UCP Director's Office

United States must take steps to adapt to climate change, report says

WASHINGTON, D.C.—A group of scientists, policymakers, and regional leaders unveiled a new report today about national and regional preparations for adapting to a changing climate. The report, based on the National Climate Adaptation Summit, was presented to President Obama’s science and technology advisor, John Holdren, at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Washington, D.C. The report concludes that the United States must adapt to a changing climate now and prepare for increasing impacts on urban infrastructure, food, water, human health, and ecosystems in the coming decades. It urges local, regional, and federal decision makers to develop and coordinate climate change adaptation measures across these scales of government and with the private sector. Measures that increase resilience to climate change can include changes in technology, management practices, or institutions. The report also states that proactive adaptation planning can help minimize negative impacts of climate change on our nation’s communities, businesses, ecosystems, and citizens. The federal government must help set priorities and share information about relevant programs and best practices, according to the report. The National Climate Adaptation Summit was convened by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research in May 2010 as a result of a conversation between Holdren and the UCAR Board of Trustees. Relative sea level changes on U.S. coastlines, 1958 to 2008. These observed changes, measured over the last 50 years, show increases all along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, including several areas with an increase of greater than 8 inches during that time. A smaller area of coast in the Pacific Northwest has decreased by a similar amount. Sea level is not uniform across the globe, and changes are also not uniform. (Image courtesy Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States, U.S. Global Change Research Program.) The report identifies seven priorities for near-term action: Developing an overarching national strategy to guide federal climate change adaptation programs. This strategy should establish agency roles, clear goals and metrics, and better mechanisms for coordinating federal and non-federal activities. Improving coordination of federal plans and programs. Strong management from the executive branch is needed to break down barriers, integrate planning, move funding into the highest priority areas, and maintain priorities across the multitude of involved agencies. Creating a federal climate information portal. This would provide single-point access to data from all relevant federal agencies and programs and would evolve over time into a more “national” portal with information about relevant non-federal efforts. Creating a clearinghouse of best practices and toolkits for adaptation. Such an effort could assist regions and sectors with similar adaptation challenges in learning from each other and explore the intersection of adaptation and mitigation. Including support for assessment in U.S. Global Change Research Program agency budgets. This would enable the regular national-scale assessments of climate change impacts that are required by law. Increasing funding for research on vulnerability and impacts, including economic analyses and pilot projects that join local, state, and regional governments and academic institutions to develop and test adaptation measures and tools. Initiating a regional series of ongoing climate adaptation forums. The goal would be to integrate planning, communication, and coordination of activities across various agencies and U.S. regions. “The UCAR community has taken a close look at how our nation can become more resilient to climate change and what tools and workforce are needed to tackle these complex environmental, economic, and societal challenges,” says UCAR Vice President Jack Fellows. “The summit allowed us to broaden and deepen that conversation to include federal, regional, and local stakeholders.” “Wise adaptation measures can protect our citizens, communities, and ecosystems from many negative consequences of climate change,” adds Rosina Bierbaum, dean of the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment and former UCAR board member. “But we need to act now. Some local adaptation efforts are more advanced than federal efforts. Thus, we all need to learn from one another, agree to a national strategy, and share and develop authoritative tools, information, and best practices.” “I thank both UCAR and the summit participants for sharing their expertise and insights in this report,” Dr. Holdren says. “It is most timely and will be very helpful as our federal agencies draft a new 10-year Research Plan for Global Change and begin the next National Climate Assessment, both of which will give new emphasis to adaptation measures.” Today’s presentation at the AAAS included comments from a panel of stakeholders who attended the May summit. They spoke about their local climate adaptation efforts and how the report’s findings will help them move forward. The panelists included: Dr. Jerry Melillo, Senior Scientist, the Ecosystem Center, Marine Biological Laboratory Mr. Frank Nutter, President, Reinsurance Association of America Dr. David Evans, Director, Center for Sustainability: Earth, Energy & Climate, Noblis, Inc. Ms. Joyce Coffee, Director of Project Development, Policy, and Research, Chicago Department of Environment About the report Summit page for downloading a PDF of the report Summit page for webcast viewing

The National Climate Adaptation Summit and UCAR’s role in building resiliency

9 June 2010  •  “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity….” If I could pick some words to describe today’s complex world of climate research, policy, and advocacy, I’m not sure I could pick any better than these famous words from the opening to Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. Although the public and political dialogue is often heated, the science surrounding climate change has never been more rigorous and exciting, and there has probably never been a time when the science community was more poised to help on this important issue. While national climate adaptation and mitigation politics plod slowly along, many of America’s cities are making great strides to plan for a changing climate and doing it in a way that makes sense regardless of the exact scale of changes (for example, adopting policies and programs that reduce dependence on oil, conserve water, increase energy efficiency, and generally make communities nicer places to live). UCAR members are not strangers to the topic of climate resiliency. In 2008, the UCAR community partnered with other groups to develop a transition document that provided weather and climate recommendations to the incoming Obama administration and Congress. In 2008 and 2009, the UCAR annual meetings were dedicated to examining our role in making our nation more resilient to a changing climate and associated severe weather. The 2009 meeting (covered in UCAR Magazine) highlighted how several of our member universities were helping New York City and Chicago with their climate adaptation planning efforts. John Holdren, the science advisor to President Barack Obama, addresses the summit. (Photo courtesy Jack Fellows.) The conversation within the UCAR community continues during our 50th anniversary year, and in the next year we plan to discuss our role in helping create the next-generation leaders and workforce who will address the challenge of climate resiliency. In many respects, there are few groups more able to help in this critical national effort than the UCAR community. Our country has invested in us for over 50 years; this is an opportunity for us to pay our country back by helping local and regional decision makers ensure that their communities will have reliable access to water, food, energy, and health resources and services in the face of a changing climate. Based on the transition document and many other interactions, President Obama’s science advisor, John Holdren, asked UCAR to convene a National Climate Adaptation Summit, held in Washington, D.C., on 25–27 May. This invitational summit brought together some 200 invited users and providers of climate adaptation information from diverse regions and economic sectors. A rich set of talks and breakout activities provided invaluable insights into what is needed for effective climate adaptation and vulnerability assessment and how we should be organized to do that, in both the public and private sectors and from federal to local levels. Much of the summit was webcast, and the online archive will be very useful in the classroom and beyond. It includes interesting and inspiring keynote talks from New Mexico governor Bill Richardson, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Holdren, and many others. Many of your colleagues helped to plan the summit, and a report team is now summarizing its conclusions. The preliminary goals include: implementing much more effective overall coordination of the many federal climate adaptation efforts, creating a one-stop federal climate adaptation information portal, developing a national strategy that provides incentives and guidance on how local and regional decision makers can plan for climate adaptation, and initiating a comprehensive review to make sure federal policies related to climate adaptation aren’t in conflict. The summit report being provided to Holdren will serve as important input for federal efforts related to climate adaptation, including the White House Climate Adaptation Task Force and the U.S. Global Change Research Program. Through these and other advocacy efforts, UCAR has become a sought-after voice on climate research, education, and policy matters. Although it may be a confusing time for climate change politics and policies, rest assured that our community is making a substantial difference in this debate. We’ll keep you posted as things develop. Pictured at the summit are (left to right) Jack Fellows; Rosina Bierbaum, University of Michigan; Bill Richardson, governor of New Mexico; Shere Abbott, associate director for environment, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy; and Ron Sims, deputy secretary, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Fellows, Bierbaum, and Abbott were co-chairs of the summit.
Subscribe to UCP Director's Office