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Adapting to the Impacts of Climate Change, Report in Brief

Adapting to the Impacts of Climate Change, Report in Brief

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Published by earthandlife
Much of the nation's experience to date in managing and protecting its people, resources, and infrastructure is based on the historic record of climate variability during a period of relatively stable climate. This report from the America's Climate Choices suite of studies concludes that adaptation to climate change calls for a new paradigm -- one that considers a range of possible future climate conditions and associated impacts, some well outside the realm of past experience. Adaptation is a process that requires actions from many decision-makers in federal, state, tribal, and local governments, the private sector, non-governmental organizations, and community groups. However, current adaptation efforts are hampered by a lack of solid information about the benefits, costs, and effectiveness of various adaptation options, by uncertainty about future climate impacts at a scale necessary for decision-making, and by a lack of coordination.

The report calls for a national adaptation strategy to support and coordinate decentralized efforts. As part of this strategy, the federal government should provide technical and scientific resources that are currently lacking at the local or regional scale, incentives for local and state authorities to begin adaptation planning, guidance across jurisdictions, shared lessons learned, and support of scientific research to expand knowledge of impacts and adaptation.

Much of the nation's experience to date in managing and protecting its people, resources, and infrastructure is based on the historic record of climate variability during a period of relatively stable climate. This report from the America's Climate Choices suite of studies concludes that adaptation to climate change calls for a new paradigm -- one that considers a range of possible future climate conditions and associated impacts, some well outside the realm of past experience. Adaptation is a process that requires actions from many decision-makers in federal, state, tribal, and local governments, the private sector, non-governmental organizations, and community groups. However, current adaptation efforts are hampered by a lack of solid information about the benefits, costs, and effectiveness of various adaptation options, by uncertainty about future climate impacts at a scale necessary for decision-making, and by a lack of coordination.

The report calls for a national adaptation strategy to support and coordinate decentralized efforts. As part of this strategy, the federal government should provide technical and scientific resources that are currently lacking at the local or regional scale, incentives for local and state authorities to begin adaptation planning, guidance across jurisdictions, shared lessons learned, and support of scientific research to expand knowledge of impacts and adaptation.

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Published by: earthandlife on Dec 08, 2010
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recent history, threatening the natural and builtenvironments on the coasts and in fresh water systems, especially when combined witheffects of more intense coastal storms.This report, part of the
 America’s ClimateChoices
suite of studies requested by Congress,discusses the impacts of climate change andhow we as a nation can begin adapting to themin benecial ways, exploring activitiesunderway at state and local levels, adaptationoptions, and how the nation can become better  prepared to make adaptation choices.
Adapting to the Impactsof Climate Change
A
cross the United States, impactsof climate change are already inevidence. Some extreme weather events such as heat waves have becomemore frequent and intense, cold extremeshave become less frequent, and patterns of rainfall are likely changing. For example,the proportion of precipitation that falls asrain rather than snow has increased acrossthe western United States. Arctic sea icehas been reduced signicantly over the past 30 years.Even if emissions of greenhouse gaseswere substantially reduced now, climatewould continue to change for some time tocome and the potential consequences for humans and ecosystems are signicant. It has been estimated, for instance, that a heat waveof the same magnitude as the 2003 Europeanheat wave could cause more than ve times theaverage number of expected heat-related deathsin a large American city; projected deaths in New York City alone, for one such event, couldexceed the current national summer average. Inecosystems, changing climate could alter thedistribution patterns of plant and animalspecies, reduce the productivity and abundanceof species, and change habitats. Sea level has been rising, most likely at a faster rate than in
Much of the nation’s experience to date in managing and protecting itspeople, resources, and infrastructure is based on the historic record of climate variability during a period of relatively stable climate. Adaptationto climate change calls for a new paradigm—one that considers a range of possible future climate conditions and associated impacts, some well outside the realm of pastexperience. Adaptation is a process that requires actions from many decision-makers in federal,state, tribal, and local governments, the private sector, non-governmental organizations, andcommunity groups. However, current efforts are hampered by a lack of solid information about thebenets, costs, and effectiveness of various adaptation options, by uncertainty about future climateimpacts at a scale necessary for decision-making, and by a lack of coordination. Therefore, anational adaptation strategy is needed to support and coordinate decentralized efforts. As part of this strategy, the federal government should provide technical and scientic resources that arecurrently lacking at the local or regional scale, incentives for local and state authorities to beginadaptation planning, guidance across jurisdictions, shared lessons learned, and support of scienticresearch to expand knowledge of impacts and adaptation.
Image from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
 
Adaptation Choices
Society’s need to cope with climate variabilityand changing environmental conditions is not new; people have been adjusting to their environmentsince the dawn of civilization. Agriculture is one of the earliest examples, as farmers have had to contin-ually adjust cultivation and breeding practices tovarying climate conditions. Modern efforts tostabilize and protect our homes, livelihoods, andresources in the face of a variable climate includethe development of oodplain regulations, insur-ance, wildlife reserves, drinking water reservoirs,and building codes.However, these actions have been taken inresponse to a climate that has been relatively stablefor the last 10,000 years. Planning for adaptation toclimate
change
(rather than climate
variability
) isalready under way in many sectors likely to beaffected, from agriculture to tourism, with states andlocalities undertaking the most explicit planning todate. For example, Philadelphia has designed an earlywarning system for heat waves to reduce associatedillnesses and deaths, particularly among the vulner-able populations of the elderly and poor (see Box 1).In the short term, the adaptation actions that canmost easily be deployed now are low-cost strategieswith win-win outcomes, actions that offer near-termco-benets, and actions that end or reversemaladapted policies and practices. Short termopportunities at the national level include opportuni-ties to revise existing programs to take into account projected future climate changes; examples includethe National Flood Insurance Program; federal, state,and professional engineering standards; and theCoastal Zone Management program.The report identies a range of potentialadaptation options—many of which are extensionsof dealing with climate variability—for consider-ation at least in the short term in the key sectors of ecosystems, agriculture and forestry, water, health,transportation, energy, and coastal regions. Table 1shows a few examples of those options. Unfortu-nately, many options lack solid information about benets, costs, potentials, and limits for three reasons:(1) an inability to attribute many observed changes atlocal and regional scales explicitly to climate change(and therefore to document effects of adaptation inreducing those impacts), (2) the diversity of impactsand vulnerabilities across the United States, and(3) the relatively small body of research that focuseson climate change adaptation actions.
ImpactPossible adaptation action
   F  e   d  e  r  a   l   S   t  a   t  e   L  o  c  a   l  g  o  v   t .   P  r   i  v  a   t  e  s  e  c   t  o  r   N   G   O    /   I  n   d   i  v .
Gradual inundation of low-lying land;loss of coastal habitats,especially coastal wetlands;saltwater intrusion intocoastal aquifers and rivers;increased shoreline erosionand loss of barrier islands;changes in navigationalconditionsSite and design all future public works projects to take sea level rise into account
n n n
Eliminate public subsidies for development in high hazard areas along the coast
n n
Develop strong, well-planned, shoreline retreat or relocation plans/programs (publicinfrastructure and private properties), and post-storm redevelopment plans
n n
Retrot/protect public infrastructure (stormwater/wastewater systems, energyfacilities, roads, causeways, ports, bridges, etc.)
n n n
Use natural shorelines, setbacks, and buffer zones to allow inland migration of shorehabitats and barrier islands over time (e.g., dunes and forested buffers)
n n n n
Encourage alternatives to shoreline “armoring” through “living shorelines”
n n n n
* Excerpted from Table 3.8 in the full report
Table 1. Sea Level Rise and Lake Level Changes: Examples of some adaptation options for one expected outcome*
Box 1. Philadelphia: Adaptation toHeat Waves
Heat waves can cause signicant loss of life,as observed in Europe in 2003 (which causedmore than 70,000 deaths above average heat waveevents) and in Chicago in 1995 (with nearly 700excess deaths). Partly in response to heat waves in1993 and 1994, Philadelphia developed its earlywarning system, the Hot Weather–Health Watch/Warning System to alert the city’s populationwhen weather conditions pose risks to health.Whenever the National Weather Service issues aheat wave warning, television, radio stations, andnewspapers are asked to publicize the heat wavewarning, along with information on how to avoidheat-related illnesses. The system is estimated tohave saved 117 lives during three years of opera-tion, a benet that can be compared with the costsof the system.
 
Actions taken so far to copewith climate variability are likelyto have limited value in copingwith impacts of the large or rapidchanges in climate that are projected if efforts to limitemissions are not successful.Abrupt changes that push theclimate system across thresholdsare possible, creating novel and potentially irreversible conditionssuch as ice-free arctic summersor extreme rises in sea level.Adapting to those impacts couldrequire major structural changesin government and society andconsideration of currentlyunacceptable, or at least very difcult, adaptationmeasures such as large-scale retreat of populationsfrom at-risk areas.Alaskans already face such decisions and therelated problem of funding adaptation efforts (seeBox 2). If impacts are great enough that returning to pre-disturbance conditions becomes impossible,some current regulations and guidelines, such asecosystem and land management policies, might haveto be rethought and revised. Prudent risk manage-ment suggests the need to consider contingency plansfor high impact-low probability events, supported bynew research on implementing “worst-case” plans.
Managing for the Risks of Climate Change
Adaptation to climate change calls for a new paradigm that manages risks related to climatechange by recognizing the prospects for departuresfrom historical conditions, trends, and variation.This means not waiting until uncertainties have been reduced to consider adaptation actions.Mobilizing now to increase the nation’s adaptivecapacity can be viewed as an insurance policyagainst an uncertain future.Vulnerability to climate change—the capacityto be harmed—is a function of 1) the nature andmagnitude of the changes experienced; 2) under-lying social, cultural, economic, geographic, andecological factors that determine sensitivity toclimate change; and 3) the nation’s ability to avoid, prepare for, and respond to impacts on ecological,economic, and human systems.For decision-makers, a rst step is to identifythe important vulnerabilities for a region or sector.The next step is to identify a set of adaptationoptions. The set of adaptation options that areultimately deemed worth pursuing will vary greatlyfrom region to region and sector to sector. Decision-makers will have to weigh relative costs of adaptationoptions against the risks of impacts, as well as todetermine which options will contribute to other management goals, such as developing in a sustain-able manner, improving public health, or enhancingeconomic competitiveness. In all cases, decision-makers will need to monitor the effects of their adaptation decisions and update the planning process as new information about climate change,vulnerabilities, and effectiveness of adaptationoptions emerges (Figure 1).
Alaskan coastal and river communities areexperiencing greater erosion and ooding becauseof increased storm activity and windiness; reducedsea-ice extent, which increases the intensity of stormsurges; and thawing of permafrost, which increasessusceptibility to erosion. Traditionally, many of thesecommunities were semi-nomadic, moving inlandduring periods of severe storms, and had little permanent infrastructure. During the past 100 years,however, their mobility has been reduced by the building of houses, schools, airports, and other  permanent facilities—changes that have increasedvulnerability to climate change.Six Alaskan communities are now planning sometype of relocation. However, no funds have beenappropriated to begin the relocation process. The U.S.Army Corps of Engineers has identied 160 additionalvillages in rural Alaska that are threatened by climate-related erosion, with relocation costs are estimated at$30-50 million per village.
Box 2. Alaska: Retreat from the Coast
Figure 1.
Adaptation planning is envisioned as a cyclical, iterative processincorporating these six steps.
3. Develop an adaptionstrategy using risk-basedprioritization schemes2. Assess thevulnerabilities andrisk to the system4. Identify opportunitiesfor co-benets andsynergies across sectors1. Identify current andfuture climate changesrelevant to the system5. Implementadaptation options6. Monitor andreevaluate implementedadaptation options

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