November 8, 2013
Preparing For The Effects Of Climate Change
Earth's climate is already changing due to the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation and large-scale agriculture. An international group of researchers is urging the development of science needed to manage climate risks and capitalize on unexpected opportunities.
"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."The researchers assert that climate preparedness needs to integrate social and climate science, engineering and various other disciplines. This approach would allow climate scientists to prepare for impacts by determining who and what are most vulnerable to changes, and consider ways to adapt. The findings of this study were published in Science.
"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, Washington and the University of Maryland.
The research team was inspired by a workshop held at the Aspen Global Change Institute in August 2012 on how to improve support for decision-making in the face of a changing climate. The authors of this study cite the need to reduce the risks that climate change presents as the impetus for their research approach.
"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 core challenges Moss discusses are:
- Understanding the information needed to make informed decisions about adapting to climate change
- Identifying societal, economic and environmental vulnerabilities.
- Refining and improving climate models and forecasts in ways that address specific problems
- Providing options for adapting in areas of technology, management and public policy
Moss described work in the US involving water utilities, university scientists, and private firms as an example of how practical and basic research can work together to pilot use of climate models and water utility modeling to design resilient water systems.
"This research is motivated by a practical challenge, ensuring reliable water supplies. Among the scientific advances that will be required is better integration of weather and climate models to improve decadal climate information to help people plan," Moss said.
The Aspen workshop brought together diverse disciplines that allowed the international team to explore all facets of adaptation, including less examined ones such as how scientific information is (and isn't) used in making decisions.
"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.
New sources of funding could open up as a result of the focus on problem-solving. Such sources could include non-governmental organizations, industry - any group with specific problems that adaptation science could solve.
"We will make a virtue of necessity," said Moss.