Adaptation to climate change stymied, says federal committee


Politicians, rigid institutions, and a lack of resources are among the culprits that have thwarted adaptation to climate change, the National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee says.

The committee's draft report criticizes politicians for a lack of leadership on climate issues, polarization and entrenched political structures. Decisions on how to act, meanwhile, are fragmented across public- and private-sector organizations, and inflexible institutions suffer from the absence of legal mandate to act on climate change, the report says.

Uncertainty about future climate impacts also makes action difficult, especially since the information is complex and often doesn't reach decision makers. The report also notes the general lack of climate education for professionals and the public.

The committee, established in 2010 by the Commerce Department, consists of about 40 members from academia, the private sector and nonprofits, as well as 15 nonvoting members from the federal government.

Entities throughout the public and private sectors have done some substantial planning for adaptation, the report says, but few measures have been implemented.

The concept of adaptation applies to a broad range of actions, many taken by states. California has water-efficiency mandates for buildings, Rhode Island requires land-use applications to factor in sea-level rise, and New Mexico has a system for temporary water-rights changes in real time in the even of a drought.

Local governments and organizations find it hard to anticipate the impacts of climate change on local scales, though, the report says. Governments at all levels also tend to lack funding and staff for adaptation, another barrier.

More research to make explicit the cost-benefit analysis of adaptive measures would help, the committee says.

In the past few decades, the United States has managed to emit less carbon dioxide per dollar of gross domestic product, but economic and population growth have meant that greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise.

For more:
- go to the website for the Federal Advisory Committee Draft Climate Assessment Report

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