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Abrupt Climate Change: Inevitable Surprises
zations at various levels may be used to develop and implement regulations and policies that reduce environmental degradation of water, air, and biota. Conservation measures related to land and watersheds might be put into place to reduce the rate of biotic invasions, with management strategies used to limit the spread of invasions. The potential economic and ecological costs of disease emerging from abrupt climate change should be assessed.
A promising option is to improve institutions to allow societies to withstand the greater risks associated with abrupt changes in climate. For example, water systems are likely to be stressed by abrupt climate change; to manage scarce water, it might prove beneficial to seek more flexible ways to allocate water, such as through use of water markets. Another example of a “no-regrets” strategy is insurance against the financial impacts of fires, floods, storms, and hurricanes. Through the development of new instruments, such as weather derivatives and catastrophe bonds, markets might better accommodate extreme events such as the effects of abrupt climate change. It will be important to investigate the development of better instruments to spread large losses that result from extreme events, priced realistically to reflect the risks but not to encourage excessive risk taking.
Because of the strength of existing infrastructure and institutions, the United States and other wealthy nations are likely to cope with the effects of abrupt climate change more easily than poorer countries. That does not mean that developed countries can remain isolated from the rest of the world, however. With growing globalization, adverse impacts—although likely to vary from region to region because exposure and sensitivity will vary—are likely to spill across national boundaries, through human and biotic migration, economic shocks, and political aftershocks. Thus, even though this report focuses primarily on the United States, the issues are global and it will be important to give attention to the issues faced by poorer countries that are likely to be especially vulnerable to the social and economic impacts of abrupt climate change.
The United States is uniquely positioned to provide both scientific and financial leadership, and to work collaboratively with scientists around the world, to gain better understanding of the global impacts of abrupt climate change as well as reducing the vulnerability and increasing the adaptation in countries that are particularly vulnerable to these changes. Many of the recommendations in this report, although currently aimed at US institutions, would apply throughout the world.