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Friday, April 13, 2012

Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change

The Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change's final report Achieving Food Security in the Face of Changing Climate outlines policy responses to the global challenge of feeding a world confronted by climate change, population growth, poverty, food price spikes and degraded ecosystems. The Commission and it's report are now setting the international agenda for achieving food security from local to global scales. The seven high-level recommendations from the Commission's report include the following:

1. Integrate food security and sustainable agriculture into global and national policies

2. Significantly raise the level of global investment in sustainable agriculture and food systems in the next decade

3. Sustainably intensify agricultural production while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and other negative environmental impacts of agriculture

4. Target populations and sectors that are most vulnerable to climate change and food insecurity

5. Reshape food access and consumption patterns to ensure basic nutritional needs are met and to foster healthy and sustainable eating habits worldwide

6. Reduce loss and waste in food systems, particularly from infrastructure, farming practices, processing, distribution and household habits

7. Create comprehensive, shared, integrated information systems that encompass human and ecological dimensions

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Vulnerability Assessment & Social Learning

A new paper published in Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change by Yuen et al. (with me being one of the et al.), explores the utility of vulnerability assessment for stimulating social learning on climate change, its consequences, and potential adaptation responses. The abstract below provides the summary, but overall, the study suggests that a priori assumptions about the utility of technical assessments with respect to decision support may erroneous. Rather, the true utility, though ofter overlooked, lies in the role such assessments play in stimulating deliberation and acting as boundary objects for shared learning regarding climate change.

Yuen, E.J., Stone Jovicich, S., Preston, B.L. (2012) Climate change vulnerability assessments as catalysts for social learning: four case studies in south-eastern Australia. Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change, DOI 10.1007/s11027-012-9376-4.


Technical assessments of vulnerability and/or risk are increasingly being undertaken to assess the impacts of climate change. Underlying this is the belief that they will bring clarity to questions regarding the scale of institutional investments required, plausible adaptation policies and measures, and the timing of their implementation. Despite the perceived importance of technical assessments in 'evidence-based' decision environments, assessments cannot be undertaken independent of values and politics, nor are they capable of eliminating the uncertainty that clouds decision-making on climate adaptation As such, assessments can trigger as many questions as they answer, leaving practitioners and stakeholders to question their value. This paper explores the value of vulnerability/risk assessments in climate change adaptation planning processes as a catalyst for learning in four case studies in Southeastern Australia. Data were collected using qualitative interviews with stakeholders involved in the assessments and analysed using a social learning framework. This analysis revealed that detailed and tangible strategies or actions often do not emerge directly from technical assessments. However, it also revealed that the assessments became important platforms for social learning. In providing these platforms, assessments present opportunities to question initial assumptions, explore multiple framings of an issue, generatenew information, and galvanise support for collective actions. This study highlights the need for more explicit recognition and understanding of the important role social learning plays in climate change vulnerability assessments and adaptation planning more broadly.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Victory or Defeat?

Today's newspaper headlines from around Australia are reporting the pending demise of ~300 workers within the federal Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency (DCCEE), which represents approximately 30% of the department's workforce. The cuts are part of a broader contraction of the civil service intended to squeeze a surplus out of next year's federal budget. While the cuts appear to largely target DCCEE's energy and safety programs divisions, the lean budget will likely have implications for investments in adaptation as well. For example, the contract for the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility (which is funded through DCCEE) is due to expire in 2013, and from what I'm hearing, no one expects that contract to be renewed. Direct spending by DCCEE on adaptation programs is also expected to decline.

As Dorothea Mackeller wrote, Australia is the land "of droughts and flooding rains." This seems to apply to the nation's science policy as well. Since 2005, Australia has invested heavily in adaptation research and practice, with other nations (particularly the United States) looking on hoping to learn from the Land Down Under. Now that flood looks poised to turn to drought. Is Australia's leadership position on this issue fading, or has the awareness and capacity of the nations' organizations been sufficiently developed such that they're now capable of helping themselves?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

European Climate Adaptation Platform

The European Union has launched its web-based CLIMATE-ADAPT tool to support adaptation planning at EU, national, regional and local levels. The tool provides access to information on the following:

  • Expected climate change in Europe

  • The vulnerability of regions, countries and sectors now and in the future

  • Information on national, regional and transnational adaptation activities and strategies

  • Case studies of adaptation and potential future adaptation options

  • Online tools that support adaptation planning

  • Adaptation-related research projects, guideline documents, reports information sources, links, news & events.


The final full version of the IPCC's Special Report on Extremes (known more formally as Special Report: Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation) was released last week. The IPCC's special reports never seen to get as much attention as the assessment reports, despite the fact that SREX (with the exception of mitigation issues) encompasses much of what is of interest to policy-makers: climate extremes, vulnerability, adaptation, risk management, and the various associated uncertainties. Furthermore, SREX integrates material on climate science, impacts, and adaptation (i.e., Working Groups I and II) and thus reflects a level of collaboration between these communities that often fails to occur during the more traditional (and now seemingly entrenched) structure for the assessment reports. The neglect of mitigation in the SREX is therefore a missed opportunity, as I'm sure there's a policy-maker or two out there who would be interested to know, say, what's the effect of different mitigation futures on the future frequency and intensity of extreme events and the subsequent implications for adaptation demand. In any case, with the AR5 rolling out over the next couple of years (2013-2014), there's plenty more to come.

*SREX Summary for Policymakers [here]
*SREX Full report [here]

Evidence for Adaptation Among UK Companies

A new report from the UK's Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) commissioned by the Department for Environment,Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) takes a look at the preparedness of UK businesses with respect to climate change. to assist in gathering evidence of the resilience of UK businesses in response to climate change. The CDP used data submitted by members of the FTSE 100 (89 companies in total) in response to the Investor CDP 2011 information request and CDP Water Disclosure 2011 information request to gather insights into business attitudes and action on adaptation. Although the assessment identified a high degree of diversity among different businesses with respect to consideration for climate change risks and opportunities, overall, less than half of responding FTSE 100 companies were found to be incorporating climate adaptation into their business strategies. In addition, engagement with policy-makers on adaptation is quite limited compared to the more robust public/private collaboration associated with UK climate mitigation policy.

Australian Limits to Adaptation

Australia's National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility recently completed work on a series of projects exploring limits to adaptation for Australian ecosystems and communities. The projects explore multiple types of limits: biophysical, economic, and technological. The projects also explore the normative nature of adaptation limits, which are often context dependent. Links to specific projects are provided below:

Do Alligators Represent Transformational Change?

John Nielsen-Gammon's blog has an interesting post on funding recently provided to the State of Michigan by the U.S. federal government to pilot new industries, including alligator farming (as reported by Eric Sharp of the Detroit Free Press). Not known for their love of cold winters, the warming climate has apparently made alligator farming viable, particularly if the animals have been bred to manage Michigan's relatively cold winters. Regardless of the links to climate change, I found the article's comments on the potential risks to humans of introducing alligators to be the most amusing aspect of the story:

"We figure in the first 10 years we might see gators eat 15 people, no more
than 50 tops. But we kill nearly that many on snowmobiles every year, and once
Michiganders become accustomed to look for those little bumps sticking up that
are the gator's eyes and nose, it should drop back down to about the same rate
as in Florida."
Despite the body count, this could be a foreshadowing of things to come, as climate-sensitive industries jostle for climate-friendly geographies. For a more academic discussion on this topic, see the recent paper by Park et al. (2012).

Planet under Pressure

Last week I attended the 2012 Planet Under Pressure Conference, which convened under the theme “New Knowledge Towards Solutions.” The conference issued the "State of the Planet Declaration," which includes statements of support from the Planet Under Pressure Board of Patrons, the UN Secretary-General, and the youth movement. The conference largely appeared to provide the leadership of the sustainability research community an opportunity to demonstrate the relevance of science and research for meeting the challenges of sustainability in advance of the Rio +20 conference. However, the disconnect between the apparent state of emergency in which the planet finds itself and the support for actions to put the planet on a sustainable path appears quite profound. Meanwhile, given the conference declaration's support for "fundamental reorientation and restructuring of national and international institutions", "recognition of non-monetary values", and, basically, more research, it doesn't appear that practical progress toward sustainability is likely to be forthcoming any time soon.

ADB on Climate Change and Migration

The Asia Development Bank (ADB) has released a report, titled "Addressing Climate Change and Migration in Asia and the Pacific," which underscores that climate change will increase the frequency of extreme weather events, making more areas inhospitable to human habitation and secure livelihoods. The report presents the potential impacts of climate change on migration in Asia and the Pacific. It notes that, while most migration will continue to take place within countries, greater cross-border movement is also foreseen, stressing the need for greater international cooperation on migration matters. It highlights that migration from the Pacific islands to Australia and New Zealand has been a repeated pattern in recent decades.

The report also identifies existing international agreements, guidelines, principles, and dialogue forums that can be more effectively used to improve migration management, and recommends greater investments in urban infrastructure and basic services to accommodate the anticipated increase in migrant flows to the region’s megacities. It also identifies a need to protect migrant rights and provide migrants with equitable access to education, health, water and sanitation, citing the importance of strengthening the resilience of climate-threatened communities. Action areas include improving disaster risk management systems and creating livelihood opportunities.

World Water Development Report

The fourth edition of the World Water Development Report (WWDR4), ‘Managing Water under Uncertainty and Risk’ was recently launched at the 6th World Water Forum in Marseille by Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director General, and Michel Jarraud, UN-Water Chair. The WWDR4 is a comprehensive review of the world's freshwater resources and seeks to demonstrate, among other messages, that water underpins all aspects of development, and that a coordinated approach to managing and allocating water is critical. The Report underlines that in order to meet multiple goals water needs to be an intrinsic element in decision-making across the whole development spectrum.

Climate Impacts in Latin America and the Caribbean

The UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) has published a report that examines current and future trends in climate variability and their likely impacts on the region's extensive coastline. The report provides an atlas of the current physical conditions and changes detected in key coastal variables in 44,851 miles of LAC coastline, such as average sea level, surface temperature of the sea, salinity, swells, astronomical tides, air temperature anomalies, wind changes and hurricanes. The report further looks at how these variables might be affected by 2040, 2050 and 2070.
The report is the first in a series of four, which are planned to be released in 2012 as part of an ECLAC project on climate change and LAC coastal regions financed by the Government of Spain. The second will look in greater detail at the vulnerability and exposure to climate change of LAC coasts, the third will detail probable climate change impacts, and the fourth will evaluate the climate change risks faced by LAC coasts. ECLAC also plans to release support documents on the theories and methodology used to project climate change impacts on LAC's coastal regions and analyze their risks.

WMO Weather and Climate Information System

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has launched a new international information system to improve climate and weather-related data exchange. The new WMO Information System (WIS) aims to facilitate access and use of meteorological observations. The system builds on the WMO's existing World Weather Watch, which has been operational for the past 40 years. The new system, which will seek to take advantage of recent advances in communications technologies, is expected to reduce the costs of information exchange for national meteorological and hydrological services.

Environmental Social Science Posts: University of East Anglia, UK

The School of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia is inviting applications for a number of exciting new posts. These include a Readership in Climate Change (covering inter alia policy, regulation, governance, adaptation and behaviour change) and a Lectureship on the interactions between Science and Policy. The former is linked to the internationally renowned Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, which is headquartered at the School of Environmental Sciences.Informal enquiries should be directed to Professor Andrew Jordan: <> The latter is linked to the Science, Society and Sustainability (3S) group. Informal enquiries should be directed to Dr Jason Chilvers: <> For further details about all the posts, please go to: <> The deadline for applications to all posts is 4 May 2012.