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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Population and Adaptation

The latest issue of the Bulletin of the World Health Organisation contains an article discussing the role of family planning in addressing the implications of climate change in the least developed nations, as reflected in the National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPAs):

"While the concerns of the different NAPA reports regarding rapid population growth and climate change are diverse, three key themes emerge: (i) reducing supply – rapid population growth and climate change act cumulatively to degrade the source of key natural resources, for example through soil erosion and deforestation; (ii) increasing demand – rapid population growth is projected to escalate the demand for resources that are diminished by climate change, including fresh water and food; and (iii) vulnerability to natural disaster – rapid population growth heightens human vulnerability to natural disasters caused by climate change, such as by forcing more people to migrate and settle in areas at risk of floods, storms, drought and infectious disease."

The study finds that most NAPAs acknowledge the role of population as a factor contributing to vulnerability, yet few directly raise the issue of population control and family planning as a means of addressing that vulnerability. The same can be said of the developed world, where there continues to be concern about climate change and its potential impacts, but continued population growth, patterns of development and resource consumption are frequently taken as a given. At some point, if we are to get serious about addressing climate risk we have to acknowledge and address the role of demographic change in enhancing human exposure to climate. While the topic of population control will likely remain taboo among developed nations, there are substantial opportunities for rethinking where people are located on the landscape. Otherwise, net vulnerability to climate variability and change will continue to rise even as adaptation helps to reduce risk at the margin.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Waiting for the Great Leap Forwards

COP-15 has come to a close, not with a bang, but with a whimper. As anticipated, the proceedings fell far short of a new binding agreement on international greenhouse gas mitigation to avoid dangerous climate change. In essence, the international community simply agreed to continue to work toward a low-carbon world, without necessarily specifying the pathway or those responsible for leading the way. As such, nations have largely agreed to do what was originally agreed under the United Nations Framework Convention in 1992. That's not much progress for almost 20 years of policy development. Given the amount of money and energy invested in hosting the conference and transporting its various attendees from different corners of the world, one wonders whether the climate would have been better off if everyone had simply remained at home. One also wonders whether the continued failure to produce a robust international effort on mitigation will spur more regional to local efforts around adaptation.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

New Tools from WRI

The following are a list of new or updated tools from WRI relevant to climate adaptation:

The National Adaptive Capacity framework "WRI is leading the development of a new way of thinking about adaptation planning, using a framework called the National Adaptive Capacity (NAC). NAC articulates a fundamental set of national-level functions that all countries will need to perform if they are to be adapting effectively over time. These functions include assessment, prioritization, information management, coordination, and risk reduction."

Adaptation Planning under a Copenhagen Agreement "As UNFCCC negotiators work to develop shared expectations around adaptation planning, it is critical that they provide a high degree of flexibility to countries, so that planning processes can be domestically “owned” and plans effectively implemented. The UNFCCC should not require countries to undertake specific planning processes or deliver plans in a specific format."

Paying the Premium "In this bulletin, WRI examines current insurance proposals under discussion in the UNFCCC and considers options for a global agreement in promoting insurance as a climate change solution."

CAIT (International) v.7.0 "WRI's Climate Analysis Indicators Tool (CAIT), provides a comprehensive and comparable database of greenhouse gases and other climate-relevant indicators. CAIT 7.0 features greenhouse gas data through 2006 for most countries of the world, updated CO2 projections data, and revised estimates of land-use change and forestry CO2 emissions (1990-2005)."

CAIT-V&A v.3.0 "WRI's CAIT-Vulnerability & Adaptation (V&A) module provides indicators and analysis tools designed to inform policy discussions concerning vulnerability and adaptive capacity. The latest release of CAIT-V&A (v.3.0) features a revised and updated suite of vulnerability indicators, comprehensive source notes and technical documentation, improved mapping and charting tools, and a more user-friendly interface."

Friday, December 11, 2009

COP-15: $10 Billion for Adaptation

COP-15: The EU has pledged 7.2 billion euros (US$10.8 billion) over the next three years to assist developing nations with addressing climate change. The pledge will help address part of the UN request for US$30 billion in immediate funding to aid developing nations, but there is clearly a significant shortfall yet to be satisfied. Furthermore, if the world has trouble pulling $30 billion together to address immediate needs, one wonders whether developed nations will ever find the will to help fund the $100-150 billion in adaptation assistance that it's estimated the developing world will need by 2030.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Climate of 2009

As we approach the end of the year, various research institutions are busily crunching the numbers and offering estimates of where 2009 sits with respect to global mean temperature. At the moment, based upon the GHCN/USHCN/SCAR data, 2009 is shaping up to be the fifth warmest year on record (0.56 C above the 1950-1981 baseline), with the 00's being the warmest decade on record. The new data point also eliminates room to wiggle when it comes to claims such as "the climate has cooled in the past ten years" or "the climate has cooled since 1998," as neither claim can now be substantiated (not that they were ever particularly relevant in the first place).

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Palin on Science Policy

In a clear demonstration that she has no appreciation for the concept of irony, Sarah Plain has penned an opinion piece for the Washington Post highlighting the pitfalls of the politicization of climate science in which she does just that. In the article, she concludes that the Climate-Gate affair "exposed a highly politicized scientific circle" and that there is no consensus on climate change science after all. She then goes on to stress the importance of quality science to the policy process by making inaccurate generalisations about both science and policy:

"But while we recognize the occurrence of these natural, cyclical environmental
trends, we can't say with assurance that man's activities cause weather changes.
We can say, however, that any potential benefits of proposed emissions reduction
policies are far outweighed by their economic costs."

The first sentence above is quite inconsistent with the science on the attribution of global climate change, although I suspect the phrase "weather changes" was used quite intentionally in lieu of "climate changes" given few scientists would attempt to attribute a particular weather event to global climate change. Alternatively, perhaps Palin doesn't understand the distinction between climate and weather, in which case one wonders why she's wading into the debate at all. Nonetheless, this is beside the point. Meanwhile, the second sentence is inconsistent with any of the attempts to actually compare the costs and benefits of climate policy. Yes, cap-and-trade policies will pose costs to the economy (that is in fact their entire point), but integrated assessments such as the Stern and Garnaut reviews have indicated the benefits of moving to a low-carbon economy are substantial in themselves.

She wraps up the piece by stating that Copenhagen is a "politicized conference" which the President should boycott. Well, of course it's a politicized conference. COP-15 is not a scientific conference, it is a policy conference, where politics can, should and will be center stage. Therefore, suggesting a political leader boycott a political event, because it is political doesn't seem to remotely resemble anything approaching a rational argument.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

California Releases its Final Adaptation Strategy

The State of California has released the final version of its Climate Change Adaptation Strategy in the wake of a public comment period earlier this year. The strategy, which was prepared in response to Executive Order S-13-08 from Governor Schwarzenegger, presents an extended discussion of climate change and its potential impacts to California as well as a range of adaptation options to reduce vulnerability and risk.

Key recommendations include:

  1. A Climate Adaptation Advisory Panel (CAAP) will be appointed to assess the greatest risks to California from climate change and recommend strategies to reduce those risks building on California’s Climate Adaptation Strategy. This panel will be convened by the California Natural Resources Agency, in coordination with the Governor’s Climate Action Team, to complete a report by December 2010. The state will partner with the Pacific Council on International Policy to assemble this panel. A list of panel members can be found on the California adaptation Web site.

  2. California must change its water management and uses because climate change will likely create greater competition for limited water supplies needed by the environment, agriculture, and cities. As directed by the recently signed water legislation (Senate Bill X71), state agencies must implement strategies to achieve a statewide 20 percent reduction in per capita water use by 2020, expand surface and groundwater storage, implement efforts to fix Delta water supply, quality, and ecosystem conditions, support agricultural water use efficiency,improve state-wide water quality, and improve Delta ecosystem conditions and stabilize water supplies as developed in the Bay Delta Conservation Plan.

  3. Consider project alternatives that avoid significant new development in areas that cannot be adequately protected (planning, permitting, development, and building) from flooding, wildfire and erosion due to climate change. The most risk-averse approach for minimizing the adverse effects of sea level rise and storm activities is to carefully consider new development within areas vulnerable to inundation and erosion. State agencies should generally not plan,develop, or build any new significant structure in a place where that structure will require significant protection from sea level rise, storm surges, or coastal erosion during the expected life of the structure. However, vulnerable shoreline areas containing existing development that have regionally significant economic, cultural, or social value may have to be protected, and in-fill development in these areas may be accommodated. State agencies should incorporate this policy into their decisions and other levels of government are also encouraged to do so.

  4. All state agencies responsible for the management and regulation of public health,
    infrastructure or habitat subject to significant climate change should prepare as appropriate agency-specific adaptation plans, guidance, or criteria by September 2010.

  5. To the extent required by CEQA Guidelines Section 15126.2, all significant state projects, including infrastructure projects, must consider the potential impacts of locating such projects in areas susceptible to hazards resulting from climate change. Section 15126.2 is currently being proposed for revision by CNRA to direct lead agencies to evaluate the impacts of locating development in areas susceptible to hazardous conditions, including hazards potentially exacerbated by climate change. Locating state projects in such areas may require additional guidance that in part depends on planning tools that the CAS recommendations call for.

  6. The California Emergency Management Agency (Cal EMA) will collaborate with CNRA, the CAT, the Energy Commission, and the CAAP to assess California's vulnerability to climate change, identify impacts to state assets, and promote climate adaptation/mitigation awareness through the Hazard Mitigation Web Portal and My Hazards Website as well as other appropriate sites. The transportation sector CAWG, led by Caltrans, will specifically assess how transportation nodes are vulnerable and the type of information that will be necessary to assist response to district emergencies. Special attention will be paid to the most vulnerable communities impacted by climate change in all studies.

  7. Using existing research the state should identify key California land and aquatic habitats that could change significantly during this century due to climate change. Based on this identification, the state should develop a plan for expanding existing protected areas or altering land and water management practices to minimize adverse effects from climate change induced phenomena.

  8. The best long-term strategy to avoid increased health impacts associated with climate change is to ensure communities are healthy to build resilience to increased spread of disease and temperature increases. The California Department of Public Health will develop guidance by September 2010 for use by local health departments and other agencies to assess mitigation and adaptation strategies, which include impacts on vulnerable populations and communities and assessment of cumulative health impacts. This includes assessments of land use, housing and transportation proposals that could impact health, GHG emissions, and community resilience for climate change, such as in the 2008 Senate Bill 375 regarding Sustainable Communities.

  9. The most effective adaptation strategies relate to short and long-term decisions. Most of these decisions are the responsibility of local community planning entities. As a result, communities with General Plans and Local Coastal Plans should begin, when possible, to amend their plans to assess climate change impacts, identify areas most vulnerable to these impacts, and develop reasonable and rational risk reduction strategies using the CAS as guidance. Every effort will be made to provide tools, such as interactive climate impact maps, to assist in these efforts.

  10. State fire fighting agencies should begin immediately to include climate change impact information into fire program planning to inform future planning efforts. Enhanced wildfire risk from climate change will likely increase public health and safety risks, property damage, fire suppression and emergency response costs to government, watershed and water quality impacts, and vegetation conversions and habitat fragmentation.

  11. State agencies should meet projected population growth and increased energy demand with greater energy conservation and an increased use of renewable energy. Renewable energy supplies should be enhanced through the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan that will protect sensitive habitat that will while helping to reach the state goal of having 33 percent of California’s energy supply from renewable sources by 2020.

  12. Existing and planned climate change research can and should be used for state planning and public outreach purposes; new climate change impact research should be broadened and funded. By September 2010, the California Energy Commission will develop the CalAdapt Web site that will synthesize existing California climate change scenarios and climate impact research and to encourage its use in a way that is beneficial for local decision-makers. Every effort will be made to increase funding for climate change research, focusing on three areas:linkages with federal funding resources, developing Energy Commission -led vulnerability studies, and synthesizing the latest climate information into useable information for local needs through the CalAdapt tool.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Spash Resigns over Censorship Claims

After almost a month of mudslinging in the media (and nine months of negotiations behind closed doors), Clive Spash, Science Leader in CSIRO's Division of Sustainable Ecosystems, has resigned from the organisation over allegations CSIRO has attempted to censor his critique of carbon trading policies such as those currently being pursued by the Australian government.

CSIRO's charter bars its researchers or the organisation from commenting on government or opposition policy, and the organisation has suggested that Spash's paper, The Brave New World of Carbon Trading, crosses the line by advocating against the government's emissions trading scheme. In his defense, Spash has argued his paper is a "dispassionate critique, " and he notes that it is very difficult to undertake policy relevant work on the economics of greenhouse gas mitigation policy without making some comment directly or indirectly on actual policies.

It's probably fair to say that Spash has strong views on the subject of the economics of climate change policy, from the structure of the policies being proposed to address climate change to the underlying social values that underpin those policies. As such, I'm not sure how dispassionate Spash's critique really is. Yet the point here is that while CSIRO's charter may seem sensible on paper, it is rather easy to demonstrate it as being untenable in practice. For example, if the coalition currently in opposition in federal government were to decide that its official party position on climate change is that climate change doesn't exist, does that mean the CSIRO would not be allowed to publish any research to the contrary for fear of violating its charter against commenting on specific policy initiatives? Of course not.

In fact, CSIRO's services have been retained repeatedly by the current government to help defend the science of climate change and address queries by skeptical politicians in the lead up to the vote on the government's ETS. Steve Hatfield-Dodds published a number of studies on emissions trading while employed by CSIRO (e.g., Energy Affordability, Living Standards and Emissions Trading), which certainly seem to address government policy, but in so doing treat that policy as a fait accompli rather than something that should be viewed with a critical eye. Meanwhile, CSIRO researchers have participated in a number of projects that effectively advocate for greenhouse emissions reductions policies through an examination of the costs and benefits of different emissions targets and pathways and their subsequent implications for climate change impacts (e.g., Energy Futures Forum, the Australian Business Roundtable on Climate Change, and of course the Garnaut Review which was anything but apolitical). If one chose (and some do), one could argue that such acts represent CSIRO scientists being asked to lobby on behalf of the federal government. Furthermore, it's worth noting that the powers that be in CSIRO remain markedly silent when the federal government opts not to release (in whole or in part) federally-commissioned CSIRO research on climate change when the government finds the research a bit too controversial or inconvenient.

Thus the critical problem with CSIRO's charter is that it is open to some interpretation and, therefore, inconsistently applied. This is due perhaps to the charter being inconsistent in itself. On one hand, the charter states,

"The Government and CSIRO recognise that there may be divergent views on both issues of pulic interest and the expert advice that is provided in relation to them. The parties each agree that vigorous open debate of these views is important; as is the right of researchers to change their opinion in the light of such debate or new findings from research".
Yet, later, the charter also states,
". . . a responsibility of CSIRO and its researchers is to inform the policy making process. They can do this by conducting the highest quality research and providing the best available knowledge and analysis to government and the public, and by engaging in the public discussion and consideration of their research and findings. They should not be asked by Government to defend or debate the merits of Government policy. As CSIRO employees, they should not advocate, defend or publicly debate the merits of government or opposition policies (including policies of previous Commonwealth governments, or State or local or foreign governments).
Based on my reading, these passages make a distinction between public interest and public policy. Personally, it's hard to see how CSIRO can support the former while ignoring the latter, given that many of the challenges CSIRO is charged with finding solutions to have arisen, at least in part, from institutional decision-making. A charter that encourages researchers to provide critical analysis to government and engage in public debate while simultaneously barring scientists from undertaking such acts when they pertain to government policy is simply schizophrenic. I challenge anyone to develop a consistent way of resolving the internal conflicts of the charter in a manner that doesn't tie the hands of researchers or leave decision-makers in the dark. This clearly hasn't happened so far, which is why CSIRO has just lost another bright mind.

"The Science and Politics of Climate Change"

UEA's Mike Hulme has a timely opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal on 'Climategate', Skeptics, Copenhagen and the politicization of science:

[Excerpt] "Science never writes closed textbooks. It does not offer us a holy scripture, infallible and complete. This is especially the case with the science of climate, a complex system of enormous scale, at every turn influenced by human contingencies. Yes, science has clearly revealed that humans are influencing global climate and will continue to do so, but we don't know the full scale of the risks involved, nor how rapidly they will evolve, nor indeed—with clear insight—the relative roles of all the forcing agents involved at different scales."

WWF, Tyndall and Allianz on Tipping Points

In another example of timely, pre-Copenhagen publication the insurer Allianz commissioned the WWF to produce a study of tipping points in the climate and Earth system. The report examines the socio-economic consequences and insurance implications associated with four key impacts arising from tipping points:

  1. Global sea level rise of up to 2 metres
  2. Shifts in hydrological systems in Asia
  3. Committed die-back of the Amazon rainforest
  4. Shift to a very arid climatology in South-western North America

And just to make sure the study is user friendly, an animated version of the report is also available.

PESETA Project

Just in time for Copenhagen, the European Union's Joint Research Centre has released a report with results from the PESETA project (Projection of Economic Impacts of Climate Change in Sectors of the European Union Based on Bottom-Up Analysis). The project represents an integrated assessment of the impacts of climate change on five key European sectors (agriculture, river floods, coastal systems, tourism, and human health) under climatic and socio-economic scenarios. These impacts are then translated into economic impacts through the use of the GEM-E3 Europe computable general equilibrium model. As with most other similar studies, the reports suggests economic impacts on the order of 0.7 to 1% of GDP, depending on the magnitude of future climate change and the effectiveness of adaptation.

New Adaptation Reports from GTZ

The German Technical Cooperation (GTZ) has released a number of new publications relevant to climate adaptation:

Water and Adaptation to Climate Change, Consequences for Developing Countries
Mark Svendsen and Nana Künkel

Climate Change and Agriculture, Threats and Opportunities
Mark W Rosegrant, Mandy Ewing, Gary Yohe, Ian Burton, Saleemul Huq and Rowena Valmonte-Santos

Climate Change and Security
Alexander Carius, Dennis Tänzler and Achim Maas

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Commonwealth Adaptation Commitment

At the meeting of Commonwealth nations in Trinidad and Tobago last week, nations agreed to the development of a Copenhagen Launch Fund to support adaptation. The fund is scheduled to start in 2010 and amount to $10 billion per year by 2012. Nations agreed to prioritise the most vulnerable nations for assistance and to set-aside at least 10% of the fund for adaptation in small island and low lying coastal states.

The full text of the Port of Spain Climate Change Consensus is available here.

NetBalance Adaptation Forums

In the wake of last week's adaptation forums in Melbourne and Sydney, NetBalance has developed a blog with links to all of the speakers' presentations (including my own).

NCCARF NARP on Social, Economic and Institutional Dimensions of Adaptation

Australia's National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility (NCCARF) is seeking comments on the draft National Climate Change Adaptation Research Plan: Social, Economic and Institutional Dimensions.

The draft National Climate Change Adaptation Research Plan: Social, Economic and Institutional Dimensions has been developed by a writing team with expertise in the field. It is one of a number of research plans being developed by NCCARF and the Australian Government Department of Climate Change to guide and coordinate climate change adaptation research in Australia.

These plans identify critical gaps in the information that is required by governments, industry and the community to develop and implement adaptation responses to climate change. They set research priorities based on these gaps.

Comments should be received by 20th January 2010.