Reading through the schedule for the AGU fall meeting this December, I came across the following session, scheduled for the final day of the conference (Dec 17). What a great line-up of speakers (I’ve pasted in the abstracts, as they’re hard to link to on the AGU’s meeting schedule):
U52A Climate Change Adaptation:
- 10:20AM Jim Hansen (NASA) “State of Climate Change Science: Need for Adaptation and Mitigation” (Invited)
Observations of on-going climate change, paleoclimate data, and climate simulations all concur: human-made greenhouse gases have set Earth on a path to climate change with dangerous consequences for humanity. We show that the matter is urgent and a moral issue that pits the rich and powerful against the young and unborn, against the defenseless, and against nature. Adaptation can only partially ameliorate the effects, as governments are failing to protect the public interest and failing in their duty to provide young people equal protection of the laws. We quantify the reduction pathway for fossil fuel emissions that is required to restore Earth’s energy balance and stabilize climate. We show that rapid changes in emission pathways are essential to avoid morally unacceptable adaptation requirements.
- 10:50AM Richard Alley (Penn State U) “Ice in the Hot Box—What Adaptation Challenges Might We Face?” (Invited)
Warming is projected to reduce ice, despite the tendency for increased precipitation. The many projected impacts include amplification of warming, sea-ice shrinkage opening seaways, and loss of water storage in snowpacks. However, sea-level rise may combine the largest effects with the greatest uncertainties. Rapid progress in understanding ice sheets has not yet produced projections with appropriately narrow uncertainties and high confidence to allow detailed planning. The range of recently published scaling arguments and back-of-the-envelope calculations is wide but often includes 1 m of rise this century. Steve Schneider’s many contributions on dangerous anthropogenic influence and on decision-making in the face of uncertainty help provide context for interpreting these preliminary and rapidly evolving results.
- 11:10AM Ken Caldeira (Stanford) Adaptation to Impacts of Greenhouse Gases on the Ocean (Invited)
Greenhouse gases are producing changes in ocean temperature and circulation, and these changes are already adversely affecting marine biota. Furthermore, carbon dioxide is absorbed by the oceans from the atmosphere, and this too is already adversely affecting some marine ecosystems. And, of course, sea-level rise affects both what is above and below the waterline.
Clearly, the most effective approach to limit the negative impacts of climate change and acidification on the marine environment is to greatly diminish the rate of greenhouse gas emissions. However, there are other measures that can be taken to limit some of the negative effects of these stresses in the marine environment.
Marine ecosystems are subject to multiple stresses, including overfishing, pollution, and loss of coastal wetlands that often serve as nurseries for the open ocean. The adaptive capacity of marine environments can be improved by limiting these other stresses.
If current carbon dioxide emission trends continue, for some cases (e.g., coral reefs), it is possible that no amount of reduction in other stresses can offset the increase in stresses posed by warming and acidification. For other cases (e.g., blue-water top-predator fisheries), better fisheries management might yield improved population health despite continued warming and acidification.
In addition to reducing stresses so as to improve the adaptive capacity of marine ecosystems, there is also the issue of adaptation in human communities that depend on this changing marine environment. For example, communities that depend on services provided by coral reefs may need to locate alternative foundations for their economies. The fishery industry will need to adapt to changes in fish abundance, timing and location.
Most of the things we would like to do to increase the adaptive capacity of marine ecosystems (e.g., reduce fishing pressure, reduce coastal pollution, preserve coastal wetlands) are things that would make sense to do even in the absence of threats from climate change and ocean acidification. Therefore, these measures represent “no regrets” policy options for the marine environment.
Nevertheless, even with adaptive policies in place, continued greenhouse gas emissions increasingly risk damaging marine ecosystems and the human communities that depend on them.
- 11:30AM Alan Robock (Rutgers) Geoengineering and adaptation
Geoengineering by carbon capture and storage (CCS) or solar radiation management (SRM) has been suggested as a possible solution to global warming. However, it is clear that mitigation should be the main response of society, quickly reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. While there is no concerted mitigation effort yet, even if the world moves quickly to reduce emissions, the gases that are already in the atmosphere will continue to warm the planet. CCS, if a system that is efficacious, safe, and not costly could be developed, would slowly remove CO2 from the atmosphere, but this will have a gradual effect on concentrations. SRM, if a system could be developed to produce stratospheric aerosols or brighten marine stratocumulus clouds, could be quickly effective in cooling, but could also have so many negative side effects that it would be better not do it at all. This means that, in spite of a concerted effort at mitigation and to develop CCS, there will be a certain amount of global warming in our future. Because CCS geoengineering will be too slow and SRM geoengineering is not a practical or safe solution to geoengineering, adaptation will be needed. Our current understanding of geoengineering makes it even more important to focus on adaptation responses to global warming.
- 11:50AM Olga Wilhelmi (NCAR) Adaptation to heat health risk among vulnerable urban residents: a multi-city approach
Recent studies on climate impacts demonstrate that climate change will have differential consequences in the U.S. at the regional and local scales. Changing climate is predicted to increase the frequency, intensity and impacts of extreme heat events prompting the need to develop preparedness and adaptation strategies that reduce societal vulnerability. Central to understanding societal vulnerability, is population’s adaptive capacity, which, in turn, influences adaptation, the actual adjustments made to cope with the impacts from current and future hazardous heat events. To-date, few studies have considered the complexity of vulnerability and its relationship to capacity to cope with or adapt to extreme heat. In this presentation we will discuss a pilot project conducted in 2009 in Phoenix, AZ, which explored urban societal vulnerability and adaptive capacity to extreme heat in several neighborhoods. Household-level surveys revealed differential adaptive capacity among the neighborhoods and social groups. In response to this pilot project, and in order to develop a methodological framework that could be used across locales, we also present an expansion of this project into Houston, TX and Toronto, Canada with the goal of furthering our understanding of adaptive capacity to extreme heat in very different urban settings. This presentation will communicate the results of the extreme heat vulnerability survey in Phoenix as well as the multidisciplinary, multi- model framework that will be used to explore urban vulnerability and adaptation strategies to heat in Houston and Toronto. We will outline challenges and opportunities in furthering our understanding of adaptive capacity and the need to approach these problems from a macro to a micro level.
- 12:05PM Anthony Socci (US EPA) An Accelerated Path to Assisting At-Risk Communities Adapt to Climate Change
Merely throwing money at adaptation is not development. Nor can the focus of adaptation assistance be development alone. Rather, adaptation assistance is arguably best served when it is country- or community-driven, and the overarching process is informed and guided by a set of underlying principles or a philosophy of action that primarily aims at improving the lives and livelihoods of affected communities.
In the instance of adaptation assistance, I offer the following three guiding principles: 1. adaptation is at its core, about people; 2. adaptation is not merely an investment opportunity or suite of projects but a process, a lifestyle; and 3. adaptation cannot take place by proxy; nor can it be imposed on others by outside entities.
With principles in hand, a suggested first step toward action is to assess what resources, capacity and skills one is capable of bringing to the table and whether these align with community needs. Clearly issues of scale demand a strategic approach in the interest of avoiding overselling and worse, creating false expectations. And because adaptation is a process, consider how best to ensure that adaptation activities remain sustainable by virtue of enhancing community capacity, resiliency and expertise should assistance and/or resources dwindle or come to an end.
While not necessarily a first step, community engagement is undoubtedly the most critical element in any assistance process, requiring sorting out and agreeing upon terms of cooperation and respective roles and responsibilities, aspects of which should include discussions on how to assess the efficacy of resource use, how to assess progress, success or outcomes, what constitutes same, and who decides. It is virtually certain that adaptation activities are unlikely to take hold or maintain if they are not community led, community driven or community owned. There is no adaptation by proxy or fiat.
It’s fair to ask at this point, how might one know what communities and countries need, what and where the opportunities are to assist countries and communities in adapting to climate change, and how might one get started? One of the most effective and efficient ways of identifying community/country needs, assistance opportunities and community/country entry points is to search the online archive of National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPAs) that many of the least developed countries have already assembled in conformance with the UNFCCC process. Better still perhaps, consider focusing on community-scale assessments and adaptation action plans that have already been compiled by various communities seeking assistance as national plans are unlikely to capture the nuances and variability of community needs. Unlike NAPAs, such plans are not archived in a central location. Yet clearly, community-scale plans in particular, not only represent an assessment of community needs and plans, presumptively crafted by affected communities, but also represent opportunities to align assistance resources and capacity with community needs, providing the basis for engaging affected communities in an accelerated process. Simply stated, take full advantage of the multitude of assessment and planning efforts that communities have already engaged in on their own behalf.