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Center for Economics and the Environment: Policy Series


Some have argued that the Kyoto Protocol and other schemes for immediately mitigating greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are justified because human-induced global warming is, in the words of the 42nd U.S. President, William J. Clinton, “the overriding environmental challenge” facing the globe today.1 Another argument, advanced by those who are more cautious and perhaps less prone to hyperbole, is that the impacts of global warming – on top of myriad other global public health and environmental threats – may prove to be the proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back.” They suggest that climate change will overwhelm human and natural systems by increasing the prevalence of climate-sensitive diseases, reducing agricultural productivity in developing countries, raising sea levels, and altering ecosystems, forests, and biodiversity worldwide.

In this paper, we first examine global warming impacts to date – the good, bad and indifferent effects. We next analyze the impacts of global warming into the foreseeable further. Thirdly, we ask whether it is more effective to rely on mitigation (emission reduction) strategies, or on adaptation approaches to climate change impacts. (In this analysis, “adaptation” implies measures, approaches, or strategies that would help cope with, take advantage of, or reduce vulnerability to the impacts of global warming.)

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