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Chesapeake Bay News


Climate change: A game changer for the Bay Program

After decades of research and, more recently, advocacy, it probably isn’t news to learn that the earth’s climate is changing.  Legions of scientists have documented a wide range of changes that can be directly and indirectly attributed to human activities, particularly the emission of greenhouse gases.  These gases are heat trapping by-products of the combustion of fossil fuels.  The question is, what does this global problem have to do with the Chesapeake Bay?

A new report from the Bay Program’s Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee (STAC) examines this question. (Download the full report in PDF.) The report reflects the combined efforts of two coordinating editors and 11 contributing authors that represent more than a dozen organizations.  The team concluded that climate change is more than a future threat to the Bay – it is an issue with immediate consequences for today’s restoration and protection decisions.  Climate change is likely to bring warmer air and warmer temperatures to the region, accelerate sea level rise, and potentially change seasonal precipitation patterns.  These changes have the potential to exacerbate current stresses on the Bay ecosystem and complicate or potentially undermine restoration efforts.

For example, a changing climate may:

  • Alter the flow of pollutants into the Bay and their impact on water quality and living resources.
  • Challenge the performance of environmental monitoring programs intended to measure success and guide regulatory processes.
  • Compromise the effectiveness of restoration strategies, such as those described in the Tributary Strategies.
  • Require changes in the design of regulatory programs, such as TMDLs.

These changes mean that the Bay Program will need to anticipate and adapt to changing conditions to achieve its goals of protecting and restoring water quality and living resources.  It is essential to recognize that the need to respond effectively to changing conditions is not a new requirement – it is an existing responsibility based on the Bay Program’s mandates and authorities.  This means that Bay Program partners can and should take immediate action to include consideration for climate change in important management and policy decisions.    

The STAC team concluded the report with a number of specific recommendations for next steps for the Bay Program, including:

  • Creating a high-level climate change champion charged with identifying opportunities to address climate change within existing authorities and existing resources. 
  • Developing and deploying new strategies to accelerate consideration of climate change in public and private sector decision making. 
  • Prioritizing and aggressively pursuing targeted research and development to address specific implementation issues and strengthen the foundation of knowledge about the impact of climate change on the Bay.

In other words, the Bay Program needs to make climate change someone’s job and empower that individual to use existing authorities and resources to anticipate and prepare for changing climatic conditions.  With this person in place, the Bay Program can begin to work with the STAC and other advisors and stakeholders to develop strategies to help protect and restore the Bay under changing conditions.  At times, this will require focused research and development, and the Bay Program should help ensure that needs are clearly communicated and that resources are made available to support the work that needs to be done.      

The bottom line of the report is clear: the Bay’s climate is changing and this will have significant implications for the mission of the Bay Program and the future of the Chesapeake Bay.  It is incumbent on the Bay Program to take action to anticipate and adapt to changing conditions to ensure that efforts to protect and restore the Bay will be successful under future conditions.


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