. "Then it doesn't matter which way you go," said the Cat. "---so long as I get somewhere," Alice added as an explanation. "Oh, you're sure to do that," said the Cat, "if only you walk long enough."
I bring up this quotation because I believe that, on the issue of global climate change, it is truly important to get somewhere, and walking long enough is clearly not the answer. What I want to do today is to reach through the looking glass and pull the issue of global climate change out of the wonderland where it too often resides. And I want to paint a picture for you of exactly where things stand in the global effort to meet what may be the most important challenge of the 21st century.
I want to talk to you first about the science of global climate change. I also want to talk about how the growing scientific consensus around this issue is forcing many countries around the world to pay attention and to do something—both unilaterally and by continuing their work on an international treaty designed to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, I want to talk about the United States and what we as a nation are—or, more precisely, are not—doing to move this issue forward. And I want to leave you with an understanding that the one sector of our society where people seem to taking concrete steps to address this issue is in the American business community.
The Science of Global Climate Change
So let me begin by talking briefly about the science of global climate change. And let me quote something else from Alice in Wonderland that I think wonderfully illustrates some of the discussion we've seen in recent years on the question of whether or not climate change is real. This from Alice's encounter with Tweedledum and Tweedledee.
"I know what you're thinking about," said Tweedledum, "but it isn't so, no-how."
"Contrariwise," continued Tweedledee, "if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn't, it ain't. That's logic."
Although there are still some who argue like Tweedledum and Tweedledee that "it isn't so, no-how," the truth is it's becoming harder and harder to brush aside the possibility—indeed, the reality—of global climate change. Over the last two to three years, we have seen a remarkable shift in the discussion of this issue. Even many former skeptics now acknowledge that it is happening in some way—or, at the very least, that it is something we should be concerned about.
While this attitude shift may be in part a consequence of the strange weather we've been having around the world, the main reason people are paying more attention to this issue of late, without a doubt, is the science. And, more specifically, the growing scientific consensus that global warming is so.
So, at the risk of sounding like your ninth grade science teacher, I want to take a minute to talk through some of the scientific issues involved in climate change. The earth's atmosphere, as we all know, is made up mainly of oxygen and nitrogen, but it also contains other naturally occurring gases, including water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. It is these gases that are responsible for the natural greenhouse effect without which the earth would be about 34 degrees colder than it is now.
For years scientists have noted that atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases have been rising, particularly since the late 1800s. The primary reason: human activities such as the burning of oil, coal and natural gas. Since 1860, atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide alone have increased by 30 percent.
At the same time, the average surface temperature around the globe also has been rising—by anywhere from 0.72 to 1.44 degrees Fahrenheit over the last century. This finding was affirmed just last month by a panel of the National Academy of Sciences, which asserted that the warming trend has accelerated during the past 20 years.
In their analyses of these and other data, most of the world's best scientists agree on two things:
First, they agree that the earth will continue to warm. Last year, we at the Pew Center commissioned a report predicting that future changes in global-mean temperatures will be two to seven times more rapid than the changes we saw in the 20th century. We concluded that the earth will warm by 1.5 to 6 degrees Fahrenheit by the year 2100. That is in addition to the warming we have already seen.
The second thing that most of the world's best scientists agree on is that human-induced greenhouse gases will be at least partly responsible for the continuing warming trend.
I don't want to oversimplify the consensus that exists here. There remain significant uncertainties (such as how the formation and dissipation of clouds affect the climate). And there are still some skeptical scientists, although their numbers appear to be dwindling. The biggest question today, however, is not whether there is, or will be, a change in the global climate, but rather what the effects of that change will be, where they will be felt, and when.
What do we know about the effects of global climate change? If the predictions are right about the amount of warming we will experience over the next century—and I have seen nothing to suggest they are not—it is quite clear we will see a rise in sea level of anywhere from 6 to 37 inches. This will be caused by two things: the first is the fact that water expands when it is heated, and the second is that global warming will result in the melting of some glacial ice.
California, of course, will not be able to escape the effects of the rising sea levels brought on by global climate change. You could see flooding of low-lying property, loss of coastal wetlands, erosion of beaches, saltwater contamination of drinking water, and decreased longevity of low-lying roads, causeways, and bridges. Rising sea levels also could increase the vulnerability of coastal areas to storms and associated flooding.
OK, so what about the weather? What sorts of changes are we likely to see there? Based on projections by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and results from the United Kingdom Hadley Centre's climate model, by the year 2100, temperatures in California could increase by about 5 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter and summer and slightly less in the spring and fall. Researchers project increases in precipitation of anywhere from 10 to 50 percent in the spring and fall here in California, with somewhat larger increases in winter.
Another weather issue that has been in the news of late is extreme weather—or, more precisely, the potential role of global climate change in increasing the incidence of extreme weather events. Measuring changes in daily precipitation extremes around the world can be highly uncertain, but there is some evidence suggesting an increase in the frequency of wet extremes—not a happy prospect in a state that in recent years has added the mudslide to the list of natural disasters that keep Americans up at night.
Now please don't get me wrong. My objective here is not to scare you about the future or to give you a laundry list of possible or probable environmental effects, but simply to suggest this: we know enough about the science and the environmental impacts of climate change to begin taking steps to address its consequences now. We all live in worlds where we analyze risks, make decisions, and take appropriate actions based on our risk assessments. This issue is clearly at a stage where we must move beyond denial and debate, and focus ourselves on rational action, based on what we know from the science.
The World Responds
It was the strengthening scientific consensus about global climate change—a consensus that is even stronger today—that brought 150 nations together in Kyoto, Japan in 1997 to negotiate a framework for reducing greenhouse gas emissions around the world.
The Kyoto Protocol essentially requires developed countries to reduce or limit their emissions of greenhouse gases in relation to their emission levels in 1990. It also permits the use of various "flexible mechanisms" that can assist these countries in reaching their legally binding targets in a cost-effective manner. These mechanisms include: international emissions trading; joint implementation, which allows countries to receive credit for emission-reduction projects undertaken in other developed countries; and the Clean Development Mechanism-which allows trading in certified emission reductions between industrialized and developing nations. Fifty-five countries representing 55 percent of all developed country greenhouse gas emissions must ratify the Kyoto Protocol for it to enter into force.
The international negotiations that produced the Kyoto Protocol are still under way. Many terms in the original Protocol were left undefined, just as many of its provisions were not adequately explained. Issues that remain up in the air, so to speak, are: the structure and definition of the flexible mechanisms I mentioned; how to handle the issue of carbon sequestration, or the application of land use and forestry practices to help reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide; and how to establish a compliance regime—in other words, how does the world go about policing this enormously complex international agreement?
But despite the continuing negotiations, much work is under way to move forward with the emission reductions that are required under the Kyoto Protocol. I will give you a few examples:
The United Kingdom is now in the process of planning a domestic emission-trading experiment.
The Danish government already has secured legislative authority to implement a trading program of its own, and similar programs are under development in Norway and Sweden.
Looking elsewhere, the Germans are implementing a modest tax program, and a parliament in the Netherlands has approved a more traditional program that draws on a variety of policies and measures in an effort to curb emissions.
Last but not least, Japan, as a major player in the development of the Kyoto framework, is viewing this issue from a competitiveness standpoint and is developing strategies for its own emission reduction programs.
Whether any of these countries' efforts will work, or how well they will work, remains uncertain. But they do reflect serious attempts to experiment and move forward, to take necessary risks, and to determine what approaches ultimately will be successful.
The U.S. Government: AWOL on Warming
So what about the United States? What is our government doing to ensure that the necessary emission reductions are made? Before I answer this question, let me remind you that we are responsible for 25 percent of global emissions of these pollutants. This in a country that is home to less than 5 percent of the global population. If international leadership on this issue should come from anywhere, it should come from us.
But leadership is not coming from us. It is rare both in Washington and on the presidential campaign trail for the discussion of this issue to get past the question of whether to support the Kyoto Protocol or whether to declare it dead. What the discussion has not touched on—and should—is the further development and implementation of programs that would change the expected trajectory of our nation's greenhouse gas emissions. The U.S. Congress, in particular, appears determined to let absolutely nothing happen that would even remotely suggest that the United States is concerned about this issue. And while there have been several climate change bills introduced in the Congress, the prevailing wisdom is to view any effort to move forward on this issue as a quote-unquote "backdoor" attempt to implement the Kyoto Protocol and therefore to block it.
And what about the White House? President Clinton, in the budget he submitted in February, proposed spending $2.4 billion on various clean energy and energy conservation projects designed to -quote--"combat global climate change." This is important and politically safe, but it is clearly not enough. And how it will fare in the Congress remains to be seen.
The reality is that this White House has done very little since signing the Kyoto Protocol to make the treaty's goals and its mechanisms for reducing emissions a fundamental part of U.S. policy. Instead, the Administration regularly cites the leadership of U.S. businesses and local governments as evidence of our nation's commitment on this issue. As a former member of the Administration, it pains me to say this, but the White House is simply not doing what's needed to make this issue the national priority it should be. As Gertrude Stein put it, "There's no 'there' there."
U.S. Stumbling Blocks: Economics and Fairness
What, you may ask, is driving our elected leaders' reluctance to meet the challenge of global climate change in a serious way? I would like to suggest that there are two issues at the heart of the debate. And, while these issues are significant, my belief is that they have not been framed in ways that are honest or open to solution.
The first issue relates to the economic costs of action to reduce emissions. We all have heard the joke that economists have predicted nine of the last five U.S. recessions. And it is hard to argue with the premise of the joke when one looks at the varying predictions that have been made about the potential impacts of achieving the Kyoto targets on the U.S. economy. Interest groups across the ideological spectrum have produced markedly different results from economic models that are not that different in their structure but that use very different assumptions to achieve the results these groups want to achieve. And the only result that is truly achieved is confusion.
How do we get beyond this confusion? We get beyond it by admitting that the models we are using-even when stripped of assumptions that bear no resemblance to reality-are not infallible. For example, our ability to quantify the risks of not taking action to address global climate change is still in its infancy. In addition, we have yet to meet the challenge of modeling technological innovation--as far as I know, no economic model would have predicted the information technology or communications revolutions we are now witnessing.
I am not mentioning these things to suggest there will be no costs to the United States should we act decisively to reduce emissions. There is almost always a cost associated with major changes to the economy. What I would like to suggest is that a fixation with 10-year-out predictions of increases or decreases in the U.S. GDP really misses the mark. To argue, as some have done, that the costs will be catastrophic and that entire industrial sectors will immediately be wiped out is less than honest, as is the argument that major reductions can be achieved at no cost. What the United States should be concerned about are the impacts that are likely to occur in certain industries, certain labor categories, and certain regions of the country. The questions we should be asking have to do with: 1) how we can minimize these impacts; and 2) what we can do to deal with those impacts that we are not able to minimize—in other words, the impacts that remain.
The second issue that has become a roadblock to progress in the United States is the issue of developing country commitments. Is it fair, people ask, for the United States to have to abide by the Kyoto targets while competitors such as China, India and Mexico get a quote-unquote "free ride?" One fear is that American jobs will be lost to these and other countries because their production costs will be lower. But lost in the debate is the reality that fairness demands a decisive U.S. response for two reasons. First, because the United States is responsible, both historically and currently, for more emissions than anyone else. And second, because the United States, unlike many other countries, plainly has the ability to pay to reduce its emissions.
The reality, whether we like it or not, is that most developing countries are unlikely to agree to binding emission reduction targets that would take effect in this decade. The primary reason for the reluctance of these countries to "join in" is concern about their economic growth and its relationship to energy use, at least in the early stages of development. There is also a view in these countries that those who bear the historic responsibility for the problem of mounting atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases should act first.
But the developing world's opposition to targets cannot be allowed to hide the fact there is movement on this issue among these countries—movement that many of the opponents of the Kyoto Protocol prefer to ignore:
China, for example, which has dramatically lowered its energy consumption per unit of output over the last decade, is on a path to continue making significant energy-saving improvements over the decade to come.
Privatization of the electricity sector is moving forward in India, where competition is expected to increase the use of natural gas and lower greenhouse gas emissions.
And Korea is beginning to plan for opening up its power sector to competition, again with a projected increase in the use of natural gas.
In these and other developing nations, investment decisions made in the power and transportation sectors in the coming years will have a significant impact on global greenhouse emissions for decades to come. And the reality is that many opportunities exist for lowering these countries' emissions. In other words, binding commitments for these countries may not be possible, but significant action to lower emissions from their expected path may very well be. And that, in turn, would lay the groundwork for environmentally sustainable economic growth, something that is in everybody's interest.
To those in the U.S. Congress and elsewhere who continue to insist that China and other developing nations should have to live by the same requirements as the industrialized world as we work to reduce global greenhouse emissions, I say fairness demands we think differently. I believe that the 1992 Framework Convention on Climate Change, the agreement that led to the development of the Kyoto Protocol and was ratified by the U.S. Congress, took the right tack in asserting that industrialized countries should—quote—"take the lead" in reducing emissions. The Convention went on to state that developing countries have a right to development, even though their development will surely increase these countries' greenhouse gas emissions.
Does this mean we should expect nothing of the developing world as we work to reduce emissions in the years ahead? Of course not. I believe strongly that the world should take advantage of emission reduction opportunities where they exist—and whether they exist in industrialized or developing countries. The real issue, therefore, is not how to pressure developing countries into accepting binding emission reduction targets in this decade. Rather, the issue should be how to influence the character of the investments made in these countries so that they become more climate-friendly.
Moving Forward: American Businesses Take the Lead
If we want ideas for how to move forward on this issue in a proactive way, we should look to many of the American businesses that have accepted the need for strong action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and are working to do so.
In late 1999, as many of you may know, the Ford Motor Company announced it was resigning from a coalition of oil companies, auto makers, electric utilities and others who stubbornly argue that we still don't have enough evidence to know whether or not global warming is real—and that we shouldn't do anything serious about it until more is known. Word of Ford's decision was followed closely by the news that Daimler Chrysler also would be leaving the group known as the Global Climate Coalition. The companies' moves were seen as an indication of the growing acceptance of the reality and the urgency of this issue—even in the nation's corporate boardrooms—and as yet another sign of a growing consensus for rational action to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
But the fact is that many American businesses have long been way ahead of our government in their willingness to acknowledge and work on this issue. This progressive stance became obvious when a large group of mostly Fortune 500 companies became affiliated with my organization, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, to help forge a consensus response to the problem. The Pew Center's Business Environmental Leadership Council now includes 21 companies with combined annual revenues of more than $550 billion. Working together, these companies developed a joint statement asserting that in the new millennium—quote—"one of our most important challenges at home and abroad will be addressing global climate change as we work to sustain a growing global economy."
"One of our most important challenges." That is an enormously powerful statement coming from these companies, which include such household names as American Electric Power, Boeing, BP Amoco, Lockheed Martin, Shell International, Sunoco, Toyota, United Technologies and Whirlpool. And, in making this statement, these companies announced publicly that they:
Accepted the science of global climate change;
Would establish their own emission reduction targets--and meet them;
Viewed the Kyoto Protocol as a first although incomplete step to addressing the issue internationally; and
Believed that addressing climate change can be compatible with sustained economic growth in the United States.
Some of the member companies of our Business Environmental Leadership Council have already announced their emission reduction targets, all of which are at least as stringent as those in the Kyoto Protocol. One large company affiliated with the Pew Center, DuPont, has established a goal of reducing emissions to 65-percent below 1990 levels by 2010, with an additional commitment of obtaining 10 percent of their energy needs from renewable sources. This is a stunning target, far in excess of the 7-percent reduction required for the United States as a whole in the Kyoto Protocol.
The commitment of DuPont and these other companies is an important reminder that there are many steps industry can and should be taking now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But it is important to realize that industry alone cannot solve this problem. The public, too, has an important role to play. And, while there is remarkable consensus among the public that global climate change is an important issue and an issue we should be doing something about as a nation, Americans have yet to translate this general concern into their behavior in the marketplace.
Here are a few polling numbers to illustrate my point. A 1998 survey conducted for the World Wildlife Fund revealed that nearly 60 percent of Americans believe global warming is happening now, and another 26 percent believe it will happen in the future. According to the survey, fully three-quarters of the public want the United States to take action to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide as a way to address the problem.
But when confronted with product choices, the climate-friendly road is often not the road taken. Why else would more than 50 percent of all new car choices be four-wheel drive SUVs?
I believe these numbers illustrate that there is a difference between caring about this issue and actually doing something about it. And in the same way that the American public expresses concern about our changing climate but stops short of taking actions that might help turn the situation around, many of our elected leaders—no doubt tapping into the public mood—get away with talking a good game about climate change but avoid taking serious action to address it. And the result is that the private sector is the only place right now where we see the combination of caring and commitment that is needed to move this issue forward.
Moving Forward: A U.S. Agenda
How can the United States government get back on track and assume its rightful leadership role in meeting the challenge of climate change? The answer is by forging a national policy designed to deal seriously and responsibly with this issue. Let me suggest four items to place at the top of the U.S. agenda.
The first item should be to depoliticize and depolarize this issue in Washington. American businesses need to know what will be expected of them in the future. If we can move beyond political agendas and focus on economically sound, stable, and serious actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we will provide a platform for business planners to look ahead. And that will allow them to develop cost-effective investment strategies that will permit the needed replacement of capital equipment with greenhouse-friendly technologies.
Our second agenda item should be to design a straightforward system that will legally recognize the contributions of corporations that take early action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Put very simply, these companies need to know that reducing their emissions now won't put them at a competitive disadvantage down the line.
Our agenda for the next decade also should include some serious planning for how we as a nation will reduce our greenhouse gas emissions over the long haul. We know there are policies and programs that can lower the costs, and we should analyze and discuss all the alternatives. We know there are likely to be sectors of the economy that will be more affected than others. And we know we need to balance our environmental and economic goals in ways that minimize the costs and impacts, and that treat those who will be adversely affected in ways that are fair and equitable. But despite knowing all this, we haven't even begun to discuss a national plan of action. What we need is not a debate about Kyoto—a prospect that delights the opponents of serious U.S. action on this issue because they believe they will win it. Rather, we need to start discussing what has to happen to address the challenge of global climate change in ways that are smart and fair and that give us a competitive edge.
And finally, we need to continue to work abroad to make the Kyoto Protocol into an instrument that is worthy of U.S. ratification, and that is a step along the path toward a genuinely global solution to what is clearly a global problem.
At the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland last month, the business and government leaders in attendance were polled about the greatest challenge facing the world at the dawn of this new century. The winning answer was climate change—a clear indication that there is a real understanding among the world's movers and shakers that we need to do something. So what needs to happen now is for all of those movers and shakers to move from understanding to action and to shake up their governments so they meet this challenge head-on.
I began these remarks with a couple of quotes from Alice in Wonderland, so let me close with one, too. When Alice is playing on the Queen's croquet ground, she becomes very uneasy about the game and her fellow players. The story continues:
"I don't think they play at all fairly," Alice began, in a rather complaining tone, "and they all quarrel so dreadfully one can't hear oneself speak—and they don't seem to have any rules in particular; at least, if there are nobody attends to them."
Unfortunately, I think the current discussion of global climate change and what to do about it too often resembles the chaos and unruliness of the queen's croquet game. And I believe our priority in the months and years ahead—both in the United States and internationally—should be to provide some rules and direction to guide the players as we all work together to meet this global challenge.
Sea-Level Rise & Global Climate Change: A Review of Impacts to U.S. Coasts
Prepared for the Pew Center on Global Climate Change
James E. Neumann, Industrial Economoics, Inc.
Gary Yohe, Wesleyan University
Robert Nicholls, Middlesex University
Michelle Manion, Industrial Economics, Inc.
Eileen Claussen, President, Pew Center on Global Climate Change
Coastal regions play an integral role in the United States, serving as home to over half of the U.S. population, providing recreational opportunities to many, and supplying numerous valuable ecological services. At the same time, these areas are constantly evolving and face a wide range of natural and human-induced stresses, including erosion, storms, and pressures from development and recreational uses.
Current scientific research shows that climate change will lead to substantial sea-level rise along much of the U.S. coastline. Sea levels have already risen between 10 and 25 cm over the last century. Global warming will accelerate these rates, with sea levels projected to rise by 50 cm by 2100.
"Sea-Level Rise and Global Climate Change" is the fourth in a series of reports examining the potential impacts of climate change on the U.S. environment and society. This report finds that the vulnerability of a coastal area to sea-level rise varies according to the physical characteristics of the coastline, the population size and amount of development, and the responsiveness of land-use and infrastructure planning at the local level. The authors conclude the following:
- Low-lying developed areas in the Gulf Coast, the South, and the mid-Atlantic regions are especially at risk from sea-level rise.
- The rapid growth of coastal areas in the last few decades has resulted in larger populations and more valuable coastal property being at risk from sea-level rise. This growth, which is expected to continue, brings with it a greater likelihood of increased property damage in coastal areas.
- The major physical impacts of a rise in sea level include erosion of beaches, inundation of deltas as well as flooding and loss of many marshes and wetlands. Increased salinity will likely become a problem in coastal aquifers and estuarine systems as a result of saltwater intrusion.
- Although there is some uncertainty about the effect of climate change on storms and hurricanes, increases in the intensity or frequency or changes in the paths of these storms could increase storm damage in coastal areas. Damage to and loss of coastal areas would jeopardize the economic and ecological amenities provided by coastal wetlands and marshes, including flood control, critical ecological habitat, and water purification.
Damages and economic losses could be reduced if local decision-makers understand the potential impacts of sea-level rise and use this information for planning.
The authors and the Pew Center gratefully acknowledge Dr. Donald Boesch and Dr. George Parsons for their review of previous drafts of this report. In addition, the Pew Center would like to thank Joel Smith and Brian Hurd of Stratus Consulting for their management and oversight of this Environmental Impacts Series.
Climate change is likely to accelerate the historical rise in sea level through warming of oceans and melting of ice, which in turn will affect coastal development, wetland resources, and recreation along the U.S. coast. The impacts of sea-level rise will occur in coastal areas that are continually evolving and already face a wide range of natural and human-induced stresses, including erosion, storms, land subsidence, wetland loss, and environmental degradation from recreation and development pressures. Responses to sea-level rise at the national, state, and local level must therefore reflect an understanding of the complex interactions of human and ecological systems in coastal areas. In this report, we review the state of understanding of the impacts of sea-level rise on U.S. coasts.
Impact assessment for sea-level rise requires careful assessment of local conditions, the magnitude and uncertainties of global sea-level rise, and the costs and feasibility of response options. Important local conditions include coastal topography, geology, and economic and demographic factors. The areas in the United States most vulnerable to sea-level rise are in the mid-Atlantic and south-Atlantic states (because of their low-lying topography, high economic value, and relatively high storm frequency) and along the Gulf Coast (because of low-lying topography and rapid land subsidence). Parts of New England are also at risk, particularly coastal islands in southern New England. The West Coast is generally at lower risk, with the exception of San Francisco Bay and Puget Sound.
Existing threats to coasts that may be increased by climate change include: gradual sea-level rise, catastrophic sea-level rise (i.e., Antarctic ice sheet melt), and changes in storm frequency or intensity. Impact assessments have focused on the first threat, with some consideration in recent studies of the effect of storms on development and redevelopment patterns in the coastal zone. Although evidence of Antarctic ice sheet melt exists in the geologic record, recent evaluations suggest the probability of this event occurring in the next century is very low. Research on the effects of climate change on storm frequency and intensity is active, but currently inconclusive.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes that increases in global temperatures over the next century could accelerate the historical rate of global mean sea-level rise from 1 to 2.5 millimeters per year to about 5 mm/yr (50 cm/century), with an uncertainty range of 2 to 9 mm/yr (IPCC, 1996a). More recent work using new greenhouse gas emissions scenarios shows a slightly higher rate of sea-level rise (Wigley, 1999).
The impacts of sea-level rise will vary by location and depend on a range of biophysical characteristics and socioeconomic factors, including human response. The primary impacts of sea-level rise are physical changes to the environment. These changes, in turn, affect human uses of the coast such as tourism, settlement, shipping, commercial and recreational fishing, agriculture, and wildlife viewing. The most serious physical impacts of gradual sea-level rise on coastal lowlands are (1) inundation and displacement of wetlands and lowlands; (2) coastal erosion; (3) increased vulnerability to coastal storm damage and flooding; and (4) salinization of surface water and groundwater.
National assessments suggest that a one-meter rise in global sea levels could have significant impacts, including the inundation of about 35,000 square kilometers (km2) (13,000 square miles (mi2)) of land, divided about equally between wetlands and upland. In addition, the 100-year coastal flood plain could increase by 38 percent, or at least 18,000 km 2 (7,000 mi2). Estimates of land inundated if global sea levels rise 0.5 meter are closer to 24,000 km 2 (9,000 mi2). Major coastal cities such as New Orleans, Miami, New York, and Washington, DC, will have to upgrade flood defenses and drainage systems or risk adverse consequences.
Three options have been proposed to respond to coastal threats: planned retreat, accommodation, and protection. Impact and adaptation assessments evaluate where these responses might be implemented and then calculate the costs of implementation and the damages to resources that are not protected. Generally, property losses or the costs to protect property dominate the existing impact estimates for the United States. The implications of lost wetlands, which are not reflected in most current impact estimates, could also be significant. Based on a review of the existing literature, estimates of the cumulative impacts of a 50-cm sea-level rise by 2100 on coastal property range from about $20 billion to about $150 billion. Estimates at the low end of the range reflect modeling of the most economically efficient adaptation to sea-level rise. Those estimates at the high end reflect assessments of vulnerability or protection costs, and assume that all currently developed vulnerable areas will be protected, regardless of costs.
Although these cumulative costs are a relatively small percentage of total property values in the coastal zone, these aggregate estimates do not reflect the potentially large effects on coastal wetlands and, perhaps more important, provide no information on the distribution of impacts. Depending on the policy options chosen to respond to sea-level rise, the impact of rising seas could fall disproportionately on a small number of people or communities in the most vulnerable areas.
In many cases, the impacts of sea-level rise could be mitigated by forwardlooking state or local land-use policies. The major challenges of future impact assessments include improving their comprehensiveness and accuracy and making their results more accessible and useful to state and local decision-makers who are most able to prepare coastal areas to respond to the threat of sea-level rise.
About the Authors
JAMES E. NEUMANN
James E. Neumann is a Principal and Managing Director at Industrial Economics, Incorporated, a Cambridge, Massachusetts consulting firm specializing in economic analysis of environmental policies. Since joining the firm in 1991, Mr. Neumann has worked for U.S. government agencies and private research organizations with a focus on valuation of natural resource and human health impacts of environmental policies. He is the co-editor, with Robert Mendelsohn, of The Impact of Climate Change on the United States, (Cambridge University Press, 1999) an integrated analysis of welfare impacts in the agriculture, water resources, forestry, coastal structures, commercial and residential energy use, recreation, and commercial fishing sectors. Mr. Neumann has also co-authored a series of published studies with Dr. Gary Yohe on the national economic impacts of sea-level rise in the United States.
Mr. Neumann holds a Masters in Public Affairs and a Masters in Urban and Regional Planning from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. His other recent projects include a comprehensive analysis of the costs and benefits of the U.S. Clean Air Act and evaluation of the benefits of pollution control options in the coal-mining region of the Czech Republic.
DR. GARY YOHE
Gary Yohe is Professor of Economics and Director of Research and Sponsored Programs at Wesleyan University. He is also a collaborator at the Center for Integrated Study of the Human Dimensions of Global Change at Carnegie Mellon University. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, he received a M.S. in mathematics from the State University of New York at Stony Brook and a M.Phil and PhD from Yale University. He has contributed over 75 articles to the economics and climate change literature; and will be co-author with Edwin Mansfield on the 10th edition of Microeconomics. His major research foci have led him to apply the first principles of microeconomic analysis to decision-making under uncertainty and to exploring the tradeoff between mitigating climate change and abating its potential damage. Most recently, Dr. Yohe has been concerned with judging the vulnerability of economic, political and social systems to climate change and climate variability when adaptation is included in the calculus of cost accounting.
Dr. Yohe has served as an advisor and researcher for a variety of domestic and international organizations including the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, the Socio-Economic Data Achieve Center funded by NASA, the International Human Dimensions Program, the United Nations Environment Program, the World Meteorological Program, and the World Climate Research Program. He has collaborated with many researchers over the past few decades, most recently serving as a lead author for Chapters 2, 18 and 19 and a review editor for Chapter 6 of the Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Working Group II).
DR. ROBERT NICHOLLS
Robert J. Nicholls has a BSc in geology and a PhD in coastal geomorphology: both degrees were awarded by the University of Southampton. Presently he is the Reader in Coastal Geomorphology and Management at the Flood Hazard Research Centre, Middlesex University, London. His research concerns understanding, predicting abd managing long-term coastal change. A major theme has been biophysical and socio-economic vulnerability to sea-level rise, including possible adaptation measures. His work has included morphodynamic research using data from the US Army Corps of Engineers Research Facility at Duck, NC, methodological frameworks for analysing potential impacts and adaptation to sea-level rise and co-ordinating at number of national vulnerability assessment studies under US Environmental Protection Agency funds. He currently leads the SURVAS Project, which is developing a global database on national impacts to sea-level rise and is involved in several British and European initiatives on climate change.
He has been a lead author of chapters in four reports of the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC): "Coastal Zones and Small Islands" in the Second Assessment Report (1996); "Europe" in the Regional Assessment (1998); "Coastal Adaptation Technologies" in the Special Report on Technology Transfer (2000); and "Europe" in the Third Assessment Report (due to be completed in 2001). He is author of more than 80 papers and book chapters.
MICHELLE M. MANION
Michelle M. Manion is a Senior Associate at Industrial Economics, Incorporated (IEc) in Cambridge, MA. She has a strong background in applied environmental and natural resource economics, as well as financial, regulatory, and cost-benefit analysis. Ms. Manion's recent work includes economic assessments of natural resource policy issues for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In addition to her work on the economic impacts of sea level rise for the Center and the Electric Power Research Institute, other projects addressing global resource issues include: economic assessments of tropical commodities for Conservation International, and a review of applied cost-benefit analysis for the World Commission on Dams. Ms. Manion holds an M.S. (Natural Resources and Environmental Studies) and an M.P.P. (Public Policy), both from the University of Michigan.
Climate Change: A Challenge to the Conventional Wisdom
Executive Director, Pew Center on Global Climate Change
World Aviation Conference
San Francisco, California
October 20, 1999
Good morning. I had a lovely flight to San Francisco yesterday. So let me begin by thanking you for making that possible. And we can wait until my presentation is over to see whether you think I deserve a smooth flight back. I must tell you that I accepted your very kind invitation to speak at the World Aviation Congress because I thought it would be a perfect place to challenge two pieces of what could be called "the conventional wisdom:" the first is that industry always opposes responding to environmental problems by initially doubting the scientific basis of the problem, then arguing that responding to the problem is too costly, and finally, arguing for a delayed timetable for the response; the second is that leadership on public policy issues must always come from government.
But before I challenge these views, it may be useful for me to provide a little background on the global climate change issue. I believe this issue represents one of the most significant challenges of the next century: it's a science issue and an environmental issue; a global issue and a national issue; a technology issue and a fairness issue; a business issue and an economics issue. It is not likely to go away in the short term no matter what we do. And, if we don't do anything, it won't go away in the long term either. So let me give you a brief sketch of what we know and where we stand, and then spend a little time talking about practical solutions, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, and the aviation industry. In so doing, I hope that I can convince you that the best response to the conventional wisdom is real information, analysis, assessment, and action, and that some in industry, and in the aviation industry in particular, are clearly up to the task. My job, I think, is to inspire all of you to take on this challenge and help provide the leadership that we need and that is so sorely lacking.
But to begin at the beginning, let's look at the science. The earth's atmosphere is made up mainly of oxygen and nitrogen, but it also contains other naturally occurring gases, including water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, that are responsible for a natural greenhouse effect. Without this natural greenhouse effect, the earth would be about 34 degrees colder than it now is. But atmospheric concentrations of these gases have been rising, particularly since the late 1800's, as has the average surface temperature of the globe, which has warmed by 0.6 degrees centigrade. In their analyses of these and other data, most of the world's best scientists are agreed on two things: that the earth will continue to warm (we estimate 1.3 to 4.0 degrees centigrade by 2100), and that human-induced greenhouse gases will be at least partly responsible for that warming. I don't want to over simplify the consensus that exists here. There remain significant uncertainties (like how the formation and dissipation of clouds affect the climate), and there remain skeptical scientists. But the greatest uncertainties surround not whether there is, or will be, a change in the climate, but rather what the impacts of that change will be, where they will be felt, and when.
What do we know about the impacts of climate change? If the amount of warming over the next century is as currently predicted, it is quite clear that there will be a rise in sea level, estimated to be between 17 and 99 centimeters. For the United States, the rate of warming is expected to be noticeably faster than the global mean rate, particularly across the northern Great Plains and the northeastern states. These temperature changes are expected to increase winter precipitation in northern latitudes, increase the frequency of extremely hot days, and decrease the frequency of frosts. Changes in the incidence of daily precipitation extremes are highly uncertain, although there is some evidence suggesting an increase in the frequency of wet extremes. The effects of these temperature and precipitation change on agriculture, water resources, coastal resources, health and ecosystems are expected to be regionally significant. For example, while climate change is not expected to threaten the ability of the United States as a whole to feed itself, regional patterns of agricultural production are likely to change, and many crops will have to be grown in more northerly latitudes. Similarly, we can expect climate change to have impacts on our nation's water supply because of increased flooding in northern latitudes and snow-melt driven basins. At the same time, the frequency and severity of dry spells and droughts is also predicted to increase, although at different times and in different regions. Sea-level rise, with concurrent increases in storm frequency and/or intensity, is likely to affect some of our coastal areas, particularly the Atlantic coast, the Louisiana delta and the San Francisco basin. But my objective here is not to give you a laundry list of possible or probable environmental effects, but simply to suggest that we know enough about the science and the environmental impacts of climate change to begin taking steps to address its consequences. We all live in worlds where we analyze risks, make decisions, and take appropriate actions based on our risk assessments. This issue is clearly at a stage where we must move beyond denial and debate, and focus ourselves on rational action.
Rational action. It is probably a concept that we can all find appealing. But it seems to me that it is easier to say it than to take it, particularly when we are dealing with an issue like this where polarization of views is the norm, and coherent discourse and problem solving are rare. As some of you may imagine, and others of you may know first hand, this is a highly political issue, and I mean "big P" political: Republicans v. Democrats; Europe v. the United States; developed countries v. developing countries. It is also a "small p" political issue: scientists associated with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change v. skeptical scientists; industry winners v. industry losers; the Kyoto Protocol as the solution to the climate change issue v. Kyoto as an agreement that will never enter into force. So perhaps I can be most helpful by giving you a little context, and then moving into a discussion of some practical paths forward.
In thinking about the climate change issue, it is both obvious and easy to suggest that climate change is a global problem that demands a global solution. And, of course, it is true. Greenhouse gases emitted in Delhi can affect the climate in Dallas, just as emissions in Chicago can affect the climate in Calcutta. On the other hand, global solutions cannot be found unless individual nations, businesses, and even individuals search for, and implement their own solutions. We have a broad global framework negotiated in 1992 and now ratified by 179 countries, including the United States, that establishes an overall goal of preventing dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system, and requires all countries to take policies and measures to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, consistent with their circumstances and abilities. We also have the Kyoto Protocol, negotiated in December of 1997, and now signed by 84 countries, including the United States, and ratified by 15. This protocol establishes legally binding emission reduction targets for developed countries (7% below 1990 emission levels for the United States by 2012). It also allows for emissions trading and joint implementation among countries with targets, as well as use of a Clean Development Mechanism for project-based emission reductions between developed and developing countries. But perhaps the best way to look at the Kyoto Protocol is to look at what it does not contain, and what remains to be done.
It does not, for example, include any emission reductions or limitations beyond a first step for developed countries only. This is an obvious problem, since successfully addressing the matter requires more than one-step as well as participation from countries beyond those in the developed world. Yet the Protocol does not come to grips with what future steps might look like, for either developed or developing countries, or even what the framework for making decisions on these steps might be. What are the factors that should be considered in determining appropriate obligations for different countries or groups of countries to reduce or limit their emissions? To what extent should responsibility for the problem, past, present and future be a factor? Should it be tempered by a country's ability to pay for mitigation activities? Should emission rights be granted to countries based on historic emission levels, or should they be distributed on a per capita emissions basis? And what kind of system is effective, practical and fair?
The protocol does contain a framework for achieving emission reductions where they will be most cost-effective by including provisions on emissions trading, joint implementation, and the establishment of a Clean Development Mechanism, but it provides no specifics on how these mechanisms might work. It includes the possibility of sequestering carbon in forests and soils, but contains no specifics on how carbon that is sequestered should be included in a nation's total emissions budget. And it does not contain any provisions related to compliance, another issue that requires a serious and thoughtful response.
But as a practical matter, it seems to me that a framework for international action to deal with the climate change issue will evolve over the next decade no matter what current national and global politics suggest about the Kyoto protocol. And if you take this view of the inevitability of global action, and couple it with the view that the science is compelling enough to begin taking serious steps to address it, then the emphasis shifts to action frameworks and actions closer to home: national actions, company actions, and individual actions.
So where do we stand domestically? Unfortunately, the complications at home are as daunting as the complications abroad. While there is concern, interest, and a willingness to act on the part of the general public, some in the business community, and some in government, particularly at the State and local levels, the issue is now enmeshed in difficult and frustrating partisan politics. While the science remains somewhat controversial (although far less than even one year ago), it is the Kyoto Protocol that has raised the tensions dramatically. It is rare, in Washington, to be able to get past the question of whether to support Kyoto or declare it dead. As a practical matter, this has translated into arguments on the size and scope of the climate change budget, debates over whether Federal employees should be allowed to talk about the Kyoto Protocol, and attempts to use economic analysis to prove either that Kyoto implementation would ruin the economy or that it would be virtually free. What it has not translated into is the further development and implementation of programs that would change the expected trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions, or the passage of legislation that would either protect the 1990 baseline for companies that have voluntarily reduced their emissions over the past decade or provide incentives for more companies to move forward with emission reduction efforts.
I feel compelled to add here that the situation in the United States is unique among the countries of the world. The United Kingdom is now in the process of planning a domestic emissions trading experiment. The Danish government has already secured legislative authority to implement a trading program, and other emissions trading programs are under development in Norway and Sweden. The Germans are implementing a modest tax program. The Netherlands has a more traditional program full of different policies and measures that has been approved by their parliament. Whether these programs will work, or how well they will work, remains uncertain. But they do reflect serious attempts to experiment and move forward, to take the risk necessary to determine what approaches will ultimately be successful. There is even movement in the less developed world: privatization of the electricity sector is moving forward in India, where competition is expected to increase the use of natural gas and lower greenhouse gas emissions; Korea is beginning to plan for opening up their power sector to competition, again with a projected increase in the use of natural gas; and China, which has dramatically lowered its energy consumption per unit of output over the past decade, is on a path to continue making significant energy intensity improvements over the next decade.
Can more be done to deal with this problem than is apparent from the current level of activity? Of course. But if the U.S. government, or global governments more broadly, are either not able to come to grips with the more challenging issues that must be addressed, or unwilling to exercise real leadership, who will? I believe the answer is obvious and already in evidence, and I hope you will forgive me for the following advertisement. When the Pew Center on Global Climate Change was formed in May of 1998, there was little that was pushing 13 companies (the Washington Post, in an editorial, called them "a few brave firms") to publicly declare that
1 - they accept the views of most scientists that enough is known about climate change for them to take actions to address its consequences;
2 - that businesses can and should take concrete steps now in the U.S. and abroad to assess their opportunities for emission reductions; establish and meet emission reduction objectives; and invest in new, more efficient products, practices and technologies;
3 - that the Kyoto agreement represents a first step in the international process but that more must be done to implement the market-based mechanisms that were adopted in principle in Kyoto, and to more fully involve the rest of the world in the solution;
4 - and that we can make significant progress in addressing climate change and sustaining economic growth in the United States by adopting reasonable policies, programs and transition strategies.
Three of these companies are leaders in your industry as well: Boeing, Lockheed Martin and United Technologies. And there was little pushing the additional 8 companies that have since affiliated with the Pew Center. And there was little pushing those companies that have already set reduction targets and established programs to implement those targets, including DuPont, BP Amoco, Shell and United Technologies. And if this isn't leadership and a serious challenge to the conventional wisdom, I'd like to know what is.
But the job is not over yet. In fact, it is barely beginning. This is not a problem that can be solved in one day or one decade. It is a long-term issue that will require a sustained and serious effort over a long period of time. And there is room for virtually everyone to play a role in developing solutions. In fact, without participation from everyone -- countries, industry sectors, companies, and individuals -- it is not clear that we can mount a serious response to the problem. And this brings me to the aviation community.
I recognize up front that you have a problem that inspires jealousy in most other industries: you have had, and are projected to continue to have, a strong annual growth rate. And with this growth rate comes a problem, for while you have been successful in reducing emissions per unit of output, continued growth will increase your total greenhouse gas contributions. Even at current levels, the aviation industry accounts for roughly 2 percent of total global carbon dioxide emissions. I also realize that this sounds like a relatively small contribution. But unfortunately most sectors make small contributions, and aviation outpaces chemicals, iron and steel, cement and aluminum. You could even compare yourselves to many countries. The global aviation sector emitted more carbon dioxide than China, Germany, France or the United Kingdom.
But I didn't come here to depress you. It seems to me that all of the players on this issue are different from one another. Their contributions to the problem differ; their opportunities for emission reductions differ; and the costs that these reductions would entail differ. There is no "one size fits all" solution, and while special pleadings have never appealed to me as ways to do business, there is much to be said for flexible systems that allow for these key differences to be addressed and resolved. So let me be specific in suggesting that you focus on three topics: governance, technology and flexibility.
The aviation industry is already in a unique position with respect to governance. Article 2.2 of the Kyoto Protocol grants the industry special recognition, and establishes ICAO, the International Civil Aviation Organization, as the body responsible for regulating international aircraft emissions. As someone who has worked for many years with various Convention Secretariats and their Conferences of the Parties, I can only assure you that you are very lucky to be dealing with an organization that knows your possibilities and your constraints. But what is important is that you not squander your good fortune; your credibility on environmental issues is at stake here. It should be possible to develop timely and effective solutions that allow you to grow your business in sustainable ways. Find them, before others find paths that are less in your interest.
The second topic that demands some attention is that of innovation and technological change. Your industry has been a leader in the development and diffusion of new, more advanced technologies for decades. As you make investments in research and development, and as you consider priority areas upon which to focus your efforts, I would urge you not to forget that growth in the 21st century will almost certainly have to be environmentally sustainable growth. It is no accident that several of the largest global oil companies (and I am referring here to Shell and BP Amoco) have begun to think of themselves as energy companies, and have begun to significantly expand their investments in less traditional, more environmentally friendly energy sources. I didn't come here to tell you how to spend your R&D dollars. But I would like to suggest that you think carefully about what may be required over the next several decades to deal with the issue of global climate change, and that you factor this picture of the future into your longer term planning. You should be the industry that is first at the starting gate, and first at the finish line.
And finally, I urge you to think constructively about the market mechanisms that are contained in the Kyoto Protocol. These mechanisms essentially allow firms and nations to achieve the lowest cost emission reductions regardless of where they occur. And by doing this, the mechanisms provide economic incentives for innovation and lowered compliance costs. The best known example we have of how emissions trading works can be found in the acid rain trading program under Title IV of the Clean Air Act, a program which coincidentally I managed while at the Environmental Protection Agency. That program was designed to be scrupulous in its accounting system, and highly flexible and open in its trading system, a balance that has worked well to ensure that emissions are lowered and costs are as low as possible. It seems to me that the "Kyoto mechanisms," emissions trading, joint implementation and the Clean Development Mechanism have a significant potential for use by the aviation sector, and I know that ICAO is exploring their use along with other policy choices. You should carefully consider whether they would work for you, and, if you become convinced (as I am) that they could be of value, work with governments to ensure that the rules that are used to implement these provisions are simple, straightforward and result in real emission reductions.
In closing, I would like to briefly come back to the conventional wisdom. Yesterday's Wall Street Journal contained several articles on climate change. The lead story was titled "Inside the Race to Profit from Global Warming: Big Business Produces some Unexpected Converts." I call your attention to these articles not because I am quoted in them (alas, I am, and my quotes are not always diplomatic), but because I think they do point directly to the issue of leadership. If the marketplace has triumphed, at least temporarily, over government, as Daniel Yergin contends in his book "The Commanding Heights," then the marketplace will also have to stand ready to be judged by its commitment and contribution to environmentally sound solutions. The aviation industry is viewed as clean and green: technological giants in a world where technology is king. I urge you to live up to your reputation, exercise leadership, make a constructive contribution to the solution, and turn the conventional wisdom on its head.
Water and Global Climate Change: Potential Impacts on U.S. Water Resources
Kenneth D. Frederick, Resources for the Future
Peter H. Gleick, Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security
Eileen Claussen, Executive Director, Pew Center on Global Climate Change
Availability of an adequate, safe water supply is critical to the health, economy, and environment of any nation and its people. The United States, on average, is well-endowed with water. However, this year's spring floods and summer droughts illlustrate the importance of wide seasonal fluctuations in precipitation. Further, the growing conflicts over environmental and developmental water uses are an indication that water is becoming increasingly scarce.
Current scientific research shows that climate change will have major effects on precipitation, evapotranspiration, and runoff - and ultimately on the nation's water supply. Climate-induced changes in the water cycle likely will affect the magnitude, frequency, and costs of extreme weather events as well as the availability of water to meet growing demand. Recent reports, including "The Science of Climate Change," show that climate change is likely to increase the number of days of intense precipitation and the frequency of floods in northern latitudes and snowmelt-driven basins. The frequency and severity of droughts could also increase as a result of a decrease in total rainfall, as well as more frequent dry spells and greater evapotranspiration.
Because of uncertainties about changes in precipitation, many uncertainties exist in predicting specific regional impacts of large-scale changes. Still, some consistent impacts can be identified. In the arid and semiarid western United States, relatively modest changes in precipitation can have proportionally large impacts on water supplies. And in mountainous watersheds, higher temperatures will increase the ratio of rain to snow, accelerate the rate of spring snowmelt, and shorten the overall snowfall season, leading to more rapid, earlier, and greater spring runoff.
"Water and Global Climate Change" is the third in a series examining the potential impacts of climate change on the environment and society. This report identifies impacts not only to the quantity, but also to the quality of the water supply. Changes in stream flows, increased storm surges, and higher water temperatures all could negatively affect the health of the nation's water supply. An increase in the number of days of intense precipitation also could increase the agricultural and urban pollutants washed into streams and lakes. The resulting rise in sea level would contribute to saltwater intrusion into rivers, estuaries, and coastal aquifers.
The authors and the Pew Center are grateful for the input of Drs. John Boland, Kenneth Strzepek, and Barbara Miller, who reviewed previous drafts; and to Joel Smith and Brian Hurd of Stratus Consulting for their oversight of this Environmental Impacts series.
The availability of freshwater to meet the demands of a growing and increasingly affluent population while sustaining a healthy environment has emerged as one of the nation's primary resource issues. Concerns about water are based in part on uncertainties over the availability of supplies stemming from the vicissitudes of the hydrologic cycle, growing populations, and the prospect that greenhouse gas-induced climate changes will alter the cycle in uncertain ways.
Global climatic changes will have major effects on precipitation, evapotranspiration, and runoff. But estimating the nature, timing, and even the direction of the impacts at the regional and local scales of primary interest to water planners involves many uncertainties. While specific regional impacts will depend on future climate changes as well as uncertain economic, institutional, and structural conditions, some consistent and robust results can be described.
In the relatively arid and semiarid western United States, modest changes in precipitation can have proportionally large impacts on water supplies. In mountainous watersheds, higher temperatures will increase the ratio of rain to snow, accelerate the rate of spring snowmelt, and shorten the overall snowfall season, leading to more rapid, earlier, and greater spring runoff. Because the temperature projections of climate models are less speculative than the projections of precipitation, temperature-induced shifts in the relative amounts of rain and snow and in the timing of snowmelt in mountainous areas are considered likely. Coping strategies should now be explored.
Where extensive water systems have been built, there are untapped opportunities for rethinking operating and management rules. At the same time, where water systems are already under stress because of limited supplies or water-quality problems, climatic changes may impose different and greater stresses than those already anticipated by water planners.
Climate-induced changes in hydrology will affect the magnitude, frequency, and costs of extreme events, which produce the greatest economic and social costs to humans. Flooding, the nation's most costly and destructive natural disaster, could become more common and extreme. Recent reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggest that a greenhouse warming is likely to increase the number of intense precipitation days and flood frequencies in northern latitudes and snowmelt-driven basins. These reports also suggest that the frequency and severity of droughts could increase in some areas as a result of a decrease in total rainfall, more frequent dry spells, and greater evapotranspiration.
Many different general circulation models (GCMs) have been developed and improved over the past decades to understand the implications of increased concentrations of greenhouse gases on the climate. The ongoing National Assessment of the impacts of climate change on the United States is evaluating the implications of two different models - the Hadley and Canadian GCMs. Estimates of the impact of climate change on runoff within the water resource basins and subbasins in the conterminous United States using the outputs of these two general circulation models show similarities and sharp differences. For both models, temperatures and potential evapotranspiration rise significantly by 2100. But the uncertainties about the implications of climate change for water resources are illustrated by the contrasting projections of runoff based on these models. Estimates based on the Hadley model indicate flooding could increase in much of the country, while those based on the Canadian climate model indicate increased water scarcity would pervade much of the country. Both scenarios could result in sharply higher socioeconomic costs. Results based on these GCM outputs as well as more detailed regional studies emphasize two points: the detailed regional impacts of a greenhouse warming on future water supplies are uncertain, and runoff is sensitive to changes in temperature and precipitation.
Climatic changes will affect the demand as well as the supply of water. These changes may influence a wide range of water-system components, including reservoir operations, water quality, hydroelectric generation, and navigation. Irrigation, the largest consumer of U.S. water, is particularly sensitive to climate conditions; demand for irrigation water tends to increase as conditions become hotter and drier. Instream water uses such as hydroelectric power generation, navigation, recreation, and ecosystem maintenance are also sensitive to changes in the quantity, quality, and timing of runoff stemming from greenhouse warming.
Water is becoming increasingly scarce and expensive independent of climate change. Water demands are growing with population, incomes, and an appreciation for the values of instream ecological and recreational uses. Increased withdrawals of water for domestic, industrial, and agricultural uses, however, are limited by high economic costs and by the limited opportunities for increasing withdrawals from rivers or streams without adversely impacting instream uses. Improving the efficiency of our water use is rapidly becoming the primary means of balancing limited water supplies with growing demands. But as more people become dependent on a given water supply, vulnerability to drought can increase. Moreover, the capacity to store water to protect against floods and droughts and deal with the uncertainties of climate change appears to be declining because reservoir storage losses due to sedimentation have exceeded additions through new construction in recent years.
The impacts of climate change on water quality have received less attention than the impacts on quantity, but current research raises several concerns. Potential negative implications of climate change include reductions in dilution flows, increased storm surges, and higher water temperatures. Low flows in many western rivers will lead to increases in salinity levels to downstream water users; higher flows could help reduce some water quality concerns. Warmer water could threaten aquatic life directly as cool-water habitats disappear and indirectly as dissolved oxygen levels decline with higher temperatures. An increase in days with more intense precipitation could increase the agricultural and urban pollutants washed into streams and lakes, further reducing oxygen levels. Heavy rainfall is primarily responsible for soil erosion, leaching of agricultural chemicals, and runoff of urban and livestock wastes and nutrients into water bodies. Sea-level rise would contribute to saltwater intrusion into rivers and coastal aquifers.
The socioeconomic implications of both climate and non-climate impacts on water supply and demand will depend in large part on both the ability to adapt to change and on whether water managers and planners take action. Current laws and policies affecting water use, management, and development are often inefficient and unresponsive to changing conditions. The costs of these inefficiencies will likely rise if water becomes scarcer and supply and demand conditions change. There are four promising opportunities for reducing the costs and conflicts of supplying future water demands and adapting to future climate variability: (1) establishing incentives for using, conserving, and protecting supplies; (2) providing opportunities for transferring water among competing uses in response to changing conditions; (3) influencing how water is managed within and among basins; and (4) re-evaluating the operations of the existing infrastructure to address climate and non-climate changes.
All water-supply systems were designed and are operated on the assumption that future climate will look like past climate. Additional dams, reservoirs, aqueducts, levees, and other structures may eventually be needed to help adapt to climate change. But, when possible, costly and irreversible decisions to build water-related infrastructure should be postponed in anticipation of obtaining better information about the likely consequences and costs of a greenhouse warming. Water managers already have a wide variety of tools available for dealing with risk and uncertainty. One view holds that nothing different needs to be done now to cope with future climate changes as these tools will prove sufficient for dealing with future climate changes. But regional modeling studies suggest that even modest changes in climate can lead to changes in water availability outside the range of historical hydrologic variability. It is unclear whether some climate changes will be so rapid or of such large magnitude as to overwhelm existing systems before current management approaches can react. These uncertainties suggest the wisdom of re-examining design assumptions, operating rules, and contingency planning for a wider range of climate conditions than traditionally used. Maintaining options and building in flexibility are important for designing efficient water programs in the context of climate change.
About the Authors
Dr. Kenneth D. Frederick
Kenneth (Ken) Frederick is a senior fellow in Resources for the Future's (RFF) Energy and Natural Resources division. He has been a member of the research staff since 1971. His recent research and writings have addressed the economic, environmental, and institutional aspects of water resource use and management and the potential impacts of an anthropogenically-induced climate change on the supply and demand for water. He is the author, co-author, or editor of eight books.
Before joining RFF, Ken served as an economic advisor in Brazil for the U.S. Agency for International Development (1965-67) and as an assistant professor of economics at the California Institute of Technology (1967-71). He is a former member of the National Research Council's Water Science and Technology Board. He has served as vice chair of the board's committee on the Future of Irrigation in the Face of Competing Demands and as a member of their committee on Climate Change and Water Resources Management. He has also served as a consultant to federal agencies, international lending institutions, the government of Argentina, and private corporations.
Dr. Peter Gleick
Peter H. Gleick is co-founder and President of the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security. He is a leading expert on global freshwater resources, including sustainable use of water, the hydrologic impacts of climate change, demand management and water-use efficiency concepts, regional and international water conflicts, water planning and management, and the connections between water, population, and development. Dr. Gleick received a MacArthur Foundation Research and Writing Fellowship in 1988 to explore the implications of global environmental changes for water and international security. He is the author of Water in Crisis (Oxford University Press, 1993) and The World's Water 1998-1999 (Island Press, 1998) as well as numerous scientific papers.