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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Adaptation through Municipal Planning

Tom Measham of CSIRO et al have just published a new paper that examines the challenges associated with local governments purusing climate adaptation through city and regional planning processes. The paper is largely based on our experiences working with local governments in Sydney, Australia as part of the "Systems Approach to Regional Climate Change Adaptation Strategies in Metropolises" project.

Municipal planning represents a key avenue for local adaptation, but is subject to recognised constraints. To date, these constraints have focused on simplistic factors such as limited resources and lack of information. In this paper we argue that this focus has obscured a wider set of constraints which need to be acknowledged and addressed if adaptation is likely to advance through municipal planning. Although these recognised constraints are relevant, we argue that what underpins these issues are more fundamental challenges affecting local, placed-based planning by drawing on the related field of community-based environmental planning (CBEP). In considering a wider set of constraints to practical attempts towards adaptation, the paper considers planning based on a case study of three municipalities in Sydney, Australia in 2008. The results demonstrate that climate adaptation was widely accepted as an important issue for planning conducted by local governments. However, it was yet to be embedded in planning practice which retained a strong mitigation bias in relation to climate change. In considering the case study, we draw attention to factors thus far under-acknowledged in the climate adaptation literature. These include leadership, institutional context and competing planning agendas. These factors can serve as constraints or enabling mechanisms for achieving climate adaptation depending upon how they are exploited in any given situation. The paper concludes that, through addressing these issues, local, place-based planning can play a greater role in achieving climate adaptation.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Governance for Global Change

The Colorado Conference on Earth System Governance took place 17-20 May at Colorado State University.The conference was hosted jointly by the Environmental Governance Working Group and the School of Global Environmental Sustainability at Colorado State University along with the IHDP Earth System Governance Project.

I presented a paper on the interactions between assessments of climate risk and governance systems, entitled Embedding Climate Change Risk Assessment in a Governance Context:

Climate change adaptation is increasingly being framed in the context of climate risk management. This has contributed to the proliferation of climate change vulnerability and/or risk assessments as means of supporting institutional decision-making regarding adaptation policies and measures. To date, however, little consideration has been given to how such assessment projects and programs interact with governance systems to facilitate or hinder the implementation of adaptive responses. An examination of recent case studies involving Australian local governments reveals two key linkages between risk assessment and the governance of adaptation. First, governance systems influence how risk assessment processes are conducted, by whom they are conducted, and whom they are meant to inform. Australia’s governance system emphasizes ‘evidence-based’ decision-making that reinforces a knowledge deficit’ model of decision support. Assessments are often carried out by external ‘experts’ on behalf of local government, with limited participation by relevant stakeholders and/or civil society. Second, governance systems influence the extent to which the outputs from risk assessment activities are translated into adaptive responses and outcomes. Technical information regarding risk is often stranded by institutional barriers to adaptation including poor uptake of information, competition on the policy agenda, and lack of sufficient entitlements. Yet, risk assessments can assist in bringing such barriers to the surface, where they can be debated and resolved. In fact, well designed risk assessments can contribute to ‘multi-loop’ learning by institutions, and that reflexive problem orientation may be one of the more valuable benefits of assessment.
Go here to view all papers from the conference

Friday, May 13, 2011

Plenty of Room for Improvement

While I generally opt out of trawling through the journals for every scrap of new literature on adaptation, a number of recent papers (including one of my own) have already emerged this year that collectively question the utility of adaptation planning or at least question the extent to which such planning reflects actual implementation of substantive actions to reduce climate vulnerability. These studies, along with a range of additional literature cited within, suggest we have a long walk ahead on the adaptation pathway before we reach the outcomes which one might actually consider to be adaptive. Or, at the very least, we might need to reexamine exactly what it is that we hope to achieve through our investments in adaptation planning.

Impacts, Adaptation, and Ports

The International Finance Corporation has released a lengthy report on climate change impacts and adaptation in ports, focusing on the specific case study ofTerminal Maritimo Muelles El Bosque (MEB) in Cartagena, Colombia. The study examines both the direct impacts of climate chagne on MEB operations as well as potential indirect impacts arising from the effects of climate change on the global economy and trade. It wraps up with a few specific adaptation options including elevating infrastructure, increasing drainage, expanding operations relating to climate-resilient economic activities, and insurance.

Why We Don't Believe in Science

Chris Mooney has this interesting article in Mother Jones about the science exploring the inability of humans to separate emotion from reason and, ultimately, why the communication of climate science is therefore unlikely to win any converts in the climate change debate.

By the way, Mooney's article covers much of the same ground as Dan Gardner's recent book, Future Babble: Why Expert Predictions Are Next to Worthless, and You Can Do Better.

A Global Framework for Climate Services

Way back in 2009, at the World Climate Conference-3, a decision was made by the international community to pursue the development of a global framework for climate services. A 'High Level Task Force' was subsequently assembled to lead the development of that framework, and, this week, that framework was released. The framework acknowledges the value that climate services plan in climate risk management and the need for such services to be tailored to the needs of a diverse array of end users. However, the framework also notes that there are significant disparities internationally with respect to the availability of and access to climate information. Hence, significant capacity building will be necessary to implement the proposed framework.

The framework itself is comprised of five components:

  1. The User Interface Platform will provide a means for users, user representatives, climate researchers and climate service providers to interact, thereby maximising the usefulness of climate services and helping develop new and improved applications of climate information.

  2. The Climate Services Information System is the system needed to protect and distribute climate data and information according to the needs of users and according to the procedures agreed by governments and other data providers.

  3. The Observations and Monitoring component will ensure that the climate observations necessary to meet the needs of climate services are generated.

  4. The Research, Modelling and Prediction component will assess and promote the needs of climate services within research agendas.

  5. The Capacity Building component will support systematic development of the necessary institutions, infrastructure and human resources to provide effective climate services.

The proposed framework will be decided at the upcoming 16th World Meteorological Congress (16 May - 3 June 2011, Geneva, Switzerland).

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Help Wanted

Oak Ridge National Laboratory (USA) has openings for the following two postdoctoral positions:

Postdoctoral Researcher in Climate Adaptation
Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Oak Ridge, TN

Postdoctoral Researcher in Uncertainty Analysis of Integrated Assessment Models
Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Oak Ridge, TN

Information on how to apply can be found within the position description.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

British Columbia Coastal Adaptation Guidelines

Over the past year, the Government of British Columbia (BC) has commissioned updates to its guidelines for managing coastal flooding. In 2010, BC released updated Guidelines for Management of Coastal Flood Hazard Land Use and earlier this year it released an update to its Dike Design and Construction Guide. The updates were drafted to reflect changes in baseline assumptions regarding sea-level rise, with BC policy now based on a estimated 1 metre of sea-level rise by 2100 and 2 metres by 2200. The guidance also indicates these assumptions will be revisited every five years. So it appears the new BC guidelines are perhaps a rather straightforward example of mainstreaming adaptation in action.


The Global Adaptation Institute (GAI) recently wrapped up its annual meeting in Washington DC, where it announced its progress toward the development of GAIN - a Global Adaptation INdex, which apparently will provide a metric of a) the vulnerability of a country to the effects of climate change and other global forces and b) the readiness of a country to successfully implement Adaptation solutions. According to GAI, GAIN will be the principle vehicle by which GAI will prioritize adaptation projects for funding. I'm eager to hear more, as it's hard for me to imagine how a national index can be put to effective use in prioritizing adaptation projects across the developing world. In fact, I'm pretty sure any number of reasonably intelligent folks have explictly recommended against this type of thing. . .

Climate Resilient UK Infrastructure

The UK's Department of Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs released a report on Monday that identifies the adaptation challenges that the nation's transport, energy, water and ICT (information and communication technologies) infrastructure sectors will face due to climate change. In addition to the usual long list of potential problems that various bits of infrastructure are likely to encounter, the report also provides an equally long (but vague) list of adaptation options such as embedding adaptation in infrastructure development and developing new ways of building climate resilient infrastructure - outcomes that will naturally be achieved under the leadership of the UK government and its various initiatives.

On a more amusing note, in it's reporting of the report release, The Guardian (UK) chose to focus on a particularly worrying finding of the DEFRA study - the potential for climate change to have adverse impacts on the UK's WiFi infrastructure. Finally, after all these years, the climate change community is starting to produce information about the kinds of impacts of climate change that people really care about.

Adaptation Masterclass

For those of you in the Australia region, there's still time to register for the Adaptation Masterclass that's being hosted by the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility (NCCARF). Thanks to next week's IPCC author's meeting for the Special Report on Extremes, a host of bright minds will be converging on southeast Queensland, some of whom have been recruited to participate in the one day Masterclass.

Date: Friday 20 May 2011, 8.30am to 6pm
Location: Cinema A, Gallery of Modern Art, South Bank, Brisbane

Sessions and speakers
Assessing adaptation practices
Roger Polwarty

Limits to adaptation, maladaptation
Jon Barnett, University of Melbourne, Australia

Risk and Risk Management
Maarten van Aalst, Red Cross-Red Crescent Climate Centre, Netherlands

Linking Global Science and Local Knowledge
Thomas Wilbanks, Oak Ridge National University, USA

Bridging the science-policy interface
Susanne Moser, Susanne Moser Research & Consulting, USA

Hazard response: reducing risk or vulnerability?
Lisa Schipper, Stockholm Environment Institute, Sweden

Gender and climate change
Maureen Fordham, Northumbria University, UK

Prioritising adaptation and conservation
Stephen Williams, James Cook University, Australia

Adaptation in developing countries
Pauline Dube, University of Botswana

ICLEI Canada: Adaptation Guidance for Municipal Governments

Although it might be fair to say that ICLEI was somewhat of a latecomer to the adaptation issue, over the past couple of years, it's various regional entities have been actively working to make up for lost time. ICLEI Oceania (i.e., Australia) released it's Adaptation Toolkit in 2008. More recently, ICLEI Canada developed guidance for Canada's local governments for undertaking climate change adaptation plans. The overlap between ICLEI Canada's guidance and ICLEI Oceania's toolkit is rather substantial (but then such overlap exists across the multitude of guidance instruments now available). Both efforts also take the approach of linking the guidance to a series of worksheets and templates for adaptation planners to help walk them through the steps.

The UNFCCC recently published a report summarizing progress made to date with respect to implementation of the Nairobi Work Programme. For those, like myself, who haven't been keeping up on current events, the NWP's objective is to assist Parties to the UNFCCC, particularly developing countries, to improve their understanding and assessment of impacts, vulnerability and adaptation to climate change and make informed decisions on practical adaptation actions and measures.

Report Summary
This report provides an overview of the progress made in implementing activities under the Nairobi work programme on impacts, vulnerability and adaptation to climate change since the thirty-third session of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice. It describes the continued engagement of organizations, institutions, experts, communities and the private sector in the activities of the Nairobi work programme, as well as the secretariat’s efforts to enhance the outreach of the work programme. The report further provides information on collaborations that have been catalysed between Nairobi work programme partner organizations and Parties, and concludes with a brief overview of possible next steps, taking into account the review of the work programme.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Impacts and Adaptation in Wisconsin

While the State of Wisconsin might currently be embroiled in a debate over the future of collective bargaining, earlier this year, the state produced a new report on the impacts of climate change and possible adaptation responses. The report, Wisconsin's Changing Climate: Impacts and Adaptation, summarizes what is known about potential impacts to a range of key sectors (water resources, biodiversity, agriculture, coasts, and "people and their environment"). When it comes to adaptation, the report largely discusses broad principles (such as the pursuit of 'no regrets' strategies) and generic categories of adaptive responses. Nevertheless, the report appears to be just the opening salvo in what will be a series of reports by the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Garnaut Revisted

Just a couple of years after the 2008 report, Australia's Ross Garnaut is currently rolling out updates of his review of the economics of climate change. The 2011 update is comprised of a series of papers addressing key topics relevant to climate policy in the land down under. Those papers are being released between February and March, followed by a final report in May. Release dates for the papers are listed below:

1.3 February 2011: Weighing the costs and benefits of climate change action
2.7 February 2011: Progress towards effective global action on climate change
3.11 February 2011: Global emissions trends
4.1 March 2011: Transforming rural land use
5.10 March 2011: The science of climate change
6.17 March 2011: Carbon pricing and reducing Australia's emissions
7.23 March 2011: Low emissions technology and the innovation challenge
8.29 March 2011: Transforming the electricity sector

I anticipate a final report that:
a) provides a relatively optimistic outlook on international mitigation efforts
b) finds an increased urgency for climate policy due to growing evidence of climate impacts
c) concludes that the potential benefits of GHG mitigation policy are even more favourable now than in 2008

We shall see. . .

Adaptation and Risk Management

Roger Jones and I recently published a paper in WIREs Climate Change* that reviews the state-of-play with respect to risk management approaches to climate change.

Adaptation assessment methods are compatible with the international risk management standard ISO:31000. Risk management approaches are increasingly being recommended for adaptation assessments at both national and local levels. Two orientations to assessments can commonly be identified: top‐down and bottom‐up, and prescriptive and diagnostic. Combinations of these orientations favor different types of assessments. The choice of orientation can be related to uncertainties in prediction and taking action, in the type of adaptation and in the degree of system stress. Adopting multiple viewpoints is to be encouraged, especially in complex situations. The bulk of current guidance material is consistent with top‐down and predictive approaches, thus is most suitable for risk scoping and identification. A broad range of material from within and beyond the climate change literature can be used to select methods to be used in assessing and implementing adaptation. The framing of risk, correct formulation of the questions being investigated and assessment methodology are critical aspects of the scoping phase. Only when these issues have been addressed should be issue of specific methods and tools be addressed. The reorientation of adaptation from an assessment focused solely on anthropogenic climate change to broader issues of vulnerability/resilience, sustainable development and disaster risk, especially through a risk management framework, can draw from existing policy and management understanding in communities, professions and agencies, incorporating existing agendas, knowledge, risks, and issues they already face.

*Jones RN, Preston BL (2011) Adaptation and Risk Management. WIREs Climate Change, DOI: 10.1002/wcc.97

World Resources Report - Adaptation

If you haven't already heard, the next iteration of the World Resources Report targets climate change adaptation, particularly in the developing world. As part of the WRR process, a website has been created ( ), which features the various research efforts that are being undertaken. Those efforts include the solicitation of 'expert perspectives', national case studies addressing management challenges in different sectors, as well as a synthesis report. A number of commentaries are already available for comment, and if nothing else, the website's "News" page may prove useful, for those interested in adaptation issues.

Mapping Vulnerability

My colleagues and I had a paper accepted to the journal Sustainability Science* this week that discusses some of the opportunities and risks associated with the growing practice of mapping vulnerability to climate change. In that paper, we highlight some of the limitations of vulnerability indices often used in mapping studies as well as the questionable utility of such metrics for actual decision-making on adaptation.

Coincidentally, just this week, I also came across a recent World Bank study entitled, Mapping Vulnerability to Climate Change, which develops a vulnerability index and applies it to Tajikistan. The World Bank study illustrates quite nicely many of the problems we raised with vulnerability mapping practice, from ambiguous vulnerability indices to unfounded claims regarding the decision-relevance of the analysis to a lack of consideration for future changes in biophysical and/or socioeconomic states.

One would assume that the World Bank is capable of more rigorous work, and if this is the type of information upon which future decisions regarding the prioritization of investments in adaptation are going to be based, should be worried?

*Preston BL, Yuen EJ, Westaway R (2011) Putting Climate Change Vulnerability on the Map: A Review of Approaches, Benefits, and Risks. Sustainability Science, in press.