US plans major climate change awareness drive

The US government plans to raise public awareness of climate change and the human impacts on the nation’s land and maritime ecosystems over the next five years.

Responding to two years of research and feedback from 55,000 citizens, the US national Climate Adaptation Strategy also aims to safeguard areas of natural importance that contribute more than US$220 billion to the country’s economy.

The strategy’s authors warn the USA should expect to face rising sea levels, changing productivity of the coastal oceans, and changes in freshwater availability in the coming century.

On land they say the country could face changing species distributions and migration patterns, in addition to the spread of wildlife diseases and invasive species.

Warmer winter temperatures in Alaska have boosted populations of spruce bark beetle, enabling it to devastate four million acres of forest (Pic: USFWSSpencer)

Hunting, fishing and other wildlife-related recreation contribute an estimated US$120 billion to the US economy every year.

Marine ecosystems sustain a seafood industry that supports approximately one million jobs and generates US$116 billion in economic activity annually.

“Rising sea levels, warmer temperatures, loss of sea ice and changing precipitation patterns – trends scientists have connected to climate change – are already affecting the species that we care about, the services we value, and the places we call home,” said Deputy Secretary of the Interior David J. Hayes.

“The Strategy is a comprehensive, multi-partner response that takes a 21st-century approach developed by the American public for sustaining fish, wildlife, and plant resources and the services they provide – now and into the future.”

Parts of the USA are still struggling with one of the most severe droughts in history.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) February update reported that 54.2% of the contiguous US is still experiencing moderate-to-exceptional drought.

The East coast is still recovering from the battering it took from Superstorm Sandy in December 2012 – with repair bill estimates in the region of US$50-100 billion.

Changes to ocean currents, and the acidification of ocean waters are expected to have profound impacts on marine ecosystems (Pic: FAO/Danilo Cedrone)

The strategy identifies seven steps to help fish, wildlife, and plants adapt to climate change over the next 100 years.

These vary from habitat conservation, investment in observation and monitoring facilities together with increased efforts to educate the public and in the report’s words “motivate action”.

“The health and vitality of our nation’s natural resources are important components of our overall social and economic welfare,” said Eric Schwaab, Assistant Administrator for Fisheries at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“As resource trustees, we have an obligation to understand, consider and minimize all the potential impacts, including those from climate change.”

He added: “This new strategy will help us meet those challenges and empower current and future generations to be better stewards of our priceless resources and cherished landscapes amidst a rapidly changing world.”

The draft Strategy received nearly 55,000 comments from 54,847 individuals, 51 non-governmental organizations, 17 governmental entities, and five tribes.

Read more on: Adaptation | Nature |