by Judith Curry
Informing the extensive preparations needed to manage climate risks, avoid damages, and realize emerging opportunities is a grand challenge for climate change science.
Hell and High Water: Practice Relevant Adaptation Science
R.H. Moss and 27 coauthors
Abstract. U.S. President Obama underscored the need for this research when he made climate preparedness a pillar of his climate policy. Adaptation improves preparedness and is one of two broad and increasingly important strategies (along with mitigation) for climate risk management. Adaptation is required in virtually all sectors of the economy and regions of the globe, for both built and natural systems.
Published in Science, [link]
“Adapting to an evolving climate is going to be required in every sector of society, in every region of the globe. We need to get going, to provide integrated science if we are going to meet the challenge,” said senior scientist Richard Moss of the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. “In this article, we describe the foundations for this research and suggest measures to establish it.”
Climate preparedness research needs to integrate social and climate science, engineering, and other disciplines. It prepares for impacts by determining who and what are most vulnerable to changes and considering ways to adapt.
“Science for adaptation starts with understanding decision-making processes and information needs, determining where the vulnerabilities are, and then moves to climate modeling. A final step tracks whether adaptation is effective,” said Moss, who is based at the Joint Global Change Research Institute, a collaboration between PNNL in Richland, Wash. and the University of Maryland.
“The need to adapt and adjust is going to be global,” said Moss. “We need a flexible, integrated approach that merges theoretical and problem-oriented sciences around four general challenges.”
The four challenges are:
- Understanding what information is needed to make decisions about adapting to climate change
- Identifying vulnerabilities in society, the economy and the environment
- Improving forecasts and climate models in ways that can address specific problems
- Providing technology, management, and policy options for adapting
“Traditionally we think that what society needs is better predictions. But at this workshop, all of us – climate and social scientists alike – recognized the need to consider how decisions get implemented and that climate is only one of many factors that will determine how people will adapt,” he said.
The focus on problem-solving could open up new sources of funding as well, sources such as non-governmental organizations, industry—any group with specific problems that adaptation science could solve.
Excerpts from Science article
Some excerpts from the actual article in Science, chosen to highlight what I think is best from this article:
There are serious science gaps, however. In many communities, decision-makers lack climate information or the means to apply it. In others, knowledge of current or potential future impacts exists, but not in a form or context that decision-makers can assimilate or act on in advance. In still others, engineering innovations are needed, as well as social science knowledge, to guide technology deployment and adjustments to management, investments, and public policy.
A key characteristic of emerging adaptation science is that it is both basic—in that it contributes to understanding fundamental physical, environmental, and socioeconomic research questions—and applied, because it is problem focused.
Adaptation science research must clarify what types of scientific information are required for improved decision-making. Decision-makers are concerned with cost, feasibility, social acceptance, tradition, and other factors. To close a “usability gap,” scientific information must fit into existing contexts.
Research to characterize vulnerability and adaptive capacity focuses on pinpointing infrastructure, economic sectors, geographic areas, population groups, and ecosystems at greatest risk of harm. Two challenges are to:
Improve data, methods, and scenarios for research on vulnerability and resilience of human and natural systems. A georeferenced data system for factors such as population, economic status, preparedness, natural capital, and location of sensitive infrastructure needs to be established and maintained to identify vulnerable human communities and environments. Effective response will be aided by understanding the extent to which vulnerability arises from poverty, under-investment, environmental factors, and their interactions with climate variability and change.
Identify climate thresholds in vulnerable systems. Knowledge of climate and related thresholds, points at which fundamental transformations occur in natural or human systems as climate changes, will improve resource management and inform debates about future atmospheric greenhouse gas stabilization. Coupled with time-dependent climate scenarios, improved knowledge of climate thresholds may help in estimating when effects could occur and thus facilitate setting adaptation priorities.
Research challenges include:
Understand recent and potential future changes in extreme climate events. Extremes occur on many spatial and time scales. They include heat waves, droughts, floods, storms, and other events that have major effects on human and natural systems. A concerted focus on detecting changes in extremes and improving predictive products can provide important inputs to adaptation planning and preparedness.
Improve integration of weather and climate information. Common elements of initializing predictions with observations and providing probabilistic weather and climate information across time scales can constitute a unified approach for weather forecasts and climate predictions. Decadal climate predictions with next-generation, high-resolution global climate models have the potential to produce probabilistic near-term climate information over the next decade and improve insight into future conditions to which human societies will have to adapt.
Tailor climate information to facilitate its application in decision-making.Sustained interactions among researchers and decision-makers are needed not only to understand how climate affects assets or resources but also to identify how climate information can be used in decisions. In addition to global climate models, other tools can produce relevant information, such as less computationally intensive intermediate-complexity models, qualitative scenario planning approaches, and decision-analytic approaches to use climate model information in ways that supplement conventional scenario-led studies.
Learn from experience. A number of knowledge platforms are beginning to catalog and evaluate experiences to promote information exchange and learning. Learning and disseminating of lessons needs to be accelerated to improve decision-making.
JC comments: In my excerpts, I cherry picked the good stuff, and didn’t mention the text that IMO is more dubious, such as establish government climate services, downscaling of climate model results, etc.
Several key issues:
- Climate adaptation is fundamentally a local/regional issue, and climate models have no skill on these spatial scales.
- Natural climate variability is arguably more important than forced climate variability on regional scales, even if you buy the IPCC’s arguments re AGW.
- Extreme weather events (or climate, in the case of drought) are the key issues for adaptation, and climate models are pretty much useless in this regard.
While the emphasis of this article is on AGW and climate models, they do acknowledge ancillary factors of relevance to adaptation decision making and the use of tools other than climate models.
The most significant point may be the heralding of a move away from climate science in support of CO2 mitigation and in the direction of adaptation. We have clearly reached the point of diminishing returns from research and large climate modeling in support of refining emissions targets. The move towards adaption, if done sensibly, gets around the issue of the attribution of change/variability.
This article is written with a clear objective of increasing the funding base for adaptation use-inspired climate research. Ok, but they make it sound that a huge investment of government funds is needed to figure out how to do this, with the establishment of national climate services, etc. Well, this simply isn’t needed. Engagement of climate researchers with decision makers related to adaption is happening all over the place. In the U.S., universities regularly support decision making on climate variability/change being made by their state and local governments. Companies that are concerned about this issue are dealing with private sector weather/climate risk management firms.
But what about the poor third world countries? Well, national and regional governments who are concerned are able to link up with any number of NGOs that are active in this area. My company, Climate Forecast Applications Network, regularly deals with such issues. One current project (Peter Webster is the GT lead) deals with heat waves in India [press release] — with the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) facilitating the linkages between scientists and agencies in India with the relevant researchers in the U.S.
So while the GT/CFAN team has fairly extensive on the ground experience in actually making these adaptation applications work, we generally are not successful in getting government grants targeted at adaption — somehow we fail to fill in all the boxes of touchy-feely stuff that the government agencies and review panels think is required to make this work. I’m not complaining personally, but rather I am stating that government funding of academic involvement in climate services may not be a useful path for actually providing useful decision support.