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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

New Hampshire Climate Action Plan

The State of New Hampshire recently joined the growing list of U.S. states developing action plans to address climate change. It has also joined the list of states that have given some thought to mitigation while placing questions surrounding approaches to adaptation on the back burner. For example, while the plan outlines a range of traditional mitigation actions including building efficiency, transport, and renewable energy, the recommended actions with respect to adaptation included the following:

"Plan for how to address existing and potential climate change impacts:"
"Immediate implementation costs of the recommended actions are projected to be low, while future implementation costs are uncertain at this time. Potential economic benefits were not specifically estimated."

So the adaptation actions outlined under the new climate change "Action Plan" are to develop a plan of action. One could argue that policy makers continue to put the mitigation cart before the adaptation horse given the identification and implementation of adaptation actions can be achieved quickly, in many instances at low cost, and creates opportunities for securing immediate reductions in climate vulnerability.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Sportsmen Accepting Climate Change?

An article in the Texas Star Telegram suggests support for climate adaptation may be building in an unlikely location. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is preparing a report encouraging the pursuit of adaptation actions to help conserve fish and wildlife and appears to be walking a fine line to avoid alienating Texans. While the article clearly indicates that there isn't necessarily broad grassroots support for the idea of anthropogenic climate change, much less 'dangerous' climate change, in Texas it does suggest that it is nevertheless possible to find common interest on the subject of adaptation. Belief in anthropogenic climate change is not a prerequisite for supporting conservation actions, and even if one assumes that the future is unknown, its hard to argue against robust wildlife management strategies that seek to achieve goals across a broad range of climate futures. As such, even where the battle for hearts and minds continues over greenhouse gas mitigation, it may be possible to advance adaptation efforts to reduce societal and ecological vulnerability.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Science to Achieve Results

At the request of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program, the U.S. National Research Council has prepared a report identifying the future challenges for U.S. climate change research entitled, Restructuring Federal Climate Research to Meet the Challenges of Climate Change. While the report acknowledges the significant acheivements that have been made through U.S. investments in disciplinary research, it also calls for a transformation of the existing research framework to better equip decision-makers with policy-relevant knowledge:

"The traditional approach of organizing climate change research by scientific disciplines (e.g., atmospheric chemistry) or biophysical processes (e.g., carbon cycle) has led to significant advances in our understanding of the climate system and the creation of a robust observations and modeling infrastructure. However, the paucity of social science research and the separation of natural and social science research within the CCSP, as well as the insufficient engagement of policy makers, resource managers, and other stakeholders in the program are hindering our ability to address the problems that face society. Solving these problems requires research on the end-to-end climate change problem, from understanding causes and processes to supporting actions needed to cope with the impending societal problems of climate change."
The report identifies six key priorities for U.S. climate change research:
  1. Reorganize the program around integrated scientific-societal issues to facilitate crosscutting research focused on understanding the interactions among the climate, human, and environmental systems and on supporting societal responses to
    climate change.
  2. Establish a U.S. climate observing system, defined as including physical, biological, and social observations, to ensure that data needed to address climate change are collected or continued.
  3. Develop the science base and infrastructure to support a new generation of coupled Earth system models to improve attribution and prediction of high-impact regional weather and climate, to initialize seasonal-to-decadal climate forecasting, and to provide predictions of impacts affecting adaptive capacities and vulnerabilities of environmental and human systems.
  4. Strengthen research on adaptation, mitigation, and vulnerability.
  5. Initiate a national assessment process with broad stakeholder participation to determine the risks and costs of climate change impacts on the United States and to evaluate options for responding.
  6. Coordinate federal efforts to provide climate services (scientific information, tools, and forecasts) routinely to decision makers.

Some of the recommended actions are clearly being advanced, including the development of a national climate service and a national assessment of sorts in the form of America's Climate Choices. Meanwhile, the devevlopment of a robust system for observations and the maintenance of U.S. modelling capacity has long been a stated priority of the research community. What is therefore of note is the prioritisation of reearch into coupled human/environment systems to inform societal responses, including explicit research on adaptation, mitigation and vulnerability. This shift in focus likely will be welcome for those who have spent the past decade watching the U.S. lead in the investigation of the physical sciences associated with climate change while simultaneously providing little support for those struggling to decide what to do about it. Naturally, it remains to be seen how these recommendations are translated into new programs and changes in federal appropriations for climate change research.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Pacific Climate Change Science Program

The Pacific Climate Change Science Program (PCCSP), an initiative of Australia's Department of Climate Change and the Australian Agency for International Development, was launched on the 23rd of April by Minister Penny Wong. The PCCSP will invest $20 million over the next three years into understanding climate trends, variability and change in the Pacific region. The research will be conducted by the Bureau of Meteorology and the CSIRO through their research partnership, the Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Climate Literacy

NOAA has published a new report designed to promote "climate literacy" among diverse audiences. In addition to a range of information on climate science, the report presents seven "essential principles:"
    1. The Sun is the primary source of energy for Earths climate system.

    2. Climate is regulated by complex interactions among components of the Earth system.

    3. Life on Earth depends on, is shaped by, and affects climate.

    4. Climate varies over space and time through both natural and man-made processes.

    5. Our understanding of the climate system is improved through observations, theoretical studies, and modeling.

    6. Human activities are impacting the climate system.

    7. Climate change will have consequences for the Earth system and human lives.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Copenhagen's Key Messages

The International Scientific Congress Climate Change: Global Risks, Challenges & Decisions has closed, which now allows us to reflect upon what this effort actually achieved. Since its inception, the conference was designed to be a lobbying effort to shore up support for substantial international emissions reduction targets under the post-2012 regime. As such, there was much talk about the "new" and "more urgent" science that has emerged and its implications for climate policy. However, if one examines the "key messages" emerging from the conference organisers, there seems little in the way of new information:

Key Message 1: Climatic Trends
Recent observations confirm that, given high rates of observed emissions, the worst-case IPCC scenario trajectories (or even worse) are being realised. For many key parameters, the climate system is already moving beyond the patterns of natural variability within which our society and economy have developed and thrived. These parameters include global mean surface temperature, sea-level rise, ocean and ice sheet dynamics, ocean acidification, and extreme climatic events. There is a significant risk that many of the trends will accelerate, leading to an increasing risk of abrupt or irreversible climatic shifts.

Key Message 2: Social disruption
The research community is providing much more information to support discussions on "dangerous climate change". Recent observations show that societies are highly vulnerable to even modest levels of climate change, with poor nations and communities particularly at risk. Temperature rises above 2C will be very difficult for contemporary societies to cope with, and will increase the level of climate disruption through the rest of the century.

Key Message 3: Long-Term Strategy
Rapid, sustained, and effective mitigation based on coordinated global and regional action is required to avoid "dangerous climate change" regardless of how it is defined. Weaker targets for 2020 increase the risk of crossing tipping points and make the task of meeting 2050 targets more difficult. Delay in initiating effective mitigation actions increases significantly the long-term social and economic costs of both adaptation and mitigation.

Key Message 4 - Equity Dimensions
Climate change is having, and will have, strongly differential effects on people within and between countries and regions, on this generation and future generations, and on human societies and the natural world. An effective, well-funded adaptation safety net is required for those people least capable of coping with climate change impacts, and a common but differentiated mitigation strategy is needed to protect the poor and most vulnerable.

Key Message 5: Inaction is Inexcusable
There is no excuse for inaction. We already have many tools and approaches (economic, technological, behavioural, management) to deal effectively with the climate change challenge. But they must be vigorously and widely implemented to achieve the societal transformation required to decarbonise economies. A wide range of benefits will flow from a concerted effort to alter our energy economy now, including sustainable energy job growth, reductions in the health and economic costs of climate change, and the restoration of ecosystems and revitalisation of ecosystem services.

Key Message 6: Meeting the Challenge
To achieve the societal transformation required to meet the climate change challenge, we must overcome a number of significant constraints and seize critical opportunities. These include reducing inertia in social and economic systems; building on a growing public desire for governments to act on climate change; removing implicit and explicit subsidies; reducing the influence of vested interests that increase emissions and reduce resilience; enabling the shifts from ineffective governance and weak institutions to innovative leadership in government, the private sector and civil society; and engaging society in the transition to norms and practices that foster sustainability.

Of the above, nothing stands out as being particularly ground-breaking with expect to scientific discovery. In fact, these appear to be quite similar to standard statements akin to those emerging from organisations such as the IPCC. What is a bit out-of-the-ordinary is the statement: "Inaction is Inexcusable", which is hardly a scientific conclusion (see also Mike Hulme's essay here). This begs the question - how much of the latest Copenhagen conference was about science and how much was about the expression of policy preferences? Meanwhile, news reports about a recent Gallup Poll suggest the public are perhaps increasingly unconvinced by the constant rhetoric of "emergency" and "alarm". This is the point where science ends and policy begins - no degree of scientific investigation on climate change will necessarily lead to consensus over policy (see Roger Pielke Jr.'s The Honest Broker). As such, it is fair to question whether scientists do themselves any favours by continuing to blur the boundaries between science and lobbying.

Whither Australia's ETS

The Global Financial Crisis appears to have taken the wind out of the sails of Kevin Rudd's emissions trading scheme. Opposition to the proposed ETS legislation has grown in recent weeks to the point where it is allegedly clear that it will not pass the Senate. This could be a foreshadowing of future international negotiations in Copenhagen later this year, where significant progress on international emissions reductions may be equally elusive. If so, then the growing interest in adaptation may continue to accelerate if for no other reason than it's the only game in town.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Case Studies of Adaptive Capacity

The Sydney Coastal Councils Group released the third and final report emerging from its project, Systems Approach to Regional Climate Change Adaptation Strategies in Metropolises. This final effort (for which I was a co-author) entitled Case Studies in Adaptive Capacity reports on the perceptions of local government officials regarding barriers to climate change adaptation associated with regional planning, infrastructure and community expectations. While highlighting the challenges facing local governments (and other institutions) in building the adaptive capacity necessary to manage climate risk, the report also makes over 40 specific recommendations that may assist in breaking down adaptation barriers. These recommendations are categorised into six different "adaptation streams":
  • “Know Your Enemy” – improve understanding of social and ecological vulnerability
  • “Plan for Change” – build climate change into planning frameworks
  • “Get Smart” – develop education and outreach programs
  • “Act, Watch and Learn” – monitor, evaluate and report
  • “Put the House in Order” – develop internal and external arrangement
  • “Money Talks” – enhance revenue streams to councils

The report was prepared by researches from the CSIRO's Climate Adaptation Flagship, the University of the Sunshine Coast, and WWF Australia. Funding for the project was provided by a grant from the Australian Government's Department of Climate Change.

The full report and press release can be downloaded through the Sydney Coastal Councils Group website:

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Bay Area Climate Change Compact

The mayors of San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose have signed a climate change agreement to work together to address climate challenges. The compact outlines a number of goals, the majority of which are designed to support greenhouse gas mitigation efforts. However, one goal is set aside for adaptation:

"Develop and adopt municipal and organizational climate adaptation plans by the end of 2013 to increase resiliency to the impacts of climate change."
In a region as well-resourced and progressive as the Bay Area, however, one would expect perhaps a little more ambition. Four years to develop adaptation plans isn't a blistering pace, not to mention that developing the plan, implementing it and subsequently demonstrating increased resiliency are entirely different matters.

ICLEI Oceania Launches its Adaptation Toolkit

Last Wednesday in Melbourne, ICLEI Oceania launched its Local Government Climate Change Adaptation Toolkit, which was developed to help guide local governments through the adaptation challenge. I was fortunate to be present at the launch, lending my services by providing a presentation on the type of climate changes to which Victorians will have to adapt in the years ahead.

The Adaptation Toolkit itself is comprised of 14 tools, each of which assists local governments with different components of the adaptation planning process, such as workshopping climate risks and adaptation options, stakeholder identification, identifying adaptation barriers and articulating an action plan.
For more information about the Toolkit or ICELI's Adaptive and Resilient Cities and Communities program, contact Dr Hartmut Fuenfgeld, Ph: +61 (0)3 9660 2216.

Monday, March 2, 2009

US Congressional Briefings

This article from Science Magazine summarises two recent Congressional briefings on the science and impacts of global climate change.

Maine's Climate Future

The State of Maine in the United States has joined numerous other states in undertaking a state-level assessment of future climate change. Maine's Climate Future: An Initial Assessment was prepared by the University of Maine's Climate Change Institute and provides a comprehensive look at observed and projected climate change, sectoral impacts and a few words about possible mitigation and adaptation options.

Burning Embers Strike Again

A new study appearing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has produced an update of the famous "burning embers" diagram of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Third Assessment Report (TAR). The update is generating much chatter suggesting this provides evidence of that climate change and its consequences are more severe than was presented in either the TAR or the Fourth Assessment Report.
Such a determination would appear to be based more upon the subjective valuation of the literature rather than the literature itself. For example, the authors of the study state,

"This [updated diagram] is based on our expert judgment about new findings in the growing literature since the publication of the TAR in 2001, including literature that was assessed in the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (AR4), as well as additional research published since AR4. Compared with results reported in the TAR, smaller increases in GMT are now estimated to lead to significant or substantial consequences in the framework of the 5 ‘‘reasons for concern.’’

So while the scientific communities concern regarding the potential implications of climate change has increased, it's not entirely clear whether this is a function of changing values, a growing willingness among researchers to pursue advocacy, or a greater certainty regarding how climate will affect the Earth system.

Vulnerability Mapping in Southeast Asia

The Economy and Environment Program for Southeast Asia of the International Development Research Centre has published a report entitled Climate Change Vulnerability Mapping for Southeast Asia.

While the report utilises a range of now common techniques for assembling vulnerability estimates, it doesn't provide insight into how such information should (or will) be used. Identifying the "most vulnerable" regions in a part of the world that is vulnerable as a general rule (with or without climate change) would seem to be of little utility, particularly without information on the local context. Now that various sub-national scale vulnerability indicators have been developed, what should be done and where? In any case, here's the abstract:

This paper provides information on the sub-national areas (regions/districts/provinces) most vulnerable to climate change impacts in Southeast Asia. This assessment was carried out by overlaying climate hazard maps, sensitivity maps, and adaptive capacity maps following the vulnerability assessment framework of the United Nations’ Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The study used data on the spatial distribution of various climate-related hazards in 530 sub-national areas of Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Lao PDR, Cambodia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. Based on this mapping assessment, all the regions of the Philippines; the Mekong River Delta in Vietnam; almost all the regions of Cambodia; North and East Lao PDR; the Bangkok region of Thailand; and West Sumatra, South Sumatra, West Java, and East Java of Indonesia are among the most vulnerable regions in Southeast Asia.