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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

UK Heatwave

The UK is currently experiencing a record heatwave that is causing heat stroke, transportation disruptions, school closures and spikes in water and electricity demand.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Climate Change in Western Port

The above video features discussion of a climate change assessment project that was completed last year for the Western Port region of Victoria, Australia. The video is one of a series of case studies on climate change adaptation in Local Government, which have been compiled for a DVD developed by the Australia Department of Climate Change.

Copenhagen Synthesis Report

The Synthesis Report from the March conference, Climate Change: Global Risks, Challenges & Decisions is now available. The report provides concise science updates across a number of issues/disciplines, from the dynamics of the Greenland Ice Sheet to behavioural change. While there are a range of messages that one might take home from the report, the conference organisers have steered readers to their picks organised around six themes:
  1. Climate trends

  2. Social and environmental disruption

  3. Global targets and timetables

  4. Equity dimensions

  5. Inaction is inexcusable

  6. Meeting the challenge
While the majority of the report's key messages stick to the science, there are notable tangents into the policy advocacy arena. As noted here previously, there was always a rather explicit political undercurrent to the conference. In fact, in some ways the conference and its synthesis report are a bit of a challenge to the IPCC process - many of the IPCC's lead authors appear as authors in the synthesis report, yet were spared the IPCC's procedural constraints (and, some might say, checks-and-balances). Furthermore, if the IPCC's assessment reports are considered out-of-date by their own authors within a year of their release, then why does the IPCC (and its authors) continue its approach to scientific evaluation?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Prioritising Adaptation Investments

The development community has been stressing for years that vulnerability to climate change is a socially determined and highly contextual property of systems. Nevertheless, there appears to be support for the use of vulnerability indices to prioritise funding for adaptation policies and measures through the Least Developed Countries and Special Climate Change Funds of the Global Environment Facility.

While perhaps logical at first glance, using such indices to prioritise investment could prove highly problematic. Various researchers, for example, have warned against such applications of vulnerability metrics. Smit and Wandel (2006) caution that the goal of vulnerability assessment “is not to produce a score or rating of a particular community’s current or future vulnerability. Rather, the aim is to attain information on the nature of vulnerability and its components and determinates”. Similarly, Barnett et al. (2008) highlight some of the pitfalls associated with using a vulnerability metric to prioritise investments in sustainability.

Barnett, J., Lambert, S. and Fry, I. 2008. ‘The Hazards of Indicators: Insights from the Environmental Vulnerability Index’, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 98(1): 102-119.
B. Smit and J. Wandel, Adaptation, adaptive capacity and vulnerability, Global Environmental Change 16 (2006) (3), pp. 282–292.

Insuring against Climate Change

The New York has an interesting piece on the challenges the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency is having in attempting to assess the implications of future climate change for the federal flood insurance program. Nevertheless, the assessment, which is expected to be completed by next year, could mark a major shift in the management of flood risk in the United States as well as the premiums paid by those participating in the program.

Relocating Species

U.S. News and World Report has provided coverage of a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, that presents a framework for decision-making on the relocation of species as an adaptation strategy for coping with climate change:

"Managed relocation (MR) has rapidly emerged as a potential intervention strategy in the toolbox of biodiversity management under climate change. Previous authors have suggested that MR (also referred to as assisted colonization, assisted migration, or assisted translocation) could be a last-alternative option after interrogating a linear decision tree. We argue that numerous interacting and value-laden considerations demand a more inclusive strategy for evaluating MR. The pace of modern climate change demands decision making with imperfect information, and tools that elucidate this uncertainty and integrate scientific information and social values are urgently needed. We present a heuristic tool that incorporates both ecological and social criteria in a multidimensional decision-making framework. For visualization purposes, we collapse these criteria into 4 classes that can be depicted in graphical 2-D space. This framework offers a pragmatic approach for summarizing key dimensions of MR: capturing uncertainty in the evaluation criteria, creating transparency in the evaluation process, and recognizing the inherent tradeoffs that different stakeholders bring to evaluation of MR and its alternatives."

Climate Showcase Communities

The US Environmental Protection Agency has launched a new program to help stimulate climate action at the local level. The Climate Showcase Communities program will provide grants to communities to support greenhouse gas emissions reductions and sustainability measures at the community level (a program similar to the EPA's Brownfields Showcase Communities program which helped facilitate brownfield reclamation and development during the late 1990s).

Failure to Communicate?

Leslie Cannold had an interesting opinion piece in Melbourne's The Age last week entitled "What We Have is the Failure to Communicate," in which she argues "failure of communication and tactics, not of understanding may be the cause of inaction on climate change." Cannold repeats much of the mantra associated with climate change communication challenges, from feelings of powerlessness created by images of climate catastrophe to the perceived self-importance of scientists that constantly spruik the complexity of the science at the risk of alienating the man on the street. Acknowledging and addressing these gaps in our ability to effectively communicate, argues Cannold, is key to moving the policy machinery around climate change.

Such hypotheses are now commonplace in the climate community, yet there's another possibility which few seem ready to accept. Perhaps it's not that people don't understand climate change, nor that scientists are communicating ineffectively. Perhaps it's simply that the public has heard the messages, internalised them and even understands them, yet has still decided that the consequences of climate change just don't rate among the spectrum of things people care about. At the end of the day, it's difficult to argue why one value position is superior to another, which is what those advocating for progressive policy stances on climate change are attempting.

Climate Impacts in the United States

After almost a year in draft stages, the US Global Change Research Program has released the final version of the report, Global Change Impacts in the United States. This, when combined with various other such reports released through different government channels in recent months(including the Climate Change Science Program's Scientific Assessment of the Effects of Global Change on the United States and the Congressional Budget Office's
Potential Impacts of Climate Change in the United States), means there is now a glut of material on climate change impacts for a nation where, for many years, such discussion was taboo. Things have certainly changed in Washington, and one can't help but notice that the rebranding performed by Bush II for the nation's climate change research efforts (the "U.S. Climate Change Science Program") has been dumped in favour of the original program name developed under Bush I (the "U.S. Global Change Research Program").

Unlike the CCSP's scientific assessment report, which largely steered clear of management and policy questions, the USGCRP's report devotes considerable print to adaptation - from definitions, to adaptation options across sectors, to specific case studies of adaptation in practice. So now it appears that U.S. federal agencies are back in the business of turning science into action. Welcome back USGRCP, but as Roger Pielke Jr. has commented in his blog post regarding the report, the organisation has some decisions to make about whether it is in the business of climate science or climate policy advocacy.