Report Examines U.S. Regional Impacts of Climate Change

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As the nations of the world gather this week in Bali, Indonesia, to work on a global agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change today released a new report examining key impacts of climate change that are likely to affect different areas of the United States. The report, “Regional Impacts of Climate Change: Four Case Studies in the United States,” assesses particular climate vulnerabilities in the Midwest, West, Gulf Coast, and Chesapeake Bay regions.

The report provides useful information about particular impacts in different regions of the United States, as well as a more general perspective on the types of challenges decision-makers will face in developing workable responses to varied climate impacts. Each study also considers non-climatic factors, such as development and management practices that are likely to exacerbate our vulnerability to climate change.

The four studies are:

The report's four case studies offer key insights to issues that are likely to affect different regions in the U.S., including:

  • Midwestern cities are very likely to experience more frequent, longer, and hotter heatwaves
  • Wildfires are likely to increase in the West, continuing a dramatic trend already in progress.
  • Gulf Coast wetlands provide critical natural services to humanity, but sustaining these already fragile ecosystems will be increasingly difficult in the face of climate change.
  • The Chesapeake Bay may respond to climate change with more frequent and larger low-oxygen “dead zone” events that damage fisheries and diminish tourist appeal.

The authors find that well-considered assumptions about regional climate change should be incorporated into development and management plans based on a range of plausible projections. Studying regions with different vulnerabilities will provide insights and methods for conducting assessments in other regions and sectors.

“The degree to which we can adapt to the consequences of climate change will be determined in large part by the policies and management practices we put in place today,” said Pew Center President Eileen Claussen, “It is clear that we are already seeing changing conditions, and there is a real urgency for strong national and international policy action.” This report offers insights into how we can adapt to a variety of major impacts that we can expect to face now and in decades to come

Historically, risk management strategies have relied on the past as a guide to the future. But with global climate change, the future will no longer resemble the past. The report finds that adaptation measures will have to be a critical component of any long-term U.S. climate strategy. Managing the impacts of climate change requires that we adapt other human activities so that crucial resources, such as Gulf Coast wetlands or public emergency systems, continue to function effectively.

In a white paper released earlier this year, the Pew Center examines specific adaptation measures currently underway at the state level. This paper, “Adaptation Planning – What U.S. States and Localities are Doing,” looks at state and local adaptation efforts and highlights five states with plans already in place and the six additional states considering such measures.

For more information about global climate change and the activities of the Pew Center, visit www.pewclimate.org.

Pew is no longer active in this line of work, but for more information, visit the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions site.

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