U.S. Not Ready for Climate-Change Impacts

The report, “The Climate Crisis and the Adaptation Myth,” is
published by the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and
is available at
www.environment.yale.edu/publication-series/climate_change/.

Public release date: 2-Dec-2008
Yale University

Contact: David DeFusco
david.defusco@yale.edu
203-436-4842

Most US organizations not adapting to climate change

New Haven, Conn.-Organizations in the United States that are at the
highest risk of sustaining damage from climate change are not
adapting enough to the dangers posed by rising temperatures,
according to a Yale report.

“Despite a half century of climate change that has already
significantly affected temperature and precipitation patterns and has
already had widespread ecological and hydrological impacts, and
despite a near certainty that the United States will experience at
least as much climate change in the coming decades just as a result
of current atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, little
adaptation has occurred,” says Robert Repetto, author of “The Climate
Crisis and the Adaptation Myth” and a senior fellow of the United
Nations Foundation.

Repetto says that private-and public-sector organizations face
significant obstacles to adaptation because of uncertainties over the
occurrence of climate change at the regional and local levels, over
the future frequency of extreme weather events, and over the
ecological, economic and other impacts of climate change.

In addition, organizations lack relevant data for planning and
forecasting, and the data that are available are typically outdated
and unrepresentative of future conditions. Other institutional
barriers to adaptation are overcoming or revising codes, rules and
regulations that impede change; the lack of clear directions and
mandates to take action; political or ideological resistance to the
need for responsiveness to climate change; the preoccupation with
near-term challenges and priorities and the lingering perception that
climate change is a concern only for sometime in the future; and the
inertia created by a business-as-usual assumption that future
conditions will be like those of the past.

“Those organizations in the public and private sectors that are most
at risk, that are making long-term investments and commitments and
that have the planning, forecasting and institutional capacity to
adapt, have not yet done so,” says Repetto, who until recently was a
professor in the practice of economics and sustainable development at
the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. “There have been
very few changes in forecasts, plans, investment decisions, budgets
or staffing patterns in response to climate risks.”

The report cites:

* New York City’s 40-year-old building codes that require
structures to withstand only 110 mph winds, when climate change is
causing more intense hurricanes that could bring speeds of up to 135
mph, and its flood maps that are based on historical data and not on
climate change modeling data. Increases in sea levels and surges
associated with severe storms would likely inundate Kennedy Airport
and lower Manhattan, including the subway entrances and tunnels into
Manhattan.

* Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Texas, where water supply is
critical and climate change is not factored into state agencies’
current water management plans.

* A 2007 GAO report that land and resource managers for the
Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management
and the National Park Service have ignored a directive by the
Interior Department to consider climate change in their management
plans.

* Federal planning guidelines that states and municipalities must
follow to receive funding for transportation investments that do not
require consideration of climate change in the design and siting of
highways and rail lines.

* Municipal public health agencies in Los Angeles, Chicago and
Philadelphia, among others, that have not factored climate change
into plans for confronting public health risks, despite the belief
that climate change will increase the incidence and severity of
vector-borne diseases and respiratory illnesses.

“To say that the United States has the technological, economic and
human capacity to adapt to climate change does not imply that the
United States will adapt,” said Repetto. “Without national leadership
and concerted efforts to remove these barriers and obstacles,
adaptation to climate change is likely to continue to lag.”

The report, “The Climate Crisis and the Adaptation Myth,” is
published by the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and
is available at
www.environment.yale.edu/publication-series/climate_change/.

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