A better climate for disaster risk management

by Judith Curry

how building new capacity, tools and partnerships between disaster risk managers and climate information providers can lead to improved disaster risk management, including prevention, preparedness and response.

The International Research Institute for Climate and Society has published a new  document:

Hellmuth M.E., Mason S.J., Vaughan C., van Aalst M.K. and Choularton R. (eds) 2011. A Better Climate for Disaster Risk Management. International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI), Columbia University, New York, USA. [Link]

From the Executive Summary:

Exploring the use of climate information for disaster risk management, it identifies both the achievements and the obstacles associated with this endeavour. From them are distilled the lessons learned, and a series of recommendations. Of these, effective partnership is highlighted as the single most critical ingredient for success. Climate information that can be acted upon is best created in dialogue between the users and providers, and partnerships between climate scientists and disaster risk managers should promote knowledge sharing, trust, and the development of innovative solutions.

Efforts to better apply climate information in disaster risk management should first focus on immediate opportunities and potential ‘quick wins’. Practical engagements can be fostered by initially concentrating on countries and regions with relatively good seasonal forecast skills, and where humanitarian decisions can be influenced to provide large and immediate returns on investment. Disaster risk managers must, however, improve their understanding of the potential as well as the limitations of climate information, as the development of realistic expectations is vital to maintaining trust in the information and those who provide it.

Cases demonstrate that when climate information can be integrated into existing decision-making support tools or systems, it becomes an important piece of the information that is considered and taken up in the routine activities of disaster risk managers. The relative contribution that seasonal, decadal, and long-term trends make to current and future climate also needs to be better understood. To achieve the goal of providing relevant climate services to support disaster risk management, climate information provid- ers such as national meteorological services must tailor their information to the problem at hand, either by refining products through iterative interaction with partners or by simplifying the presentation.

Although there have been many achievements and advances, much potential remains to be realized. Herein lies the opportunity: to build trust and improve the sharing of knowledge between the providers of climate services, and those who can use those services to enhance disaster risk management, jointly reducing human suffering and achieving more sustainable development.

The IRI is funded by NOAA to focus on the climate time scale (which is defined to include seasonal and the longer timescales.    Much of what they seem to be talking about are really weather disasters (with the exception of drought, which is more of a climate issue), rather than longer term climate change issues.

Weather forecasts provide information on immediately approaching events. As the lead-time is much shorter than with seasonal forecasts, the accuracy is greater. Also, although they do not provide disaster risk managers with a great deal of advanced warning, weather forecasts still enable measures including the early coordination and mobilization of human resources and supplies, the activation of contingency plans, informing populations at risk, providing instructions on precautionary measures, and setting up shelters or evacuating communities (Braman et al., 2010).

By monitoring climate information across timescales, disaster risk managers can get a sense of the overall likelihood of various climate-related risks. For instance, a seasonal forecast can predict the likelihood that a coming rainy season will be wetter or drier than normal, and thus be a helpful guide to anticipating impacts. When an alert for a particularly wet season is issued however, disaster risk managers must continue to monitor forecasts on shorter timescales (such as monthly, ten-day, weekly, and daily weather forecasts) in order to determine where and when extreme weather events might occur (IFRC, 2009; Braman et al., 2010).

The document gives some examples of regional studies and partnerships with decision makers.  From the recommendations section:

The book has employed a three-step problem-solving framework as a practical means of demonstrating the challenges and opportunities facing disaster risk managers in using climate science in their work.

1. Identifying problems and possible solu- tions. This includes identifying risks and vulnerabilities, relying on humanitarian expertise, and understanding the relation- ship between the climate and socioeco- nomic context.

2. Developing the tools. This includes inte- grating climate information into existing decision-making frameworks, developing tailored climate information and user oriented tools in partnership, developing boundary knowledge, and ensuring new knowledge products have technical back- stopping to avoid costly misinterpretation and to build capacity over time.

3. Taking action. The final stage requires understanding the real opportunities and limitations of climate information. This requires translating often uncertain infor- mation into potential impacts and actions, and overcoming the lack of resourcing for preparedness and prevention. Ultimately it means taking action based on climate information to reduce climate risk, and mitigate, prepare for and respond to climate-related disasters.

I like the emphasis on extreme events and seasonal and shorter time scales, where I think we have some reasonable hope for providing useful information.  The issue of predictability on seasonal timescales will be addressed in a future post (the Georgia Tech has submitted two papers on this topic that I will discuss once they are in press).

So while I like the increasing emphasis on adaptation (including the deliberations at Durban), especially incorporating improved weather/climate information into decision making, there may be downside to this.  This method of adaptation (making better use of weather and climate information for disaster management and planning) is relatively inexpensive.

Far less expensive than the big civil infrastructure projects that are presumably the focus of the international (UN) climate adaptation fund.

Is weather event attribution necessary for adaptation funding?

M. Hulme, S. O’Neill, S. Dessai

Abstract.  International funds created largely for funding climate adaptation programs and projects in developing countries were first legally established through the seventh session of the Conference of the Parties (COP-7) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC) held in 2001 at Marrakesh. In 2009, at COP-15 in Copenhagen, delegates “took note” of a pledge from developed countries to commit U.S. $30 billion for the period 2010–2012, ramping up to $100 billion per annum by 2020, to support a mixture of climate adaptation and mitigation activities in developing countries. International adaptation finance has therefore been, and continues to be, a significant political issue for the FCCC and for international institutions, such as the World Bank, the Global Environment Facility, and regional development banks (1). Yet governance arrangements and allocation principles for these climate adaptation funds remain both underdeveloped and politically contested (2, 3). A Green Climate Fund for disbursing such funds was established at COP-16 in Cancún, and a Transitional Committee is currently developing operational documents for the fund to be adopted at COP-17 in Durban, South Africa, later this year.

Citation: Science 11 November 2011: Vol. 334 no. 6057 pp. 764-765 DOI: 10.1126/science.1211740 [Link] (note: full article is behind paywall).

My thoughts on the attribution of extreme events have been discussed on numerous previous threads (most recently here).

My main question is why adaptation should be attempted and funded only for AGW, and not to address risks associated with the current climate and natural climate variability?  This seems to be the implication of the UNFCCC climate adaptation fund.


141 responses to “A better climate for disaster risk management

  1. Wow! Big Brother isn’t bashful about the glorious goals of IRI: “We use a science-based approach to enhance society’s capability to understand, anticipate and manage the impacts of climate in order to improve human welfare and the environment, especially in developing countries.”

    http://portal.iri.columbia.edu/portal/server.pt

    This reminds me of the glorious goals of the government agencies and heros I learned about on my first trip to the old USSR in 1981.

    Of greater concern to the public today is growing evidence that global economies and global temperatures have been manipulated:

    http://strata-sphere.com/blog/index.php/archives/17772

    http://www.stansberryresearch.com/pub/reports/201112PSI_issue.html

    http://chiefio.wordpress.com/2011/12/22/wsw-wedneday-21-december-2011

    • A better climate for disaster risk management – said Moses to the Pharaoh

      • Who will exchange document #1 for document #2?

        1. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
        ~ Thomas Jefferson

        http://www.ushistory.org/declaration/document/

        2. “We use a science-based approach to enhance society’s capability to understand, anticipate and manage the impacts of climate in order to improve human welfare and the environment, especially in developing countries.”
        ~ International Research Institute for Climate and Society

        http://portal.iri.columbia.edu/portal/server.pt

        President Eisenhower warned fifty years ago that greed and corruption of government science would bring us to this fateful decision:

  2. As long as the climatic changes and the phony GLOBAL warming are used together; that fund will be used to keep the fear alive and for laundering taxpayer’s $$$

    Just stated on the TV box that: 5 billion has being allocated for Pakistan, to adopt to climate change and clean energy. If there is sanity, they will build dams – hydro electricity + to prevent floods and droughts. Dams improve the climate.

    Instead money will be squandered for stupid / expensive solar panels and windmills. Big chunk of those money will end up in the protagonist’ adhesive fingers…

  3. Dr. Curry,
    You are certainly correct. Even without AGW the world’s population must deal with many problems, climate related and otherwise. Our success as a species comes from our ability to adapt to different climates and environments. We must be generalists. A centralized focus on AGW narrows our range of ideas and adaptation strategies.

    As suggested in these papers, the greatest gain achievable in the Climate Science field would be seasonal weather forecasts. That is forecasts, not projections. We’ve had a decade or two of projections from climate science and the best we’ve had is multi-decade trend projections, most of which have proven useless for realistic planning purposes.

    It’s time to move on with climate science and do some serious work figuring out how to help farmers and emergency planners. Knowing that things may be different 20 or 30 years from now is useless. Figure out how to let them know what is going to happen and when in the next 12 months. That is the real job for Climate Science.

    • It is probably no surprise that farmers – whose very lives depended on seasonal weather forecasts – had more confidence in the Old Farmers Almanac than in predictions by Al Gore, the UN’s IPCC and an army of Nobel Prize-winning government scientists.

  4. “So while I like the increasing emphasis on adaptation (including the deliberations at Durban), especially incorporating improved weather/climate information into decision making, there may be downside to this. This method of adaptation (making better use of weather and climate information for disaster management and planning) is relatively inexpensive.

    Far less expensive than the big civil infrastructure projects that are presumably the focus of the international (UN) climate adaptation fund.”

    “Far less expensive” is a downside?

    • I took that as being sarcastic. Useful actions are short-term and inexpensive. The UNFCCC climate adaptation fund depends on grandiose schemes to address more distant potential/airy-fairy problems which require a massive international bureaucracy. The shift in focus suggested here is common sense but undermines UNFCCC.

  5. Plugging Mike Smith’s book ‘Warnings, the True Story of How Science Tamed the Weather’. Check it out. No, not from the library, @ Amazon.
    =============

    • It’s a reference book now and will be a history book in a hundred years. It should be in every library in the world.
      ================

  6. Efforts to better apply climate information in disaster risk management should first focus on immediate opportunities and potential ‘quick wins’..

    Undoubtedly the obvious will occur almost surely .

    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v469/n7329/full/469153a.html

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8502616.stm

  7. Implementation of any plan; funding for any strategy requires a political process. If that political process is corrupt, or more likely corrupt and incompetent, then good plans are sidetracked by bad implementation. Whether one looks at the mayor of New Orleans prior to, during, after Katrina, his incompetence overshadowed every effort to forestall the negative impact: school buses for transportation left to be flooded; police leaving town ahead of everyone else; levy money spent on local social and political feel good boost community projects; etc. etc, etc. Would any agency drop into the current situation in Bagdad to provide money for some mitigation project? Islamabad? Pyongyang? Damascus? Mogadishu? Not likely. Warming impact mitigation takes not only planning, but a political situation for implementation that by and large is missing in most of the vulnerable world. Even in Japan, immediately after the Tsunami, the Japanese government was immobilized by sometimes false and late information regarding the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Plans for global adaptation will be derailed by tribal politics. The course most successful is one of reaction and not anticipation. When the disaster has already happened, then humanitarian relief and building mitigation infrastructure is possible. Otherwise, every political type along the supply chain will steal a portion of the goods until nothing is left for building. At the current state of world affairs, wait for the shoe to fall, before initiating strategies to deal with the fallout.

    • And the corruption of the IPCCC is well documented.

    • Harold H Doiron

      Very wise observations!! Also, I wonder what the probablility of the earth plunging into another “Little ice Age” might be and how much of the disaster planning will be focused on that possibility?

  8. Judith,

    You ask why “adaptation should be attempted and funded only for AGW, and not to address risks associated with the current climate and natural climate variability?”

    A quick answer might be that , of course, humankind has had to adapt to natural changes of climate in the past and may well have to do so again at some time in the future. However, the change which is looming now, anthropogenically induced, will happen much quicker than anything previously experienced so it does make sense to treat that as a special case.

    PS Is the old Judith still contactable, in there, somewhere? If so, I’m sure she would be able to give a much fuller answer to that question. I’d be interested to know what she thinks of mine!

    • Steve Milesworthy

      This seems to be looking for a moral justification for persuading the rich countries to pay for adaptation in poorer countries. But in practice, for many projects the distinction between the risks of AGW and normal variability may be hard to call.

      A rich country might say that mitigation against natural disasters is part and parcel of normal development. For example, if you build on a flood plain, or draw too much water from a river, it might be argued that you deserve what you get, and that any country including poorer countries should consider the risks more carefully as they develop their infrastructure.

      Arguably, though, if an event may be attributed or partly attributed to a *change* in climate that could not be anticipated, then the case for subsidising the “adaptation” to it is stronger, even if the vulnerability already existed prior to the change in climate.

      • Blame justifies aid is certainly the basic argument. In fact some developing countries call it “reparations.” This is not a sound reason for a massive new aid program, nor do I expect one to actually materialize. But if one does then yes we should direct the aid to projects that are independent of the AGW issue, so that some good is actually done.

      • Steve Milesworthy

        I guess “independent of the AGW issue” means not relating to predictions of impact from *future* AGW.

        If AGW is correlated with a region losing its water supply (less rain or smaller glaciers, say), then there is a genuine impact to adapt to whether or not AGW caused the change.

        What about sea level rise which is perhaps (I don’t want an argument about it) more predictable than other impacts but often adaptation requires decades of planning and infrastructure work?

      • Why ask a question if you are unwilling to have a discussion? SLR is not credibly predicted to do anything dangerous except by those with an interest in selling fear. But the AGW community wants a pass in having its tenets discussed Which allows the failed AGW agenda to go forward no matter its lack of substance.

      • But SLR is the elephant in this particular room because unlike the extreme weather events its impact would be felt in a “mean”, “average” sort of way that is obvious to everyone and harder to argue (if, the science was settled!). It isn’t stochastic in a meaningful sense, lots of people live in vulnerable areas, and the solutions are pretty drastic (moving cities, levees, etc.). w/o SLR there is no need for long term adaptation of a predictible and centrally plannable sort….

      • Steve Milesworthy

        hunter, when there is clear evidence that past episodes of warming correlate with sea level rise of more than 1 metre per century (eg. Google “rapid sea level rise eemian”), your use of the word “credible” is not credible.

        But the reason why I don’t want to argue about it is because I am asking an “if” question. “If A were true, what would you do about B”. Insisting on arguing “A” gets boring after a while.

      • Steve,
        It may be boring to point out that slr is not doing anything dangerous, but it is also boring to keep postulating that slr is well documented to be rising dangerously.
        If a particular region, like Galveston, Boston, San Francisco, or Banghladesh face changing sea levels, they can do what they have done- keep building or move on. Managing CO2 will not prevent this, and a UN fund will only divert needed money to aapt into the pockets of UN bureaucrats and thieves, (but I am being redundant).

      • Steve Milesworthy,

        One metre per century is very fast on a geological timescale. There is too much emphasis on what will happen this century and not enough on what will happen later IMO. We’ll all be just as dead in the year 2100 as in 2200, and later, so why is 2100 so important?

        Climate sceptics are nearly all geriatrics with nothing better to do than express strong opinions on the weakest of knowledge bases. But, the one argument they have which does make some sense is that they’ll nearly all be dead in the next few decades. AGW is probably not going to affect them much, and so there is no need for them to do anything about it!

        David Archer offers a longer term perspective on the problem.

        http://press.princeton.edu/titles/8719.html

  9. Steve Milesworthy

    “Climate information that can be acted upon is best created in dialogue between the users and providers, and partnerships between climate scientists and disaster risk managers should promote knowledge sharing, trust, and the development of innovative solutions.”

    While this may be stating the b***din’ obvious, what does one do when the “user” group do not have any “disaster risk managers” amongst them. Representatives of local people in a given country or region may have local expertise in potential risks, but that doesn’t really turn them into a “risk manager”.

    In creating the dialogue, then, there may initially be a tension between assessing real risk (that determined by careful calculation of the odds of certain events) and perceived risks (that determined, perhaps, by which particular 100-year events have happened within the past 10 years, or which events have particularly impacted the local representative’s family or ethnic group).

    The problem comes if, in creating this dialogue, any mistakes made, say choosing the wrong local people, highlighting a risk that is not a real risk and so forth, can be used to criticise the whole process (“such and such person from Elbonia was not selected based on their expertise, but for reasons of political correctness” etc.)

  10. “My main question is why adaptation should be attempted and funded only for AGW, and not to address risks associated with the current climate and natural climate variability? ”

    Where I live (UK) there are vast amounts of money being spent to mitigate against current natural events such as coastal erosion, flooding in low lying areas, tidal surges, etc. I’m pretty sure that we’re not alone in this (isn’t the Netherlands pretty famous for its dykes?).

  11. My main question is why adaptation should be attempted and funded only for AGW, and not to address risks associated with the current climate and natural climate variability?

    I would guess for reasons of predictibility and politics.

    Presumably the purpose will be to establish some kind of risk metric, similar to flood-years currently used by local and state planners, and provide a risk-evolution timeline. Even under the considerable uncertainty of future scenario and climate sensitivity this is feasible in relation to anthropogenic changes but not so much for natural changes, which are currently unpredictable, or happening on timescales well beyond normal planning practice.

    There’s also the element of political unwillingness to subsidise people who choose to live in locations which are inherently climatically vulnerable. If those areas carry economic advantages those can be used to pay for necessary defenses.

    • I don’t understand what you think is “feasible in relation to anthropogenic changes” and also useful because it is true. By risk metric, do you claim we can now say where floods will get worse due to AGW, at the watershed level (or any useful level)? I do not believe it. Same for droughts.

      Speculation is always feasible, but believing a false forecast is worse than believing none.

    • David,

      I mean that we have a reasonable idea about the vectors of change on larger scales and this knowledge could be used to provide some constraints for regional forecasts. Obviously meaningful detection and attribution of smaller scale changes, in order to produce risk forecasts, is not currently so robust, hence the ongoing further research into this area.

      With natural changes, whether solar, volcanic, oceanic, we don’t even know the sign of potential large scale changes. They provide no starting point.

      • Paul, I do not accept that we have ” a reasonable idea about the vectors of change on larger scales.” At this point cooling is just as likely as warming. In fact your second paragraph makes just this point, namely that we don’t even know the sign of potential large scale changes.

        Nor do I see any prospect of constraining regional forecasts at climate scales, simply because such forecasts are not credible to begin with, constrained or otherwise. Note that BEST found something like one third of all local records cooling.

        All adaptation is local and at this point climate science simply has nothing to offer. It should concentrate on trying to understand climate change, because we do not.

      • I have to disagree, at this point cooling is much more likely than warming.

      • Concatenation of oceanic oscillations meets the Cheshire grinning spotscant suncat.
        ===========

      • Adaptation, as a very broad strategy, has several big advantages; 1) it’s much cheaper than carbon policy, 2) we can wait and see primarily because of 1, and 3) it’s the right answer no matter what the question is, i.e. if the earth is warming for non-anthropgenic reasons, carbon abatement won’t do diddly, but adaptation will. For that matter, if sea level is rising, regardless of what’s happening with temperature, adaptation is the correct response.

        The big plus is being able to wait and see that there is a problem before marching out with “solutions” to no problem. The real question is, will we be able to restrain the political/policy wonk types from jumping the gun? The county I’m living in is already factoring sea level rise into planning decisions. This is beyond stupid, it’s downright malfeasant.

      • PE, in the present context adaptation does mean jumping the gun. It means building based on AGW projections. And it is very expensive.

    • In Queensland, massive floods are common. There was a biggie in SEQ in 1974, I think about 30,000 properties in Brisbane were flooded. Maps of incidence of 1-in-100-year floods were subsequently drawn up. As memory faded, development was allowed on flood-prone areas from about 20 years ago – a combination of greed and wilful ignorance. In 2010, Brisbane’s main dam was full, exceptional rains were forecast for several months over summer. In Oct 2010, the government was warned to release water from the dam to allow for massive inflow. Nothing was done. Even as severe flooding developed around Brisbane, the dam was allowed to reach 200% of its nominal capacity. Finally, and much too late, water was released because the dam was likely to collapse otherwise.About 70% of the flood water was from the belated dam release, at a time when water from floods to the west was entering the Brisbane river below the dam. About 24,000 Brisbane properties were flooded (missed my house by 4 metres).

      Now this was in the face of known risks and short-term forecasts of exceptional rain (in fact, there was more than forecast). Establishing “some kind of metric” in response to long-range model-based projections is hardly going to lead to action if we can’t deal with existing known threats. Much better, as suggested in the papers and by Judith, to deal with current issues – of which there are many, mostly not related to changing climate – than to put energy and resources into potential problems way down the track. AGW, if it is occurring and if it continues, is a second- or third-order issue in 2011.

      • PS: the dam was built after 1974 mainly to prevent similar flooding.

      • Of course it was full. That is what the dam’s engineering specifications require. It’s been that way since before the dam was built. It’s just utterly amazing that people find this shocking.

        And there you have a conservative Australian politician demanding it be made fuller.

        See, every year kooks come out of the woodwork and tell dam managers to deviate from the statutory requirements for the dam. That is why dam management is insulated from them; otherwise, each year the dam managers would have to pick with which kook to go. Because water is money.

  12. tempterrain

    Pardon me for interjecting myself into an exchange you were hoping to start with our host, but this phrase you wrote caught my eye:

    However, the change which is looming now, anthropogenically induced, will happen much quicker than anything previously experienced so it does make sense to treat that as a special case.

    Extreme weather events can cause problems for humans, particularly those in poorer countries, who have less resources available to forecast and adapt (Dr. Curry’s point).

    Fortunately the human toll to extreme weather events has decreased markedly over the 20th century (Goklany), partly as a result of better forecasting and adaptation possibilities.

    But we should be aware that these events will continue to always be with us in the future, as they were in the past, and Dr. Curry’s suggestions on better forecasting to allow for local adaptation if and when required are very well made.

    Now to the hypothesis that human-induced climate change from fossil fuel combustion might result in a perceptible increase in the incidence or severity of extreme weather events, there are no empirical data to support this premise. It is purely based on model simulations, which have shown to be extremely poor in forecasting our planet’s climate, let alone severe weather events that might result from a change in climate.

    Preparing for extreme weather events makes sense.

    Treating those purported events caused by AGW as a “special case” as you suggest does not.

    Just my opinion, of course.

    Max.

    • tt –
      My eye was sensitive to the same thing that attracted Max –

      “However, the change which is looming now, anthropogenically induced, will happen much quicker than anything previously experienced”

      I guess this anthropogenically induced change was also looming 15 years ago?. Did it get stuck in a ‘loom-warp’? When you say it will happen much quicker than anything previously experienced, does that come from the same model that told us the last 15 years would see accelerated warming, sea level rises and more intense hurricanes?

      Has there ever been faster climate change than during 1910-40 which was so dramatic, nobody actually noticed?

      I don’t know what will happen in the future, but succumbing to the belief that something bad, unprecedented and definite will occur seems to me to be giving precedence to imagination, not evidence.

    • “Now to the hypothesis that human-induced climate change from fossil fuel combustion might result in a perceptible increase in the incidence or severity of extreme weather events, …”

      Actually, this is a conjecture, not an hypothesis.

      • Likely wrong, too, if it diminishes the contrast between tropics and poles.
        ===========

      • kim – as fas as hurricanes i’m part with you, though i know nothing about it. they say warmer oceans will fuel fiercer storms. but the warm has to meet some cold, some temp difference to drive the ferocity.

    • Max,

      Its also your opinion that the AGW issue is a ‘hoax’ and a ‘scam’ so I’m not sure if your opinion on anything to do with climate is at all valid after saying that.

      Before becoming bogged down in a discussion about frequency and intensity of hurricanes, I did make the point that if there was no more to AGW than that, then maybe it was a price worth paying. I might not think that if I was a Caribbean banana picker and just had my house destroyed, and family killed, in a hurricane – but who cares about them anyway?

      The main problem is much longer term than is generally realised. It will be caused by the melting of the ice caps and the rising of sea levels which will take several centuries.

  13. Just to wish you and yours a Very Very Merry Christmas and a Prosperous and Analytically Sound New Year. Judith. you are a global treasure! The science goes way over my head but, like most, I can tell a good egg when I read what they`ve wrote. Keep it up. The need for your work and Steve and Bish and Josh and , maybe even, Morano, has never been greater. If I could give you a big big hug from the UK….

    Dave G

  14. Seasonal forecasting has nothing to do with climate (which is a multi-decadal statistical concept) so calling it a climate program is a bit of a hoax. On the other hand if the climate science community wants to give up its fruitless search for AGW and transition into seasonal forecasting R&D it would be a welcome change, no matter how it is framed.

  15. My main question is why adaptation should be attempted and funded only for AGW, and not to address risks associated with the current climate and natural climate variability? This seems to be the implication of the UNFCCC climate adaptation fund.

    There are a couple of ways to answer this. One is to say, why fund anything? Why don’t funds for breast cancer research also donate to colon cancer? Why doesn’t the Parks Service give out free ice cream? While we were invading Iraq, why didn’t we also invade Syria?

    Another way to look at is that most of the greenhouse gases humans have added to the atmosphere come from rich countries, and the first and worst impacts are going to be felt most keenly among nations that have done little to contribute to the problem, such that the purpose of the fund is to mitigate those impacts somewhat.

    • This is the guilt, or even reparation, argument. But it assumes certain AGW impacts, which so far as we can tell do/will not exist. In other words, if the question assumes AGW is unproven, then your answer is non-responsive. Or the simple answer is that the focus is on AGW impacts because that is what the folks in charge believe. The Green Fund is well named. Then the problem is that there is no political support for such a program.

      • Who is the “we” in that sentence? Philosophers? Crusaders against the “great green menace”?

        Whoever you may refer to, economic damages and deaths from global warming are a proven fact. This is known to those who read the scientific literature. If “as far as [you] can tell” those impacts do not exist, then we have established that as far as you can tell is not very far.

        As far as scientists and economists can tell, destructive and expensive impacts of global warming have already begun and are certain to worsen under BAU.

      • Robert, I assume that by damages from global warming you mean from AGW, not natural warming, otherwise your statement is meaningless. We don’t even know that AGW has occurred, much less caused any damage. Read the literature. It is all speculation, and it reads as such.

        Semantic note, when I say “we don’t know that…” that is the same as “It is not known that…” Thus “we” refers to everyone, including you.

      • Robert here is a tread with complete list of things caused ALREADY by global warming that will happen in 100years (must be by remote control?) http://www.numberwatch.co.uk/warmlist.htm

    • Quote “most of the greenhouse gases humans have added to the atmosphere come from rich countries”, not according the japanese Satellite study.

      • Citation needed.

        I suspect you are confusing current with cumulative emission. But provide a link and we will see.

      • Nah I think he’s referring to the John O Sullivan bit. It does the Salby thing more or less

      • Robert!!! Here is a tread with complete list of things caused ALREADY by global warming that will happen in 100years (must be by remote control?) http://www.numberwatch.co.uk/warmlist.htm

      • Robert, I have provided you with the link you requested. On at-least 37 places is stated: global warming of 5-6C by 2060. THAT IS ANOTHER 48 YEARS AND ONE WEEK LEFT. Written different texts, all by people from your camp. Same goes for you: my Santa bring you lots and lots of global warmings, so you can scare the children in your neighbourhood; because you are doing a very bad job of scaring the grown ups..Don’t get depressed, you can always turn back to Nuclear Winter again. There is already 30 000 new breed of white colour criminals in your camp; they will think of something… Mary Christmas.

      • That was total turnover, humanity’s contributions were lost in the noise.
        ======

    • randomengineer

      … and the first and worst impacts are going to be felt most keenly among nations that have done little to contribute to the problem…

      This is pure assertion. First, it requires belief that storms etc will get progressively worse, not better. Second, it requires belief that item #1 is caused solely by mankind with no natural signal whatsoever. Third, it requires belief that affected countries are in technological stasis, effectively arguing that today’s poor countries will never progress on their own as well as implying that the changes wrought by beliefs #1 and #2 happen tomorrow morning.

      Belief #1 is entrail throwing. There is no reason to assume equilibrium change to a different state makes for worse weather. There is no crystal ball, and anyone who says so is a liar. Belief #2 is absurd; the historical record shows climate will change without man. Belief #3 borders on subtle racism.

      All of the beliefs backing the assertion also presume the culprit is solely CO2 with seeming little regard to climate impact on the part of the poor dumb indigenous buggers, as if land use change affecting local conditions (rainfall patterns, etc — c.f. Kilamanjaro) doesn’t exist at all.

      Even self respecting fundamentalists don’t have your level of buy-in.

      • Well struck sir – a palpable hit!!

      • “First, it requires belief that storms etc will get progressively worse, not better”

        No it just requires significant change. Change requiring adaptation, which of course poorer countries are going to find harder.

        “Belief #2 is absurd; the historical record shows climate will change without man.”

        But not as much as it could change at man’s hand. Even 1C warming per doubling of CO2 is more warming than happened in the 20th century. And we are already very warm compared to most of the recent past.

      • Lolwot, whoever told you that we are warmer now than 150y ago, told you a lie – go and get your money back, for the wrong advise. EXTRA WARMTH IN THE TROPOSPHERE IS NOT ACCUMULATIVE!!! I have proven it, be ”the peer” and review it. Don’t let them con you; go to my website and put yourself out of misery. Otherwise the truth will haunt you in your sleep

  16. Steve Milesworthy

    It’s one thing to say that many specific predictions of AGW-related damaging climate change should be taken with a reasonable amount of scepticism. It’s an extra step to say that rising temperatures will not cause any damaging climate change.

    On that basis, working to expand a fund to anticipate and deal with potential impacts is not unreasonable surely. Usually the money is not going to be totally wasted, and often there are benefits for the provider country (contracts awarded to domestic companies, protection of all the manufacturing production that has been off-shored).

    How do the quoted figures compare with what is already being spent on developing country’s protective infrastructure under BAU assumptions?

    • First of all, rising temperatures per se are merely conjectural. Second, impacts are always local.

      • Steve Milesworthy

        Those points don’t address my comment. If rising global temperatures occur and correlate with a predicted change in climate somewhere, then whether the cause-effect chain is valid or not there is a practical reason for spending on adaptation and an arguable justification that developed nations should contribute.

      • I do not understand your reasoning at all. How is uncaused correlation a justification for anything? Plus you seem to be confusing the future with the past.

      • Steve Milesworthy

        It’s not uncaused correlation. It’s unproven cause.

        If a fund is established, then it will be available for whichever disasters bite the developing world on the bum whether or not there is a strong proven link between the disaster and AGW. Some will argue the disaster is AGW-caused, some will argue that it is not. But the fund will be there to help either way.

    • I’ll take your extra step, Steve. Overall a warmer world is a better world, more capable of sustaining human and all life. So figure out how to return some of those net benefits to the ‘carbon polluters’ who are helping to bring that about. It’s only fair.
      ==========

      • Steve Milesworthy

        If that is true, then those who benefit (Canada perhaps?) will be in a position to contribute more to the fund and thereby relieve the burden on some of the polluters.

      • The beauty of this is that the return is already flowing naturally. The warming effect, small though it be, combined with the larger fertilizing effect, means that humans’ release of CO2 is benefiting all of us directly, with the energy and the warmth and the food, but also indirectly, with the increased carrying capacity of the earth for all life.
        ==========================

      • Steve,
        Why should canada have to contribute anything to a third party fund? what a ridiculous idea.

      • Nobody needs to contribute nuttin’ to nobody. It’s all just first party and already working perfectly naturally, see above, me, @ 10:52. I think the Chinese may have already figured this out.
        ==============

    • Steve, do you know how much improvement to Russia, Canada would be if temp can get warmer by 2-3 degrees. When Dr. Suzuki can scare the Canadians with warming – shows the skills they have as B/S merchants and Canadians as B/S consumers

    • “working to expand a fund to anticipate and deal with potential impacts is not unreasonable surely” Only if rigorous cost-benefit analysis shows a risk-adjusted rate of return at least equal to alternative use of resources. That is, only if the return exceeds the opportunity cost. And to do that, you’d have to be able to assess potential benefits – e.g. warming making various warms of agriculture viable in areas where it is currently too cold, less heating, etc – as well as costs. Given usual discount rates, changes more than 20-30 years away would have negligible net present value or cost, Nicholas Stern could show benefits only through a nonsensical discount rate.

  17. The adaptation issue was eloquently discussed more than a decade ago (July 2000) by Sarewit and Pielke Jnr in the Atlantic monthly: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2000/07/breaking-the-global-warming-gridlock/4973
    We don’t seem to have moved on much since then.

  18. Excellent post. This shows that after over 20 years and tens of billions of dollars climate science in the age of AGW is still unable to show any practical role. The second article shows the incremental steps by the UN to force taxpayers in wealthy countries to fund poorly defined hugely expensive funds. Dr. Curry asks the obvious question: If this is important, why is it connected to AGW?

  19. It is my understanding that many mistakes were made in Australia relying on AGW climate science rather than climatology.

    That is, desalination plants are being built on the AGW premise that only drought will be a problem, and dams were not built which would have been useful during the recent, La Nina driven rains. And, apparently, the Wivenhoe dam system and Missouri river dam system were mismanaged this spring causing unnecessary flooding, partly because of AGW fears.

    http://rogerpielkejr.blogspot.com/2011/07/american-wivenhoe.html

    • I looked into this when the floods happened last winter. I could find not a single thing that confirmed the idiotic notion that dam managers and Australian politicians relied upon climate science to make bad decisions with respect to dam management. The water-level splits in the Wivenhoe were set by engineers before the dam was built, which was before Hansens’ 1988 testimony.

      Australian climate scientists and their models were predicting rainfall events would be more concentrated and heavier. Okay? The drought forever nonsense is a lie.

      Before the flooding a conservative Australian politician was loudly arguing the dams should retain even more water to help alleviate the ongoing drought. He obviously thought the climate scientists and their models were dead wrong about La Nina rains.

    • DonB,

      Steer clear of Roger’s fantasies over the floods in Brisbane.

      He’s wrong, wrong and wrong – too busy trying to shove the issue into an ideological shoe-horn to get the facts, let alone the analysis, correct.

  20. I am sure that risk management and adaptation should not be just focused on current climate (which I think is the question here). It should take into account the changes in the statistics of extreme events that are being predicted under AGW scenarios. This includes changes to water, food and energy needs that may be gradual but have to be planned for. Up till now the only changing factor in this type of planning was population, but AGW adds another one.

    • I see no reason to accept these AGW predictions and make expenditures based there on. These are merely conjectures.

      • It is one thing to base decisions on predictions, but another to assume current observed trends will continue rather than reverse. This is where AGW comes in.

      • And climate change, Jim D, is that the currently observed trends always change.
        ===========

      • Only AGW explains the magnitude of the changes we have seen so far, so this seems the safest bet if you are making plans.

      • Jim D, first of all there are no “current observed trends.” As the discussions here make clear there are many different, and inconsistent, trends depending on periods chosen, analysis methods, etc. In fact what we see are oscillations, which suggests that we should bet against trends. Another LIA is just as likely as warming. Another big ice age is quite possibly due, and far more likely than runaway warming, which has never been observed.

        Nor does AGW “come in” when looking at trends. AGW is a hypothesis that might explains some trends, or might not, and there are good reasons to think not. An unconfirmed hypothesis is no basis for action.

        There is nothing new to be done, nothing above the usual preparations, which most countries cannot even afford. AGW has nothing to offer risk managers.

      • People like Jim D have the Crook’t Hockey Stick branded on a frontal lobe of their cerebral cortex. We should feel sorry for them.
        ==============

      • It is a bit difficult for you to make the case for no trends. You can go to the NOAA Global Climate Change Indicators page to see them, but I am assuming you know these already and just don’t see anything unusual going on.

  21. Adaptation is the what humans do.

    Adaptation is what humans have done for thousands of years.

    The only thing we need to do to increase the capacity for adaptation is to develop.

    Anything which slows development reduces our capacity to adapt.

    I could go on, but why?

    • And we all adapt, for the kids.

    • Rob Potter –
      The only thing we need to do to increase the capacity for adaptation is to develop.”
      I couldn’t agree more. Spot on, on the mark and very much the truth, Sir.

      I tend not to see people vulnerable to climate change but people vulnerable to <climate. I also suspect there has always been quite a lot of that kind of thing about and development is, indeed, the relevant prophylactic.

  22. There is one error in this song, which is about one of the USA’a worst natural disasters, the 1900 hurricane in Galveston, Texas. Prior to 1900 the skeptical city fathers had rejected expert advice to build a seawall, so contrary to the lyrics, there was no seawall when the storm hit the city in 1900. After the hurricane they decided to build one. A recent hurricane, Ike, resulted high water marks on downtown buildings as high as 12 feet.

    This spurred talk of both extending and elevating the seawall, built mostly in the early 1900s.

    How high should it be? Good luck.

    cremation of some of the more than 8,000 dead, 1900 flood

    1915 flood (seawall?)

    1915 flood

    an Ike wave hits seawall

    1900 to 2003 SLR, Galveston

    • I don’t know which experts you are referring to, but my understanding is that the Weather Service assured the city that a major sea wave was not possible. The local NWS expert had his house on the Gulf shore. Many people took shelter in it and many were killed. The wave that hit was above the height of land on the island, about 20 feet high as I recall. That would have been one hell of a wall, and they had no reason to build it. We learn by experience. Hindsight is usually foolish.

      • David,
        You are referring to the person this book is about:
        http://www.randomhouse.com/features/isaacsstorm/book/

        Isaac Cline was the best and brightest of his day, and worked for the US Govt. as a weather/cliamte expert. His hubristic confidence not only got a lot of people killed in Galveston, it also destroyed his family.

      • Hindsight is 20-20. When they were designing Fukashima Daiichi, nobody thought a 9.0 quake and the resultant tsunami was possible either. The moral of the story is that people who get paid to predict the future often fail. Experts are frequently wrong. This argument cuts both ways; sometimes experts miss a threat, but at least as often they see Armageddon that doesn’t materialize. See: Y2K.

        So we’re back the uncertainty monster. Whether you like it or not. The difference is that climate shifts don’t happen overnight. There will be a robust indication of a need for action before there’s serious damage, despite all the sci-fi climatology masquerading as serious science.

      • There is no hindsight here. On the table right now is a proposal to extend and elevate the seawall.

        How high should it be?

        I never said the prior experience should dictate the decisions about the future. My personal opinion is that Galveston, as much as I love the quaint old place, should be donated to Neptune.

      • P. E.
        To have ignored the likelihood of a 9.0 at Fukushima was to have ignored the history of the area. That coast had a tsunami at least as high in the mid-19th century.
        I agree completely with what seems to be your larger point: We have ample time to adapt, and if we ignore those married to models and who choose to ignore history, we can adapt better.

    • Lyrics to the slightly different version recorded in the 1950s by Pete Seeger (I believe)
      http://www.ibiblio.org/jimmy/folkden-wp/?p=6944

      This version also refers to a “sea wall” – maybe there was a small one at the time, but the current one did not exist then

  23. Dr. Issac Cline

    The calls to build a seawall date from 1885, which was 4 years before Cline arrived in Galveston.

    And it hardly comes as a surprise that an expert non-alarmist wanted to do less, or even nothing!

  24. JCH,
    You miss the point: Best and brightest of his day, reflecting the best consensus of the day, offering the best advice of the day and being completely wrong.
    Just because the discussion of the seawall started in 1885 does not mean Cline and the NWS were not giving bad advice when they had the opporunity.

    • Actually, on the contest, he came in 5th brightest. And I am not missing the point. He was but one voice, and he had never experienced a hurricane, which he later admitted.

      There were “alarmist” experts who recommended they build a seawall.

      The notion that “alarmists” are always “cryin’ wolf” wrong permeates the skeptic’s position.

      • JCH,
        According to the NWS models of the day, hurricanes could not reach up into the Galveston end of the Gulf. That they ignored the history of Indianola, and the Spanish and Mexican historical record was just part of the hubris of confusing models with reality.

      • Previous Storms

        Hurricanes struck Galveston at least 11 times during the 19th century. In 1818, the entire island was flooded to a depth of four feet, leaving only six buildings habitable.

        After a storm inundated the city in 1837, a local carpenter, Joseph Ehlinger, suggested rebuilding the destroyed customshouse on four-foot pilings to raise it above the flood level. After that time, many structures in Galveston, residences included, were built on stilts. A storm in 1867 tore up all but one of the docks and flooded the business area.

        One of the federal government’s earliest weather stations was established in Galveston in 1871 for reporting local weather data to the national weather office.

        They had a choice. The non-alarmists prevailed.

  25. Judith Curry

    Interesting studies.

    Funding various initiatives at a local or regional level to help underdeveloped nations to cope with extreme weather events and other natural disasters by early awareness, preparation and adaptation measures if and when they actually occur, would be a good thing IMO (as you have written before).

    This will save lives, reduce crop losses and minimize other negative impacts of these events on humanity. I can imagine that funding would be available through normal foreign aid channels, but you may have more specific ideas how this could work.

    On the other hand, funneling hundreds of billions of dollars into a global UN slush fund ostensibly to help these same underdeveloped nations mitigate against and adapt to severe weather events and adverse climate changes, which are specifically projected by model simulations to occur as a result of postulated future AGW, seems like a futile endeavor to me.

    As we have seen, the models are unable to predict what is going to happen globally, let along regionally or locally. What’s more, the money would end up like most large slush funds administered by the UN – squandered through corruption or in some dictators’ off-shore bank accounts. And finally, no one has stepped up to pour billions into this fund.

    Plan A makes sense.

    Plan B does not.

    Max

    • Put Mike Smith’s book ‘Warnings, the True Story of How Science Tamed the Weather’ in every library in the world
      ================

      • Currently $16.47 at Amazon with free super saving shipping. Rave reviews from those working in the field. (I haven’t ordered it, I’m still waiting for an early-October order to arrive … Amazon have despatched a second copy.)

      • I’ve just read the first dozen pages on Amazon preview [nope, no guilt whatsoever] – seems there’s nothing about the green and pleasant England where I reside and where we’re hoping for a couple more degrees of life-giving warmth… but where we don’t have any of that weird weather you guys fret about.
        Should I brace myself for the onslaught of funny spelling to learn more of Stateside Met Officing? For ten of my English pounds sterling? Including free delivery to my door?
        You know what? I think I may.

  26. As the money goes so the rice bowls will follow.

  27. I noticed that some of the authors or editors of the subject pieces appear in a research tool that is under construction:
    http://tome22.info/People/Hulme-M.html
    http://tome22.info/People/Dessai-S.html
    http://tome22.info/People/van-Aalst-M.html
    Is there any interest in this sort of information?
    Please don’t jump to any conclusions based on this new tool as it is still full of known and unknown problems.

  28. I’ve just come across some very apposite advice from Taleb (TBS, 2nd ed, p/b, p 203):

    “What you should avoid is unnecessary dependence on large-scale harmful predictions – those and only those. Avoid the big subjects that may hurt your future; be fooled in small matters, not in the large. Do not listen to economic forecasters or to predictors in social science … but do make your own forecast for the picnic. By all means, demand certainty for the next picnic; but avoid government social security forecasts for the year 2040.

    “Know how to rank beliefs not according to their plausibility but by the harm they may cause. …

    “The bottom line: be prepared! Narrow-minded prediction has an analgesic or therapeutic effect. Be aware of the numbing effect of magic numbers. Be prepared for all relevant eventualities.”

    CAGW in 2100? Who knows? Floods in Brisbane in early 2012? Take sensible precautions.

    • I whole-heartedly and whole-headedly agree. Do not be seduced by the degree of catastrophe in the long predictions, especially when they are the products of imagination!

  29. Dr Curry –
    A happy Christmas to you and yours and many thanks for Climate Etc – it is much appreciated.

    “My main question is why adaptation should be attempted and funded only for AGW, and not to address risks associated with the current climate and natural climate variability?

    This is very close to my own thoughts. It seems to me that people are not so much vulnerable to climate change [even if we could predict and quantify it] but to climate. As such, all efforts devoted to increasing adaptability to climate automatically cover adaptations to climate change. Perhaps most obviously, development of all the basic kinds should be a first priority because vulnerability correlates so highly with poverty. The obsession with focusing on ‘change’ seems somewhat misguided.

  30. Well, I see all sorts of dumb things done without regard to looking at climate history. First of all they use “averages” for determining water allocations and for declaring droughts (x years below mean is drought) when I believe they should be using medians because the precipitation varies so widely here that means have no real value. In a 10 year period they might fall short of the mean 7 years of the 10.

    Another thing is long term “normals”. Northern California is currently in one of its wettest periods in 500 years. What we consider a “drought” is nothing. Go 70 feet deep into many Sierra Nevada lakes and you will find stumps of trees. Lake Tahoe has been below its outlet for centuries at a time during the Holocene. The people who make policy have no clue what nature can dish out in California. We could easily fall into a 100 year period of drought. We have no concept of that being able to happen at the policy level. Water desalinization plants have been disapproved by coastal counties on the grounds that they would “encourage development”. A day will come when they wish they had built them.

  31. Judith,

    By current science standards…
    If you flip a coin, you may have the same chances at predictions in the current climate science community.
    Precipitation and wind energy is still not temperature events.

  32. As a consultant, and someone who has (for my sins) read many, many consultants’ reports, I just laughed when I read the Exec. Summary. Given the terms of reference, I could have written that in a couple of hours at most with no annoying data collection or analysis whatsoever. It would not be hard to backfill the rest from there.

    “Partnerships” are the current black. I notice that “low hanging fruit” has been replaced by “quick gains” or somesuch (can’t be bothered scrolling back). Just about every cliche and platitude in the Consultants’ Handbook (2011 edition) is there.

    There are so many unquestioned assumptions, and lazy elisions from one assumption to the next, it is hard to count them. Do people really get paid for this nonsense?

    Is there one constructive, concrete suggestion that will actually deliver help to people who live in the path of severe weather events, however caused?

    Ching, ching! How much did this dollop of gloop cost, and who paid?

    • Johanna –
      Thanks for expressing clearly what was a slightly muddled intuition on my part. Maybe the weight of expressions such as this –
      “effective partnership is highlighted as the single most critical ingredient for success” eventually have a mind-numbing effect.

      I agree too about the glaring lack of concrete constructive suggestions. I don’t know whether this is naive, but wouldn’t ‘more prosperity’ give all people vulnerable to severe weather events the wherewithal to make their own appropriate choices? Just a thought :)

  33. Anteros, thanks, I was beginning to wonder if I was the only one who was gobsmacked by the irrelevance of this report.

    Reports like this never cease to amaze me. Every time there is a natural disaster, anywhere in the world, the various organisations that have a role in dealing with it fail to communicate, have different priorities etc. Stating that this is a problem is hardly rocket science. Wittering on about ‘partnerships’ has no practical effect whatsoever.

    While it is true that people’s capacity to deal with natural disasters is significantly affected by their personal wealth, in the end if something really bad happens, no amount of money can save you.

    There are two distinct areas to be examined – prevention, and treatment, (to use a medical metaphor). This report manages not to offer anything useful in either category.

  34. David can you clarify how adaptation rhetoric is full of empty thoughts?

    • Sure Hunter. People talk about adapting to AGW but no one is specific about what kinds of projects they want to build, nor how much they will cost, much less what justifies them. What climate model do you use to decide to build flood control dams where none are now needed? Or irrigation systems, where rain is now plentiful? Or perhaps both in the same place, because the models disagree. Are they talking about relocating existing cities, or towns, or rural populations, in anticipation of these new threats? Or perhaps just regulating the way people live?

      We are already as adapted to natural climate extremes as we can afford to be, because we have been at it for a long time, around the world. I worked on the US Flood Control Program in the 1960’s. Of course we will continue to make progress, but these folks are in fact talking about diverting money away from adapting to known threats in order to adapt to speculative AGW threats. It is just as nuts as emission reduction, maybe more so, because it is more expensive. The only reason people do not see this is because of the deliberate vagueness, the empty rhetoric.

      Of course if they want to put money into adapting to known threats that is fine, but it is not AGW adaptation. AGW adaptation means doing things you would not otherwise do.