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Climate Impacts and Adaptation

The Climate Impacts and Adaptation Initiative addresses the challenge of understanding and adapting to unavoidable impacts of climate change.

In the world of contemporary American politics, the dangers of climate change remain hazy and indistinct. But among scientists a consensus has formed: We must act. Although there is still much we don't know, an overwhelming majority of scientists who study the issue believe that global warming is already changing our climate, with dangerous and potentially deadly consequences for the future.

The threat of climate change cuts across all of the Pacific Institute's programs and has been a focus of our work from the beginning. The Climate Impacts and Adaptation Initiative is dedicated to studying the impacts of climate change, educating policymakers about the dangers, and creating real-world solutions to slow or reverse this threat.

The Hidden Dangers of Global Warming
Many researchers have brought attention to the better-understood impacts of climate changes like rising sea levels and changes in weather patterns. The Global Change program has contributed to these efforts while also drawing attention to hidden, but critical, threats.

One example is the impact of climate change on water resources. As rainfall and snowmelt patterns change, water systems from New York to Beijing to Cairo will be threatened. And long before they are directly threatened by rising sea levels, Pacific Island nations and low-lying coastal areas may become uninhabitable as ocean water contaminates fresh water supplies.

Since our founding, we have been studying the impacts of climate change on water resources in the western United States and beyond. In the mid-1990s, we completed a major assessment of the potential effects of climate change on the Colorado River basin, and in 2000 we directed the research and writing for the Water Sector chapter of the U.S. national climate change assessment. The good news is that a few states-notably California-have begun to act. The bad news is that too many policymakers still ignore the danger.

Another poorly understood threat from climate change is the threat it poses to national and international security. Flooding, changes in weather patterns, and spreading tropical diseases will cause dislocations and migrations across borders, raise economic and political tensions, and even directly threaten military operations. Here, too, much remains to be done, but work by the Pacific Institute has begun to make headway against the entrenched assumptions of security policymakers.

In 1996, we began publishing Global Change Magazine, a major research and policy newsletter. This publication has served as a critical link between climate scientists, policymakers, business leaders, professional journalists, and the public. By highlighting new science and policy developments in a clear, easy-to-digest form, we are contributing to a broader and more open debate, and speeding the implementation of solutions.

In the late 1990s, we expanded our efforts on climate change to include education and outreach to the developing world. Through our work with the Consortium for North-
South Dialogue and Partnership on Climate Change, we've helped give developing nations the tools they need to respond to global warming and its threats.

Most recently, we've begun to combine our expertise on international standards with our work on climate change to ensure that new rules being created by the International Organization for Standardization protect the public interest and lead to real action on global warming.

We've made significant progress in improving our understanding of the threats from, and solutions to, climate change. Unfortunately, political leaders-especially here in the United States-have lagged far behind the scientists. We know what we must do to slow the onset of climate change, and we are learning what will happen if we fail. Our task now is to convince our leaders to act in a timely and responsible way.

Research Topics and Projects:

Water Supply and the Impacts of Climate Change

Water and Climate Change Bibliography

Global Change Magazine


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Dr. Peter H. Gleick


Letter to Congress: The Importance of Science in Addressing Climate Change

Science Magazine Letter: Gleick among 255 National Academy of Sciences Members Signing Published Statement Defending Climate Science Integrity