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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Climate Adaptation Coordinator

Climate Change Adaptation Position at the Wildlife Conservation Society

Job title: Climate Adaptation Coordinator
Reports to: Challenges Director (to be appointed), Chief Conservation Officer (in the meantime)

Description: The Climate Adaptation Coordinator is a full time position based at the Bronx Zoo, the New York headquarters of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). WCS, an international conservation organization, seeks candidates interested in applying their analytical and strategic skills to advancing the cause of conservation of wildlife and wild places.

For more details, see

U.S. Climate Service

After years of workshops, press releases, reports and behind-the-scenes lobbying, the U.S. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration has announced it is moving ahead with the creation of the U.S. Climate Service. The new agency will be charged with delivering climate information and analyses, much like the weather service has operationalised weather forecasting. NOAA has launched an Internet portal and has proposed a range of services including climate data analyses, detection and attribution studies, vulnerability and risk assessments, and stakeholder outreach and engagement.

The service is being touted as a major step forward in supporting climate adaptation efforts in the United States. However, much of this is based upon the presumption that access to climate data and information regarding impacts is a current barrier to adaptation. To some extent this assumption is certainly true, although much of the challenges of adaptation facing the United States are probably more closely tied to non-climate factors such as demographic change, poor governance, and societal values. To what extent the Climate Service will be able to engage or even recognise these barriers and identify pathways through which science can ameliorate them remains to be seen. Nevertheless, it is clear that a major milestone has been achieved when climate is recognised as such a significant force as to warrant its own agency.

London Draft Adaptation Strategy

Mayor Boris Johnson has released the Draft Climate Change Adaptation Strategy for London for public comment. Or rather, perhaps one should state that he has once again released the Draft Climate Change Adaptation Strategy for London. Johnson generated headlines around the world back in August of 2008 with his draft strategy, which was due to be finalised in 2009. Here we are in February of 2010, and we're still looking at draft versions of the document - this one appears to be intended to solicit public comment as part of an engagement effort with the broader London public.

The current version of the strategy examines three hazards (flooding, drought and overheating)and their implications on four different asset categories (health, environment, economy and infrastructure). The report subsequently identifies the range of risks arising from climate change, the suite of relevant adaptation options and provides a 'roadmap to resilience' which identifies the responsible agent and timeline for implementing each option.
The mayor is apparently eager for ideas from the public on how to adapt. We'll see what happens next. . .

Winter Weather and Climate Change

The IPCC has taken a few hits in recent weeks, in part due to the fallout arising from the publication of an erroneous estimate of loss of Himalayan glaciers by 2035 within the Working Group II report of the Fourth Assessment Report. The estimate has been attributed to a WWF report which left much to be desired regarding scientific quality and control, and, as a consequence, many are now raising questions regarding the potential pitfalls of including 'grey' literature in IPCC scientific assessments.

Environmental NGOs play an important role as boundary organisations that help to communicate the science of climate change to a the public. However, such communication is inherently biased by organisational agendas, making it difficult to distinguish between situations where science is being used to educated the public from those where it is being used to tell a compelling story (and sometimes the two aren't mutually exclusive).
A case-in-point is a recent report from the National Wildlife Federation, Odd-ball Winter Weather: Global Warming’s Wake-Up Call for the Northern United States. Apparently, the harshness of this year's northern hemisphere winter is just one more example of how climate change is altering our environment with disastrous outcomes. While the report is littered with citations and there may be plausible mechanisms by which a warming global climate can enhance winter extremes, the overall argument is that regardless of what season one considers, any weather extreme is evidence of anthropogenic climate change. Furthermore, climate change is likely to generate counter-intuitive consequences, with the report arguing that ski resorts will experience shorter seasons with less snowfall, yet other areas of the United States will experience higher snowfall totals. Such claims expose both boundary organisations and the scientists whose research they quote to criticisms of bias and alarmism, particularly when potential positives of warmer winters (such as longer growing seasons or reduced winter mortality) are conveniently neglected.

Given how much attention is focused on the challenge of communicating the complexity of climate change, one wonders whether organisations such as the NWF are making the communication effort more difficult than it needs to be. How can the public have confidence in climate science when they are told that the consequence of warmer winters will be less snow except in those regions where snowfall increases? Even if there is a scientific basis for such conclusions, one cannot expect the public (or the media) to comprehend the nuances and such counter-intuitive messages make easy work for climate sceptics.

Punta Gorda Adaptation Plan

The City of Punta Gorda, Florida has prepared a climate change adaptation plan in partnership with a range of federal, state and local organisations which combines impact and vulnerability assessment with adaptation planning and prioritisation through public participation.

The report identifies eight key vulnerabilities arising from climate change:
  1. Fish and Wildlife Habitat Degradation;
  2. Inadequate Water Supply;
  3. Flooding;
  4. Unchecked or Unmanaged Growth;
  5. Water Quality Degradation;
  6. Education and Economy and Lack of Funds;
  7. Fire; and
  8. Availability of insurance

Adaptation options were identified and prioritised through a public workshop resulting
104 acceptable and 34 unacceptable recommended adaptations across the different vulnerabilities. From this exercise, the report identifies a short list of the most acceptable adaptations that included the following:

  1. Seagrass protection and restoration;
  2. Xeriscaping and native plant landscaping;
  3. Explicitly indicating in the comprehensive plan which areas will retain natural shorelines;
  4. Constraining locations for certain high risk infrastructure;
  5. Restrict fertilizer use; and
  6. Promote green building alternatives through education, taxing incentives, green lending.
  7. Drought preparedness planning.

Nevertheless, one can't help but wonder what the implications are of excluding certain adaptation options due to a lack of public support, as it could very well be that a range of adaptation actions are needed to maintain assets valued by society even if society doesn't recognise the importance of those actions. In fact, a closer inspection of the report reveals a range of adaptation actions that are rejected by Punta Gorda which are mainstream responses in other parts of the world.

Climate Change and the SEC

At the end of last month, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission voted to require companies to disclose climate risks to investors. Such risks may include the following:

  • Impact of Legislation and Regulation: When assessing potential disclosure obligations, a company should consider whether the impact of certain existing laws and regulations regarding climate change is material. In certain circumstances, a company should also evaluate the potential impact of pending legislation and regulation related to this topic.
  • Impact of International Accords: A company should consider, and disclose when material, the risks or effects on its business of international accords and treaties relating to climate change.
  • Indirect Consequences of Regulation or Business Trends: Legal, technological, political and scientific developments regarding climate change may create new opportunities or risks for companies. For instance, a company may face decreased demand for goods that produce significant greenhouse gas emissions or increased demand for goods that result in lower emissions than competing products. As such, a company should consider, for disclosure purposes, the actual or potential indirect consequences it may face due to climate change related regulatory or business trends.
  • Physical Impacts of Climate Change: Companies should also evaluate for disclosure purposes the actual and potential material impacts of environmental matters on their business.