U.S. Government Scientists Urge Preparation for Climate Change

By Lea Terhune
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington – Leading U.S. government scientists tell Congress that, given the evidence, now is the time to provide adequate resources to prepare for the potential impact of changes in the earth’s climate.

It is important to have strategies in place because “climate change could in the long term exceed the capacity of particular natural and managed systems to adapt,” Roger Pulwarty, a scientist with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), told the House Committee on Science and Technology April 17.

Pulwarty, the lead author of one of the chapters of the United Nations-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group II report, said such strategies might require investments in infrastructure due to changes in land use, watershed, ecosystems and livelihoods brought about by climate change. The insurance sector also likely would be involved.

Pulwarty is one of many scientists both from within the U.S. government and with academic institutions who have been appearing before Congress in recent weeks to discuss the IPCC’s April 6 report, Climate Change Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability.  The report concluded that there is a high probability human activities have increased greenhouse gas emissions and contributed to global warming. (See related article.)

“Adaptation strategies and implementation initiatives in infrastructure, insurance, financial markets and collaborative resource management may be needed,” Pulwarty told the House committee.  “Many adaptation strategies can be implemented at low cost,” he said, and developing research and management partnerships that provide reliable information to decisionmakers could enhance risk management, he said.

“Climate change is becoming a very key issue in the 110th Congress,” Texas Congressman Ralph Hall said at the hearing. “Climate change is one of our nation’s biggest challenges,” he said, adding that “clean, affordable and reliable energy technologies” are long-term goals.

The same day, the chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Senator Barbara Boxer, invited scientists to brief senators on the chief climate-change issues studied by the IPCC. In coming months, legislators in both houses of Congress will consider measures to mitigate the effects of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.

Innovative energy technologies currently are being explored under the U.S. Climate Change Technology Program, initiated by the Bush administration, led by the Department of Energy, and involving more than a dozen U.S. agencies. Among technologies under investigation are low-emission power sources based on fossil fuels; hydrogen; biofuels; and renewable sources such as solar, wind and geothermal energy. Nuclear energy, fusion energy and carbon sequestration technologies also are being studied as ways to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

President Bush, who called for climate change research and development early in his administration, announced in his 2006 State of the Union Address his commitment to reduce CO2 emissions by 20 percent in the next 10 years as compared to projected levels if no action is taken to abate emissions. (See related article.)

At the hearing, scientists raised many areas of potential concern for climate change, including migrations of human and animal populations, agriculture, water and public health issues.

Cynthia Rosenzweig, a scientist at NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and coordinating lead author for another chapter of the IPCC report, explained the certainty that “anthropogenic (related to human activity) warming has had a discernible influence on many physical and biological systems.”  The report’s conclusions were drawn from a wide range of evidence derived from observation of ecosystems and climate patterns worldwide, she said.

The impact of extreme weather events and economic implications were discussed by Stanford University’s Christopher Field, the lead author of a chapter on North America in the IPCC report.  He told the Senate committee that areas to watch are coastlines, which typically have large populations and economic development, and cities, where “profound urban heat islands make cities warmer than the surrounding area.”

“[E]ven with effective mitigation, we’ll still experience some kinds of climate changes – and we need to be prepared to adapt to the climate changes that we can’t avoid,” Field said.

The Bush administration, with congressional approval, committed $35 billion for climate-related research, assistance and incentive programs. The amount - nearly $3 billion annually since 2003 for climate-change technology research and deployment - exceeds that dedicated by any other nation for that purpose.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Stephen L. Johnson said in a White House webchat April 20 that pollutant emissions have declined by 10 percent across the United States since 2001. The EPA provides information to enable businesses and individuals to minimize their “carbon footprint.”

“[T] he United States is shifting to a ‘green culture.’ Americans are realizing that environmental protection is not just EPA’s responsibility. It’s everyone’s responsibility,” he said.

For more information, see Climate Change and Clean Energy.