Adaptation to Impacts
of Climate Change
An Overview
James L. Buizer
Science Policy Advisor
to the President
Arizona State University
May 19, 2011
Key Findings
1.Global Warming is unequivocal
and primarily human induced
Global temperature has increased
over the past 50 years.
This observed increase is due
primarily to human-induced emissions
of heat-trapping gases.
Key Findings
2. Climate Changes are underway in the U.S.
and are projected to grow
These include:
- Increases in heavy downpours
- Rising temperature
- Rising sea level
- Rapidly retreating glaciers
- Thawing permafrost
- Lengthening growing seasons
- Lengthening ice-free seasons etc
Carbon Dioxide levels are higher than in 800,000 years; global average temperatures have been
rising in tandem with increased concentrations of greenhouse gases
Key Findings
3. Widespread climate-related impacts are occurring now and are expected
to increase
Climate changes are already
affecting water, energy,
transportation, agriculture,
ecosystems, and health.
4. Climate Change will
stress water resources
Drought is important in many regions, especially in the West.
Floods and water quality problems - likely to be amplified by climate change in
most regions.
Declines in mountain snowpack in the West and Alaska - provides vital natural
water storage.
Key Findings
5. Crop and livestock production will be increasingly challenged
Many crops show positive responses to elevated carbon dioxide and low levels
of warming. But higher levels of warming often negatively affect growth and
Increased pests, water stress, diseases, and weather extremes will pose
adaptation challenges for crop and livestock production.
6. Coastal areas are at
increasing risk from sea
level rise and storm surge
• Increasing risk of erosion and
flooding, especially along the
Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, Pacific
Islands, and parts of Alaska.
• Energy and transportation infrastructure - very likely to be adversely affected.
Key Findings
7. Risks to human health will increase
• Related to increasing heat stress,
waterborne diseases, poor air quality,
extreme weather events, and diseases
transmitted by insects and rodents.
• Robust public health infrastructure can
reduce the potential for negative impacts.
8. Climate change will interact with many
social and environmental stresses
• Climate change will combine with pollution,
population growth, overuse of resources,
urbanization, and other social, economic,
and environmental stresses
Number of
Days Over
Higher Emissions Scenario,
Key Findings
9. Thresholds will be crossed leading to large changes in climate and
These thresholds determine,
for example:
- the presence of sea ice and
- the survival of species,
from fish to insect pests
Key Findings
10. Future climate and its impacts depends on
choices made today
• The amount and rate of
future climate change
depend primarily on
current and future
• Responses involve reducing emissions to limit future warming, and
adapting to the changes that are unavoidable.
Key Finding: Widespread climate-related impacts
are occurring now and are expected to increase
Sea Ice and Permafrost
Risks and costs in Alaska increase as
thawing of permafrost damages roads,
buildings, and forests, and declining sea ice
increases coastal erosion and threatens the
existence of some communities.
Coldwater Fish
Salmon, trout, and other coldwater fish
will face additional stresses as water
temperatures rise and summer
streamflows decline. Ecosystems and
the tourism and recreation they
support will be adversely affected.
Forest growth is generally projected to increase in
much of the East, but decrease in much of the West as
water becomes even scarcer. Major shifts in species
are expected, such as maple-beech-birch forests
being replaced by oak-hickory in the Northeast. Insect
infestations and wildfires are projected to increase as
warming progresses.
Interacting Stresses
Population shifts and development choices are making more
Americans vulnerable to climate change impacts. An aging
populace, and continued population shifts to the Southeast,
Southwest, and coastal cities amplify risks associated with
extreme heat, sea-level rise, storm surge, and increasing
water scarcity in some regions.
Coral Reefs
Rising water temperatures and ocean acidification
threaten coral reefs and the rich ecosystems they support.
These and other climate-related impacts on coastal and
marine ecosystems will have major implications for
tourism and fisheries.
Key Finding: Widespread climate-related impacts
are occurring now and are expected to increase
Heat Waves
Heavy Downpours
More rain is already coming in very
heavy events, and this trend is
projected to increase across the
nation. Such events are harmful to
transportation infrastructure,
agriculture, water quality, and
human health.
Increasing heat, pests, floods,
weeds, and water stress will
present increasing challenges for
crop and livestock production.
ecosystems will be lost.
Water and Energy
Coastal Communities
Sea-level rise and storm surge will
increase threats to homes and
infrastructure including water,
sewer, transportation, and
communication systems. Many
barrier islands and coastal marshes
that protect the coastline and
support healthy ecosystems will be
Heat waves will become
more frequent and
intense, increasing
threats to human health
and quality of life,
especially in cities.
As warming increases
competition for water, the
energy sector will be
strongly affected as power
plants require large
amounts of water for
Energy Supply
Warming will decrease demand for
heating energy in winter and
increase demand for cooling energy
in summer. The latter will result in
significant increases in electricity
use and peak demand in most
Water Supply
Reduced summer runoff, increased winter runoff,
and increasing demands will compound current
stresses on water supplies and flood
management, especially in the West.
Climate Change is Already Impacting Society
• Economy
• Communities
• Energy production/supply
• Human health
• Water availability
• Food production
• National security
• Tribal cultures
• Biodiversity
• Ecosystem services that people depend on (e.g. clean water,
coastal protection, food, recreation)
...and will challenge our missions and operations
Future Climate Change
The future depends largely on choices people make now
• Actions to reduce greenhouse
gas emissions will help limit
future warming and the need to
• Even with emissions reductions,
some degree of climate change will
continue to occur into the future
• Adaptation and mitigation
are interconnected
Future Climate Change
Throughout this century, climate change is projected to bring...
• Rising temperatures
• Increases in heavy downpours
• Rising sea level
• Rapidly retreating glaciers
• Thawing permafrost
• Lengthening growing seasons
• Lengthening ice-free seasons in the ocean and on lakes and rivers
• Earlier snowmelt
• Alterations of river flows
• Shifts in the timing of seasons
What is Adaptation…
And why does it matter?
The Climate is Already Changing
Scientific consensus shows that the Earth’s climate is changing due
to increased concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere
• Global average temperature
and carbon dioxide
concentrations have risen
substantially since 1880
• Most of the warming in the past
50 years has been over land
and in the Northern Hemisphere
• Year-round average temperatures
in the U.S. have already risen 2°F
over the past 50 years
Global Climate Change Impacts in the U.S.: Warming
“Climate-related changes have already been observed globally and in the United States.” - USGCRP 2009
“Drunken trees,” NSIDC
• Warming has not been uniform across the world or the nation
• Agencies need to plan for varying conditions and impacts
across regions and sectors
Extreme heat, CDC
Temperatures have
already risen in the US an
average of 1.5 degrees F
in the last 50 years and
could rise 2 to 11 degrees
in the next century….
Projected Temperature Change (°F)
from 1961-1979 Baseline
Mid-Century (2041-2059 average) End of Century (2081-2099 av.)
Higher Emissions Scenario
Lower Emissions Scenario
Recent Change
Near-Term Projected
Climate Change Impacts Are Not Distributed Evenly
For example…
Western drought, CA Dept. of Water Resources
Midwestern flooding, NRCS
• Drought frequency has increased in the Southeast and much of the West
• Heavy precipitation has increased most in the Midwest and Northeast
Vulnerability Is Not Distributed Evenly
Vulnerability to climate change and the capacity to adapt vary widely
Healthy and Bleached Coral, NOAA
Wetlands, NOAA
• Social/economic factors
Economic status, race, gender, age, ethnicity,
and health
• Environmental factors
Pollution, over-harvesting, and habitat destruction
Elderly men,
Global Climate Change Impacts in the U.S.: Precipitation
Wetlands drought, USDA
Iowa flooding, FEMA
• U.S. average annual precipitation has increased about 5%
over the past 50 years, but the changes were not uniform
Global Climate Change Impacts in the U.S.: Extreme Events
Winter storm, Texas, FEMA
Snowstorm, Northeast, NOAA
Rainstorm, NOAA
• Heavy precipitation has increased in both frequency
and intensity over the past 50 years
One definition:
• Adaptation: Adjustment in human or natural
systems to a new or changing environment
that exploits beneficial opportunities or
moderates negative effects (ACC Adapting)
IPCC 2007
Effectively Anticipating and Responding
to a Changing Climate Requires…
A continuously evolving understanding of the
integrated “climate-society system” to address
today’s challenges and plan for the future
An adaptive management approach that
provides for regular evaluation and adjustment
of decisions as new scientific insights emerge
and socio-economic conditions change
Adaptation is
Iterative Risk
A common sense approach:
UKCIP 2003
Examples of Adaptation:
Improving Urban Air Quality
Refuel vehicles after dark
Encourage mass transportation use by
offering free services on Air Quality Alert Days
Encourage residents to limit car travel,
especially during daytime
Conserve energy
Avoid outdoor burning
Adaptation: reframing the things we do every day
• Managers make decisions with imperfect information
all the time – why is climate change different?
• Adaptive management – deliberate learning by doing
• Co-benefits – justify action by addressing other
• Small institutional and legal changes can make a big
difference, eg eliminating conflicting mandates
• Potential for partnerships and economic opportunity
• An excuse to do the things that make sense anyway,
integrated planning, changes to the National Flood
Insurance program, etc.
Reframing: Expand the solution set to include
new technologies and practices
Expand portfolio of
technology solutions:
• desalination,
• reuse and recharge of
municipal wastewater,
• rainwater harvesting,
• improved management
of floodflows,
• integration/redundancy
of delivery systems for
Reframing: Mainstreaming adaptation into every
day decisions
• US Infrastructure is
aging and needs
replacement. Reevaluate engineering
assumptions re:
potential for more
extreme events and
longer-term droughts
Non-stationarity: the past is no
longer an analogue for the
• The magnitude and rate of
future change depends on
whether we act to limit
emissions, and how the
earth system reacts to the
resulting emissions
• Should we act proactively in
anticipation of change and
mobilize to reduce the
effects, or simply prepare to
react as the impacts arrive?
• Adaptation is not a choice – our choice is
whether to adapt proactively or respond to
the consequences.
• We have always adapted to variability – but
now the trends are moving outside of human
experience and we need to be prepared.
• Adaptation requires a paradigm shift, focusing
on managing risks. We know the trends, but
not the magnitude.
And coming soon – the report
to the President from the
Adaptation Task Force
Adaptation planning and implementation will help ensure…
• A resilient, healthy, and prosperous Nation in the face
of a changing climate
• Universities achieving their missions and policy
and program goals in a changing climate
• Wise investment of resources and effective provision of Federal
What is Climate Change Adaptation?
Adjusting to a changing climate to reduce negative effects
and take advantage of new opportunities
• Limits climate change risks & damages
• Maximizes benefits & opportunities
• Reduces long-term costs
• Improves the overall resilience of our organizations
Why Adaptation is Important for Colleges & Universities
Anticipation and planning for risk are responsible,
forward-looking management practices
Planning ahead will help Colleges and Universities
operate, achieve their missions, and provide
services while reducing long-term costs
Why Adaptation is Important for Federal Agencies
Climate change directly affects communities and a wide range of
Federal services, operations, programs, and assets
• Agencies that work outdoors: extreme heat, cold, and storms
• Health agencies: extreme heat, air pollution, and shifting disease vectors
• Public land managers: drought, flooding, and wildfire
• Agricultural and wildlife agencies: shifting ranges of species and pests
• Social service providers: multiple stressors on vulnerable populations

Adaption to Impacts of Climate Change