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Saturday, December 28, 2013

U.S. EPA Adaptation Planning

While all U.S. federal agencies are now required under an Executive Order to undertake some form of adaptation planning, most efforts are rather cursory and only play lip service to the EO. The U.S. EPA, however, has taken a more deliberate approach. In early November, EPA released 17 separate adaptation implementation plans, with each addressing adaptation from a regional or EPA program perspective. While the thoroughness of EPA sets it apart from the other agencies, one also wonders whether the development of 17 separate reports was, in fact, the most efficient pathway for adaptation implementation.  

East African Agriculture and Climate Change

The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) recently released a new research monograph on the impacts of climate change in East and Central African countries. Declines in yields of 5 to 20% are projected for wheat, soybean, sorghum, and irrigated rice yields by mid-century. Adaptation could significantly offset these losses, and could even contribute to increases in maize yields, despite climate change. The monograph follows similar explorations of climate change impacts in West and Southern Africa, which were published earlier in 2013.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Adaptation Monitoring & Evaluation: A Comparative Study

A study recently published by GIZ and IISD takes a critical look at different structures of adaptation monitoring and evaluation systems in both developed and developing nations. Monitoring and Evaluating Adaptation at Aggregated Levels: A Comparative Analysis of Ten Systems provides an in-depth comparison of these systems by giving insights into different M&E approaches, the experiences with establishment and implementation processes (policy framework, level of aggregation and application, institutional set-up, different steps for M&E, level of required resources, etc.) and context-specific lessons learned.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

China's Adaptation Planning

According to media reports, China has estimated the costs of climate change to the nation since 1990 at $32.0 billion, and has released a report summarizing its various actions to address climate change, including both mitigation and adaptation.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Coastal Planning in Queensland: Back to the Future

Just eight short months after releasing new technical guidelines for managing the risk of climate change and sea-level rise in coastal planning and 3 months after releasing a draft coastal management plan that identifies sea-level rise as a coastal hazard, the government of Queensland, Australia has decided that sea-level rise is now no longer a hazard that needs to be included in coastal planning. The 80 cm provision for sea-level rise has been stripped from state planning policy due to its perceived potential to inhibit economic development, and local governments are now on their own to figure out how to account for this risk. Queensland joins New South Wales in rolling back progressive policies to account for future sea-level rise. In both instances, the policy shifts are a consequence of state elections where the Labor party was ousted by the more conservative Liberal party. There seems little hope of building societal resilience when governments can't maintain consistent policies regarding adaptation and risk management for more than a few years at a time.    

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The State of Adaptation in European Cities

A new study led by Diana Reckien at Columbia University's Center for Research on Environmental Decisions (and discussed at the Weather examines the state of mitigation and adaptation planning in European cities. The bottom line: 35% of European cities have no dedicated mitigation plan and 72% have no adaptation plan. 

Africa's Adaptation Gap

UNEP has sponsored a new assessment of climate impacts and adaptation for the continent of Africa. The report emphasizes Africa as a vulnerability hot spot, the challenge for adaptation if global mean temperature exceeds 4 degrees C, and the importance of international finance to implement adaptation options to address priority needs.

Help Wanted: Adaptation Mentors for Victoria, Australia

The Victorian Minister for Environment and Climate Change has announced applications are now open for Victorian Local Government Adaptation Mentors.

Skilled mentors will be recruited across the state to provide practical targeted support to local government to build their communities’ climate resilience. Recruitment of mentors is the next stage of the Victorian Adaptation and Sustainability Partnership and will build on the strong relationship between state and local government.
Funding for the initiative was announced by the Minister for Environment and Climate Change in March 2013, and is one of a suite of measures to support local government action on climate adaptation and the delivery of the Victorian Climate Change Adaptation Plan. For more information visit
For more information about the positions or to view a Position Description visit

Sunday, November 24, 2013


I am always amused by the disconnect between the manner in which the UNFCCC reports the outcomes from COP meetings and how those outcomes are reported by the media, the environmental lobby, and anyone else for that matter. The UN's COP-19 website is reporting that the conference places nations "on a track towards a universal climate agreement in 2015 and including significant new decisions that will cut emissions from deforestation." Much was also made about the commitment of new $ to the Adaptation Fund to address adaptation and loss and damage in developing nations.

In reality, nations simply agreed to go away and work on developing plans to be presented in 2015 for what they might be willing to "contribute" to global mitigation efforts under a new treaty regime starting in 2020. But nations have yet to commit to any actual reductions. Meanwhile, adaptation funds continue to lag significantly behind the projected costs of climate adaptation in the developing world, and some countries have yet to fully deliver on the funds they've previously pledged. I suppose that diplomacy isn't diplomacy unless it happens at the last possible moment, but it all seems like so much fiddle playing, and there's a waft of smoke in the air around Rome.  

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

More Loss and Damage

Loss and damage continues to be a hot topic at COP19, and the United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security has joined the fray with a new report that presents a number of case studies from different developing countries. Based upon interviews, surveys, and focus groups, the report presents empirical evidence of loss and damage. However, as it also notes that attribution of loss and damage to climate change is beyond the scope of work, it largely seems to provide evidence that extreme weather events has consequences, particularly for those most vulnerable.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Loss and Damage

Amidst the flurry of activity in Warsaw associated with the COP-19 meeting, ActionAid International, CARE International and WWF International have released a new report on the need for an international mechanism to address loss and damage from climate change.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Preparing the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change

The Obama Administration has issued a new Executive Order as part of its ongoing policy efforts to promote climate adaptation and build resilience. While its unlikely to transform the landscape for adaptation in the nation, it does present a few opportunities to build capacity and enhance some of the Administration's earlier initiatives. It establishes a new Council on Climate Preparedness and Resilience to focus on policy reform. It tasks several agencies with reporting proposed changes in land and water management policies. It contains some rather generic language on improving data coordination among federal agencies. It also tasks agencies with enhancing their current climate adaptation plans (as required under an earlier EO) - perhaps because the White House realized that the current plans are almost unanimously useless.  

The Leaky IPCC Ship

Media outlets are already reporting on the contents of WGII of the IPCC's Fifth Assessment Report. Draft versions of the report are becoming available to the general public through blogs and other websites almost as quickly as they are made available for internal use to IPCC authors, review editors, and governments. Recent media stories have reported nothing but the traditional doom and gloom scenarios, which I suppose is the only information journalists find interesting in the hundreds of pages of commentary on the state of knowledge.  

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

"The Economist" on Integrated Assessment Models

The October 5th edition of The Economist had an interesting piece on the integrated assessment models (IAMs) used to model future greenhouse gas emissions and the costs and benefits of different climate policies. It presents a range of perspectives from different economists on the utility of IAMs for policy analysis, which range from "close to useless" to the more optimistic "require sweeping changes".  

Forests, Rangelands and Climate Change in Southern Africa

The FAO has released a working paper on links between forest and rangeland management and climate change in southern Africa. The paper identifies potential impacts on climate change on forests and rangelands as well as their subsequent implications for the livelihoods of people in the region that are dependent upon such ecosystems goods and services. It also emphasizes the need for adaptation to be integrated within other economic development activities that realize benefits beyond climate risk reduction.

Adaptation in the Australian Primary Industries

New work from the Primary Industries Adaptation Research Network of Australia's National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility reviews recent research on adaptation within Australia's primary industries. The report notes that much of the research pertinent to the topic of adaptation in the primary industries is "highly fragmented and often difficult to identify," and it makes a number of recommendations for improving understanding of adaptation from both the the biophysical and social science perspectives.

Economics of Climate Change in East Asia

A new study from the Asian Development Bank takes an integrated view of the economics of greenhouse gas mitigation and adaptation in East Asian countries by exploring how strategies for climate adaptation over the next few decades can be integrated with greenhouse mitigation efforts.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Barriers to Adaptation in Action

On October 1, reforms to the U.S. National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) took effect. Those reforms were initiated by Congress in 2012 due the growing hole that insurance subsidies were digging in the federal budget and they seek to eliminate the subsidies to property owners by setting insurance premiums at rates that reflect the actual risk. This comes after many years of criticism of the NFIP for incentivizing development in at-risk areas and generally creating a moral hazard at the public's expense. Now that the reforms have been implemented, property owners (along with real estate agents) are up in arms at the increase in their insurance premiums and lobbying has already commenced in earnest to get Congress to delay implementation. Apparently, even one of the co-sponsors of the legislation, Rep. Maxine Waters is now lamenting the "outrageous" increase in premiums triggered by the reforms. Yet, it seems like those increases are, in fact, exactly what the reforms were designed to achieve. Delaying them would only seem to delay the behavioral change needed to enable a more equitable distribution of risk.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Cost-Efficient Adaptation in the North Atlantic

A new study funded by NOAA's Sea Grant program explores best practices for climate change adaptation in the U.S. North Atlantic region by surveying municipalities and reviewing local planning policies and codes. The report also identifies potential barriers to knowledge transfer of best practices.

New Reports from U.S. AID

The U.S. Agency for International Development recently published two new reports through its African and Latin American Resilience to Climate Change project. One is a vulnerability assessment for six USAID/Feed the Future priority districts in Uganda with an emphasis on agricultural value chains. The other is a vulnerability assessment which sought to understand impacts and adaptive capacity in central and southern Malawi.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Working Paper: Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment

After several years adrift in the Antipodes, a report I authored while working with the CSIRO's Climate Adaptation Flagship has finally been published. Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment: From Conceptual Frameworks to Practical Heuristics reviews several dozen published assessments to gain insights regarding the opportunities and challenges for making such assessments relevant and useful for decision-making.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Rethinking Conventional Wisdom about Adaptation

A new paper published today by myself, Johanna Mustelin, and Megan Maloney urges adaptation researchers and practitioners to think critically about the assumptions or heuristics they use in framing adaptation. Climate Adaptation Heuristics and the Science/Policy Divide defines the concept of an 'adaptation heuristic', presents a critical content analysis of the adaptation literature to identify the use of such heuristics, and comments on their potential implications for adaptation research and practice.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Research Priorities for Climate Change Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

The Programme of Research on Climate Change Vulnerability, Impacts and Adaptation (PROVIA) has published its final report on VIA (or IAV, if you prefer) research priorities.As one might expect from a report written by researchers for researchers, there apparently are many priorities that need to be addressed. However, the report helps make this list more manageable by dividing the various priorities into three areas: Information to Support Decision-Making; Systems and Region; and Emerging Topics. However, the big priority that is overlooked in the report is the identification of funding sources that are willing to sponsor these many and varied research needs.  

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Reflecting on Sandy

One prominent feature of the summer here in the U.S. has been the attempts by multiple public institutions to reflect upon the disaster which was Hurricane Sandy and extract lessons to guide future policy and development. In June, the New York Building Congress Task Force on New York City Storm Preparedness release the report Risk & Resiliency After SandyThat report identified a number of mechanisms for reducing the city's vulnerability to extreme weather events including hardening utility grids, emergency planning and response, making buildings more resilient, and making infrastructure more redundant.

Yesterday, the Hurricane Sandy Task Force commission by the Obama Administration released its report, Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Strategy. That report focuses on criteria for the investment of federal funds in rebuilding efforts and emphasizes the following points: 
  • Promoting resilient building, based on current and future risks
  • Ensuring a regionally coordinated, resilient approach to infrastructure investment
  • Providing families safe, affordable housing options and protecting homeowners
  • Supporting small businesses and revitalizing local economies
  • Addressing insurance challenges, understanding, and accessibility
  • Building local government's capacity to plan for long-term rebuilding and prepare for future disasters
While the report describes these as "innovative strategies", these all appear to be fairly standard mechanisms for disaster risk reduction that one could argue should have been embedded in public policy and local planning long ago. 

Finally, the U.S. Department of Energy also released a report this month focused on the importance of increasing the resilience of the electricity grid. Economic Benefits of Increasing Electric Grid Resilience to Weather Outages notes that between 2003 and 2012, weather-related grid outages "are estimated to have cost the U.S. economy an inflation-adjusted annual average of $18 billion to $33 billion." Hence, increased investment in grid resilience is an important component of U.S. disaster mitigation efforts. 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Climate Extremes, Regional Impacts, and the Case for Resilience

A recent report from the World Bank, Turn Down the Heat: Climate Extremes, Regional Impacts, and the Case for Resilience, explores the impacts of a 2 or 4 degree C warming in three regions with key sectoral vulnerabilities: agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa, sea-level rise in coastal Southeast Asia, and water resources in South Asia.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Federal Support for Local Adaptation

The U.S. Government Accountability Office has weighed on the role of the federal government in supporting adaptation. Future Federal Adaptation Efforts Could Better Support Local Infrastructure Decision Makers infrastructure such as roads and bridges, wastewater systems, and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) centers are vulnerable to changes in the climate. Furthermore, while the GAO acknowledges federal efforts under way to facilitate more informed adaptation decisions, it notes that these efforts could better support the needs of local infrastructure decision makers in the future. Specifically, the GAO argues that current planning efforts are focused on near-term rather than long-term outcomes, challenges persist for local decision-makers in accessing climate information, and available information is difficult to integrate within existing planning frameworks. The report draws on the experience of a select set of stakeholders to identify factors that ease the adaptation process.

Climate & Socioeconomic Conditions in the U.S. Great Lakes

Interactive map to support climate change adaptation planning in Great Lakes regionA jointly developed interactive map launched this month by the University of Michigan's Graham Sustainability Institute and Headwaters Economics gives Great Lakes policymakers and decision-makers easy access to targeted data to help them plan for, and adapt to, the regional impacts of climate change.The free online tool—the "Socioeconomics and Climate Change in the Great Lakes Region" map— provides social, economic and demographic statistics on 225 counties in the region, overlaid with detailed data about municipal spending, land-use change and climate change characteristics.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Managing the Land in a Changing Climate

The latest progress report from the UK's Adaptation Sub-Committee focuses on ecosystem services. Managing the Land in a Changing Climate  contains a number of recommendations including the need to better enforce existing regulations for the maintenance of natural ecosystems as well, the need to identify clear pathways by which stated management objectives will be achieved, and the need to better account for the value of ecosystem services in decision-making.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Climate & Extreme Weather Events in Australia

The Environment and Communications References Committee within Australia's Senate has just released a report representing an inquiry conducted over the past year into the Recent Trends in and Preparedness for Extreme Weather Events. The report links observed trends in Australian extreme weather events to anthropogenic climate change and discusses the the preparedness of national, state and local governments to respond to these events. Ultimately, it arrives at 10 key recommendations that largely advocate for continuation of Australia's research agencies efforts in providing and improving climate projections, stewardship and analysis of climate data, as well the pursuit of a range of risk management options from planning to insurance to vulnerability .reduction.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

U.S. Farmers Views on Climate Change

A recent article in Scientific American summarizes various studies on the attitudes of U.S. farmers toward climate change. While a majority believe that changes in the climate have been observed, only a minority attribute those changes to human activity.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Caribbean Climate Online Risk and Adaptation Tool

The Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC) and Acclimatise recently released the Caribbean Climate Online Risk and Adaptation TooL(CCORAL), a web-based tool designed to help decision makers in the Caribbean integrate climate resilience into their decision making and planning processes. CCORAL guides users through several steps, helping them to quickly identify whether their activity is likely to be influenced by climate change and is a priority for further investigation, understand climate influence at each stage of their activity, and take action to increase climate resilience.

Friday, July 12, 2013

U.S. Energy Sector Vulnerabilities

As part of the U.S. Administration’s efforts to support national climate change adaptation planning and to advance the U.S. Department of Energy’s goal of promoting energy security, DOE has published a report summarizing the state of knowledge regarding current and potential future impacts of climate change on the U.S. energy sector. 

Adaptation in the Oil and Gas Industry

IPIECA (the oil and gas industry association for environmental and social issues) has release a brief overview of adaptation within the oil and gas industry, based on an IPIECA workshop held in London in October of 2012. Though brief and lacking specific detail about adaptation needs or options, it evidences private industry's preference to view adaptation through a risk management lens.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Climate Change Adaptation for Canadian Agriculture

Last week, the Adaptation to Climate Change Team at Simon Fraser University released a new study that explores local, national and international climate change-driven challenges to food production as well as new opportunities and potential adaptation responses. The report makes three high-level recommendations to enhance adaptation efforts:

  1. Integrated water resource and agri-food sustainability strategies to inform science-based and economically viable resource development, and plans and management actions.
  2. Sustainable food production plans based on agri-climate zones to achieve sustainable, multiple-benefits flows to avoid costly, underperforming, narrowly determined responses.
  3. Effective integrated adaptation and risk reduction practices rather than incomplete, inconsistent or contradictory uses of adaptation and risk reduction practices.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Climate Ready Scotland

The Scottish government has prepared a consultation document toward Scotland's Climate Change Adaptation Programme. The report solicits feedback on the Programme, as required by section 53 of the
Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009, which sets out Scottish Ministers objectives, proposals and policies for addressing the impacts identified by the UK Climate Change Risk Assessment (CCRA) that have been identified as a priority for Scotland over the next five years.

Hong Kong Business Primer on Adaptation

Hong Kong’s Climate Change Business Forum has released a report on adaptation for the city’s business sector. The report identifies real, predictable and calculable risks to business continuity, and seeks to advance the discourse among private sector entities regarding adaptation to climate variability and change.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Climate & the U.S. Flood Insurance Program

The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency has released an assessment of the effects of future climate change and population growth on the U.S. National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). The study concludes that floodplain area in the United States is projected to grow by 45% (median estimate) by 2100. Approximately 30% of this increase is due to increased flood discharge due to increasing population density while the other 70% is due to climate change. This increase in floodplain area is projected to translate into an 80% increase in NFIP policies, a 50% increase in losses per policy, and a 40% increase (current dollars) in NFIP premiums.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Best Adaptation Plans?

Maria Gallucci, writing for InsideClimate News, has written a piece identifying the six "most extensive" adaptation plans from around the world. The winners include:

1. City of New York
2. London
3. Chicago
4. Rotterdam
5. Quito
6. Durban

PwC Assesses Climate Risk to UK Businesses

As part of the UK Government’s National Adaptation Programme, PwC undertook an assessment of the impacts of climate change overseas on UK trade and investment, food, health and well-being, energy, and foreign policy. The report found that indirect effects of climate change impacts overseas could have a greater impact on the UK than the direct domestic impacts of climate change.
The main threats identified were:
1. Damages to physical and financial assets from extreme weather
2. Increased frequency and urgency of humanitarian assistance
3. increased volatility in food prices; political or policy reactions affecting availability of food supplies, and
4. increased demand for UK Government services by overseas territories and citizens abroad.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Australia's National Adaptation Assessment Framework

The Australian Government has just released the first in what it has indicated will be a series of reports assessing how well-placed the nation is to adapt to the impacts of climate change that cannot be avoided by future greenhouse gas mitigation efforts. The report, Climate Adaptation Outlook, proposes a new assessment framework for the nation to evaluate progress toward meeting adaptation objectives.The framework asks three broad questions:

1. What drivers in society and the economy would promote good adaptation?
2. What activities would we expect to see now if Australia is adapting well?
3. What outcomes do we expect to see from good adaptation?

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

$20 Billion for Adaptation in NYC

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the City of New York has commission a new climate change assessment form the New York City Panel on Climate Change and  Mayor Bloomberg has committed to a $19.5 billion plan to increase the resilience of the NYC coast to sea-level rise and storm events - largely through a series of infrastructure projects to harden the coastline.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Climate Smart Agriculture

The FAO has released a Climate-Smart Agriculture Sourcebook. The main purpose of this publication is to further elaborate the concept of climate-smart agriculture (CSA) and demonstrate its potential, as well as limitations. It aims to help decision makers at a number of levels to understand the different options that are available for planning, policies and investments and the practices that are suitable for making different agricultural sectors, landscapes and food systems more climate-smart. The Sourcebook is developed by FAO in collaboration with many partner agencies and individual contributors.

CSA is an approach to developing the technical, policy and investment conditions to achieve sustainable agricultural development for food security under climate change. The magnitude, immediacy and broad scope of the effects of climate change on agricultural systems create a compelling need to ensure comprehensive integration of these effects into national agricultural planning, investments and programs. The CSA approach is designed to identify and operationalize sustainable agricultural development within the explicit parameters of climate change.

The Executive Summary of the publication is available in English, French and Spanish and the entire publication is currently available online in English.

The publication is also available on the joint CSA Partnership portal

Public Health Adaptation Costs

The WHO Regional Office for Europe has prepared an economic analysis tool to support health adaptation planning in European Member States. It is based on a review of the science. It is expected to be applied in Member States mainly by line ministries responsible for climate change adaptation. It provides step-by-step guidance on estimating (a) the costs associated with damage to health due to climate change, (b) the costs for adaptation in various sectors to protect health from climate change and (c) the efficiency of adaptation measures, i.e. the cost of adaptation versus the expected returns, or averted health costs.

The tool consists of a document describing the methods step-by-step and a manual with an Excel spreadsheet, which is a visual aid for calculating costs.

For more information go here.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

$384 Billion Needed for Drinking Water Infrastructure by 2030

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has released its fifth Drinking Water Infrastructure Needs Survey and Assessment. The assessment, which is conducted every four years, outlines the investment needed to maintain safe drinking water for the nation for the coming two decades. The price tag from the current assessment comes in at $384 billion, which is well above (even after accounting for inflation) the estimate from the first assessment in 1997 of $138 billion.

The assessment shows that improvements are primarily needed in:

    · Distribution and transmission: $247.5 billion to replace or refurbish aging or deteriorating lines 
    · Treatment: $72.5 billion to construct, expand or rehabilitate infrastructure to reduce contamination 
    · Storage: $39.5 billion to construct, rehabilitate or cover finished water storage reservoirs
    · Source: $20.5 billion to construct or rehabilitate intake structures, wells and spring collectors
Hence, much of the anticipated cost is associated with upgrading the current infrastructure. While this creates some opportunities for increasing the resilience of that infrastructure by adaptation, given EPA grants only help to cover a small fraction of such costs, and given the current state of the balance sheet, EPA's latest survey may just be an estimate of the adaptation deficit in U.S. water resources management.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Prioritizing Coastal Adaptation Options

The Sydney Coastal Councils Group (Australia) has release multiple reports associated with its project, Prioritising Coastal Adaptation and Development Options for Local Government. The project developed information on the range of available adaptation strategies and provides guidance for Local Governments and asset managers, based on both NSW and Queensland case studies,  in how to implement feasible options. Specific delivverables from the project include a Literature Review of Adaptation to Climate Change in the Coastal Zone, which provides an overview of current approaches to adaptation, a GIS-based Multi-Criteria Analysis Framework to support consideration of diverse adaptation management alternatives around future protection, development, or redevelopment of coastal lands, and a Monitoring and Evaluation Framework to assess the impacts of coastal decisions.

Click here to learn more.

UK Downsizing Adaptation

Last week witnessed multiple stories in the UK press regarding the reduction in staff working on adaptation within the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). In response to a freedom of information request by Friends of the Earth, the agency confirmed that staff levels have fallen from a peak of 38 in the 2009/10 fiscal year to just 6 posts in the current year. According to the agency, "How we adapt to any impacts of climate change has been embedded into every policy team in Defra. Staff numbers on the adaptation team will therefore be reduced and the expertise moved to other parts of the Department." This trend seems to resemble what's been observed in Australia recently with the closure of the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility and the dismantling of the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency. If we believe that adaptation has in fact been so thoroughly mainstreamed throughout national governments that there's no longer utility in having stand-alone adaptation staff, then perhaps this is a sign of adaptation success. But does anyone really believe that?   

Monday, May 6, 2013

EU Adaptation Strategy

The European Commission has released the EU Strategy on Climate Change Adaptation. That strategy is comprised of a series of publications that include an EU climate change impact assessment, adaptation documents for specific sectors (e.g., coasts, environmental health, infrastructure), and guidelines for integrating consideration for adaptation into EU development policies and for developing adaptation plans in general.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Committed Vulnerability

A pre-publication version of one of my recent articles became available online last week. Published in Global Environment Change, the paper, Local path dependence of U.S. socioeconomic exposure to climate extremes and the vulnerability commitment argues that understanding the future implications of climate change will require improved attention to socioeconomic processes that contribute to vulnerability. In particular, the article looks at trends in physical vulnerability in the United States and projects future vulnerability under the assumption that path dependence dictates future geographic patterns of development. The article places these projections in context by projecting the economic losses that could be anticipated by 2050 given such path dependence. Hence, even in the absence of climate change, the costs of climate extremes are going to continue to rise. 


Despite improvements in disaster risk management in the United States, a trend toward increasing economic losses from extreme weather events has been observed. This trend has been attributed to growth in socioeconomic exposure to extremes, a process characterized by strong path dependence. To understand the influence of path dependence on past and future losses, an index of potential socioeconomic exposure was developed at the U.S. county level based upon population size and inflation-adjusted wealth proxies. Since 1960, exposure has increased preferentially in the U.S. Southeast (particularly coastal and urban counties) and Southwest relative to the Great Plains and Northeast. Projected changes in exposure from 2009 to 2054 based upon scenarios of future demographic and economic change suggest a long-term commitment to increasing, but spatially heterogeneous, exposure to extremes, independent of climate change. The implications of this path dependence are examined in the context of several natural hazards. Using methods previously reported in the literature, annualized county-level losses from 1960 to 2008 for five climate-related natural hazards were normalized to 2009 values and then scaled based upon projected changes in exposure and two different estimates of the exposure elasticity of losses. Results indicate that losses from extreme events will grow by a factor of 1.3–1.7 and 1.8–3.9 by 2025 and 2050, respectively, with the exposure elasticity representing a major source of uncertainty. The implications of increasing physical vulnerability to extreme weather events for investments in disaster risk management are ultimately contingent upon the normative values of societal actors.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Public Support for Adaptation

According to a new survey commissioned by the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and the Center for Ocean Solutions, the majority of Americans support efforts to increase the resilience of coastal communities to extreme events and climate change. The survey found that 82% of individuals thought preparations should be made in advance of future events rather than waiting to clean up after the fact. A majority also favored specific adaptation options like improving building codes and blocking development in vulnerable areas. At the same time, however, opinions regarding other types of adaptation options including sea walls, beach nourishment, and shoreline vegetation were more divided. In addition, while survey respondents noted a strong role for state and federal government in adaptation, when it came to questions regarding who should pay for adaptation, the majority of respondents indicated that the costs should be borne by individual households and businesses at risk and revenue should be raised through property taxes rather than income taxes. 

Adaptation Strategy for U.S. Wildlife

A U.S. intergovernmental working group of federal, state and tribal agency professionals (including the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, Council on Environmental Quality, Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service).has released a National Fish, Wildlife and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy. According to the agency, the purpose of the strategy is to
"inspire and enable natural resource administrators, elected officials, and other decision makers to take action to adapt to a changing climate. Adaptation actions are vital to sustaining the nation’s ecosystems and natural resources — as well as the human uses and values that the natural world provides."
The strategy contains the usual summary of relevant changes in climate and potential impacts, but focuses extensively on identifying adaptation goals, options to achieve those goals, and criteria for tracking progress.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Declining Adaptation Finance?

Pieter Tirpsten posted an article on WRIInsights that suggests the developed world's commitment to financing mitigation and adaptation activities in the developing world may be faltering:

"Surprisingly, new OECD numbers show that while adaptation expenditures in 2011 remained the same as in 2010, expenditures for mitigation activities decreased. Plus, the total commitment for climate finance decreased from $23 billion in 2010 to $17 billion in 2011."

New Publications on Adaptation Limits

With work on the IPCC's Fifth Assessment Report well underway, various researchers involved in the process have been working overtime to get material into the literature for inclusion in the report. Our chapter team for WGII (Chapter 16: Adaptation Opportunities, Constraints and Limits) is no exception. This week, we published a commentary in Nature Climate Change that offers a new approach to framing and defining limits to adaptation. The commentary emphasises the utility of actor-oriented and risk-based framings of adaptation limits to guide future research efforts as well as adaptation practice:

Dow, K., Berkhout, F., Preston,B.L., Klein, R.J.T., Midgley, G., Shaw, R. (2013). Limits to adaptation. Nature Climate Change 3: 305-307.

Meanwhile, another recent paper digs deeper into the driving forces that increase the likelihood of human and natural systems exceeding limits to adaptation and suggests overcoming the current ambiguity and complexity regarding limits to adaptation is a significant research challenge:

Preston, B.L., Dow, K., Berkhout, F. (2013). The climate adaptation frontier. Sustainability 5, 1011-1035.

Downsizing Climate Change

Earlier this month, the Australian Federal Government announced that the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency (DCCEE) will cease to exist. Although reported in the press release as a mechanism to "improve the connections between climate policy and economic and industry policy and between energy efficiency programs and the wider energy policy agenda", the government also noted that having implemented a carbon tax, a separate department as no longer needed. This sentiment was also reflected in last year's cuts to funding for DCCEE and the recent announcement that the federally-supported National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility would cease to exist in 2013. Remaining functions of DCCEE will be consolidated into the Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education. The Australian federal government appears to be sufferening from a case of goal substitution, with the implementation of a carbon tax replacing the broader national goal of developing a climate-resilient, low-carbon society.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Recent Reports from the EU

Climate Change, Impacts and Vulnerability in Europe 2012

This European Environment Agency (EEA) report presents information on past and projected climate change and related impacts in Europe, based on a range of indicators. The report also assesses the vulnerability of society, human health and ecosystems in Europe and identifies those regions in Europe most at risk from climate change. Furthermore, the report discusses the principle sources of uncertainty for the indicators and notes how monitoring and scenario development can improve our understanding of climate change, its impacts and related vulnerabilities.

Urban Adaptation to Climate Change in Europe

Challenges and opportunities for cities together with supportive national and European policies.

Health Effects of Climate Change in the UK 2012

In 2009 the latest long-range climate projections for the UK were published in order to inform the UK’s first Climate Change Risk Assessment (CCRA), required by the Climate Change Act (2008), covering 11 sectors across society. This HPA report complements the Health Sector report of the CCRA by providing scientific evidence of the wider risks to public health from climate change in the UK.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Reality Drop

Last week, Al Gore launched Reality Drop, a new interactive tool designed to influence the conversation on climate change. The site is a social media tool that educates users about the reality of climate change and also uses modern gaming techniques to combat climate denial. Reality Drop curates hundreds of online news articles daily for publications that demand a response – whether it's a misleading quote from a climate denier or a heated debate raging in the comments section. Reality Drop makes it easy for users to find the best science-based response, to apply accessible and easy-to-understand language, to add their voice to the conversation — and help cool the argument. 

The End of a Brief Era?

After five years of operations, Australia's National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility (NCCARF) is closing its doors. Part funding body that drove adaptation science policy and part boundary organization that facilitated communication and engagement with adaptation stakeholders across Australia, NCCARF represents an interesting model for building capacity for adaptation. Yet, now that model is ending before there are real opportunities to evaluate its utility. This, in conjunction with other cuts across the federal government in adaptation investments raises questions with respect to Australia's ability to continue to lead on this issue.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Third Annual Sustainability Plans for U.S. Agencies

On February 7th, 2013 U.S. federal agencies released their third annual Sustainability PlansUnder Executive Order 13514, Federal agencies are required to develop, implement, and annually update a Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan that describes how they will achieve the environmental, economic, and energy goals mandated in the Executive Order. As climate adaptation is of the elements to be included in the plans, it would be fair to ask how extensive is the adaptation planning conducted by the agencies. The adaptation plans themselves vary significantly from agency to agency, ranging in length from a few pages to a few dozen. The interpretation of adaptation is fairly loose, as agencies describe a broad range of activities, some of which pertain to climate change and adaptation, but many of which are general environmental management functions. At times, it's not entirely clear if the agencies understand the distinction between mitigation and adaptation or whether they are addressing their own operations or those of their stakeholder communities. By and large the plans outline general principles for adaptation and various motherhood statements, without much detail with respect to risks or adaptation measures. Yet, to be fair, it's not entirely clear how some federal agencies, such as the Railroad Retirement Board, should be adapting to climate change. Some agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, appear to at least have a process in place, as the EPA states that implementation plans will be developed within the EPA regional offices by 2015. But, clearly, the federal government doesn't appear to be in any particular hurry. And given the plethora of guidance now available out there on how to undertake adaptation planning, it's a bit disappointing that U.S. agencies don't appear to have read any of it.  

Sunday, January 20, 2013

USGCRP Strategic Plan (2012-2021)

The U.S. Global Change Research Program has released its strategic plan for the next ten years. Compared with the prior strategic plan (updated in 2008), the latest edition clearly represents an attempt to refocus the USGCRP and its goals. Whereas previously, USGCRP narrowly framed its mission around climate science and uncertainty reduction, the 2012 strategic plan has science as just one of four goals, with the others focusing on decision support, conducting sustained assessments, and communication and outreach. This is consistent with a decade of feedback from organizations such as the National Research Council. It will be interesting to see how the individual agencies of which USGCRP is comprised will attempt to realign their research priorities to match the rhetoric of the strategic plan.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Another Year for the Record Books

From NOAA:

2012 was warmest year on record for the United States
2012 was a historic year for extreme weather that included drought, wildfires, hurricanes and storms; however, tornado activity was below average, according to an analysis released today by NOAA's National Climatic Data Center. The average temperature for 2012 was 55.3°F, 3.2°F above the 20th century average, and 1.0°F above 1998, the previous warmest year.

2012 global temperatures were 10th highest on record
According to NOAA scientists, the globally-averaged annual combined land and ocean surface temperature in 2012 was 1.03°F (0.57°C) above the 20th-century average of 57.0°F (13.9°C). The annual report also found that all 12 years of the 21st century (2001-2012) rank among the 14 warmest in the 133-year period of record.

Africa Adaptation Knowledge Network

The Africa Adaptation Knowledge Network (AAKNet) has launched a new information portal. The Africa Adaptation Knowledge Network (AAKNet) aims to support climate change adaptation in Africa by providing the following services:

  • Aggregating knowledge in addressing pertinent climatic risks, shared across region and across countries in addressing short, medium and long term adaptation needs.
  • Harnessing knowledge for strategic planning processes including knowledge generated as pilots and also knowledge managed by other platforms.
  •  Providing tailored support in knowledge needs structured and packaged in a useable format to serve strategic planning processes.
  • Harnessing knowledge platforms in powering strategic planning of regional frameworks like AMCEN. Building an alliance and coordination of knowledge platforms in the continent with the common purpose of supporting climate change response.