This week it has been upheaval one after another. Australian politics at the moment seems to be in full disarray with climate change again being at the centre of controversy as a policy issue.
Yet, the good news is that climate adaptation is still moving forward in many ways.
Yesterday we organised as part of the Griffith Climate Change Response Program an event to bring together some of the thinking at the global, national and subnational levels on how adaptation can and is moving forward.
Adaptation is still moving on, regardless
Professor Mark Howden, Vice Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Working Group II, spoke about the history of the IPCC and how adaptation has been included in the assessments over time.
Mark noted how IPCC really is “the biggest science policy experiment of our time” in how the assessment process is organised and how it aims to remain policy relevant in the questions that are being asked and answered.
What I found interesting were Mark’s reflections on the kinds of issues that we need to rethink: for example, currently the global climate modelling research and hazard and impact assessments are receiving most of the funding.
Yet, we are increasingly seeing changes in trends, and there is a need to start investing more also on adaptation related knowledge, including social sciences.
There is also scope to discuss whether the current assessment format is the most efficient that takes years to complete (every 7 years) and whether there are other formats that would make the assessment faster but also more responsive to current issues and trends.
There is also the issue of communication: how are we using the messages coming out of the assessments to influence change and how are we engaging with those tasked with making decisions on adaptation (which broadly could be everyone).
National level formats and mechanisms for adaptation
Professor Roger Street from Oxford University presented also on how countries like UK, Japan, Canada and Ireland are planning for climate adaptation, all in different ways.
My big takeaway message from this was that each country has taken a slightly different pathway partly due to the institutional arrangements in place but also the cultural context.
Some have put climate adaptation acts in place at the national level (e.g. Japan just now in 2018) whereas others like Canada do not have a specific legislation for adaptation.
Canada has very much emphasised voluntary action based on its Federal Adaptation Policy Framework; this work is being supported by Climate Change Adaptation Platform and also by 5-yearly reports that can provide evidence on where Canada is tracking in adapting to climate change.
This comes for example in a form of evaluation indicators and also really involving indigenous organisations in discussions what adaptation in Canada should look like.
Japan in other hand has legislated only a few months ago a Climate Change Adaptation Act that will come into effect in December this year. The government has also developed A-PLAT form that has also a significant component on local level training and access to information.
In the United Kingdom, the four countries of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have all national level frameworks but also are doing some big picture thinking how these activities fit together at broader scales.
Subnational level engagement in adaptation in Queensland
We also had the privilege to hear from the Queensland government’s Georgina Roodenrys who is the executive director for climate change department.
Georgina outlined the different strategies and ways that Queensland government is tackling the discussion on adaptation, and how her department is engaging with other government departments and communities in discussing what future in Queensland can and should look like.
What I found really refreshing was Georgina’s observations that if we don’t start thinking about a vision for the future, we are hardly going to get there in a unified manner.
Also, she acknowledged how important it was to have discussions with communities about the future and also realise as a government that the future that some communities might want does not necessarily fit into what the state government wants.
That values are highly crucial factors, which need to be at the forefront of thinking when it comes to climate change adaptation, and that the local level is also in a key role for example through organisations like Local Government Association of Queensland.
Launch of Adaptation Limits book
Last but not least we had the launch of the Limits to Climate Change Adaptation book that I co-edited with Professor Walter Leal Filho.
Mark Howden was kind enough to say a few words about the timeliness of this book and also how this area of research needs urgent focus in the scholarly community (I of course fully agree).
With 22 unique chapters, I feel I have only grasped the very top of the iceberg when it comes to the information contained in these chapters.
Having read through most chapters recently, the picture that is emerging about adaptation limits is obviously very complex.
I am far from convinced that we can consider for example a biophysical limit (e.g. intolerance of species to salt water) as a standalone limit.
Perhaps it makes sense when trying to identify thresholds to how far ecosystems can remain and function as they are, but what I am really seeing in these chapters is the interaction of these different kinds of limits (and constraints).
These interactions seem to result in a limit that can also be defined as “a precise point in time when livelihoods are compromised beyond reasonable hopes of recovery” (Luetz, 2018, p. 407).
If we look at how limits are talked about and interpreted in the popular culture, there seems to often be the assumption that limits are just in our heads and that if we just persist enough, we can move these and excel (resulting in success).
But what the book has really shown to me at least is that there are many hard limits that we simply can’t just change.
Yet, there are also hard limits that become soft over time: pastoralists in Niger (Chapter 7), who have had to abandon this livelihood due to increasingly unfavourable climatic conditions, have returned to pastoralism after years once they have saved enough money to reinstate the peak livestock number they need for a viable herd.
But all in all, we need more empirical evidence of what adaptation limits look like and start carving out a robust research agenda that can also enable identification of the interactions of these limits and ways to avoid some of these.
So watch this space as am starting to further brainstorm what these concepts really mean in practice…