HONOLULU (Feb. 19, 2008)—Global warming should be just as much a part of smart planning as the changing seasons, a top government climate researcher told an East West Center gathering recently. But with rare exceptions, few public or private institutions wrap the sobering impact of climate change into their plans -- even when their leaders know and accept the reality of the phenomenon, National Ocean and Aeronautic Administration official Eileen Shea told an international graduate conference at the Center.

Click the link below to hear an audio recording of this speech


Eileen Shea Speech (1:08), MP3



“Climate Mainstreaming” – The New Must for Planning

Shea is director of NOAA’s Integrated Data and Environmental Application Center and is chief of the climate services division of the NOAA National Climatic Data Center.

The success of virtually all future human endeavors depends on changing our mindset about global warming so that climate change becomes part of every planning effort, Shea said.

“We have to integrate information about climate change into every decision we make.”

“It’s called climate mainstreaming,” Shea said. “And it’s the key.

It goes without question today, Shea said, that such phenomena as the changing seasons are completely integrated into any serious planning effort. Manufacturers know there are times when cold weather gear sells and when to roll out the beach umbrellas and bathing suits. By the same token, government planners anticipate the impact of seasons (and the weather that comes with them) on everything from construction projects to staffing levels.

But that same level of concrete awareness, she argued, is too often missing when it comes to folding climate change awareness – climate mainstreaming – into planning.

While most people accept the reality of global warming, relatively few are aware of the range of things even moderate climate change can produce, she said. With just a modest average increase in global temperatures over the next few decades, she said, the world can expect:

--Rain increases in high latitudes and decreases in lower and subtropical land regions. Rain will come in the form of “very heavy” events.

--For the first half of the coming century, precipitation (rain and snow) will increase, followed by 50 years of drought.

--Heat extremes will increase.

--Tropical cyclones will become more intense, increasing risks to coastal communities and small islands.

--Coastal erosion will become more common, leading to a loss of protective coral and mangrove swamps.

--Changing temperatures will lead to an influx of non-native species.

Ironically, Shea said, one of the few places in the world where climate mainstreaming has become the norm is on threatened and vulnerable Pacific islands, where small rises in ocean levels or modest shifts in traditional wind and rain patterns can bring disastrous results.

These tiny communities plan for and anticipate higher-than-usual tides and water levels. They know that climate cycles will have direct and immediate impact on their lives, so they integrate awareness of climate change into their everyday planning.

Sooner or later, Shea said, that same thinking must happen for all of us.

“We have to build resilient communities, communities that are aware, engaged, informed, empowered, responsive, prepared, adaptive and sustainable,” she said.

Nowhere is this more immediately obvious than in our use of water, Shea said.

“We’re going to feel the impact of global warming on rainfall and water resource long before other impacts.

“If we don’t solve the water problem, we won’t be able to even think about anything else.

“So it’s important for us to think about water resources and integrate planning for water resources now, not 20 years from now,” she said.

Planning for global climate change can and should involve mitigation measures, such as conservation, renewable energy, reforestation and basic changes to lifestyles, Shea acknowledged.

But realistically, it also means getting ready for changes soon to come, no matter what we do today.

“Even if every nation was in compliance with decreasing greenhouse emissions by 60 percent (not 6 percent as called for in the Kyoto climate treaty), we would still be in for a century of climate change,” Shea said.

“Changing climate affects real people in real places,” she concluded. “In partnership among ourselves, our families, communities and nations, we have to establish a new relationship with the Earth’s climate system.

“A human-climate partnership.”

The EAST-WEST CENTER is an education and research organization established by the U.S. Congress in 1960 to strengthen relations and understanding among the peoples and nations of Asia, the Pacific, and the United States. The Center contributes to a peaceful, prosperous and just Asia Pacific community by serving as a vigorous hub for cooperative research, education and dialogue on critical issues of common concern to the Asia Pacific region and the United States. Funding for the Center comes from the U.S. government, with additional support provided by private agencies, individuals, foundations, corporations and the governments of the region.


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