In recent years, the idea of climate change adaptation has received more and more attention and has become even more urgent with the unfolding of a number of extreme weather-related calamities. I wrote a piece on climate change adaptation last year here on RealClimate, and many of the issues that I pointed to then are still relevant.
The dire consequences of flooding, droughts and heatwaves that we have witnessed the last couple of years suggest that our society is not yet adapted even to the current climate. One interesting question is whether the climate science community is ready to provide robust and reliable information to support climate change adaptation when the world finally realises the urgency to do so. In other words, we need to know how to use the best available information the right way.
Much of the knowhow concerning consequences of global warming and climate science has evolved within the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP), which is undergoing a transition and will emphasise regional climate information for society (so-called “RiFS” – one of many unnecessary acronyms). However, I feel the pace of this transition is slow compared to changes we have seen in weather patterns and climate recently.
WCRP oversees the COordinated Regional climate Downscaling EXperiment (CORDEX) that recently has published a whitepaper on dynamical downscaling and one on empirical-statistical downscaling. Those witepapers are useful, but since they are two separate papers focussing on more academic aspects, I don’t think they consolidate the downscaling approaches into something that can become more robust and reliable for climate change adaptation. There is also a whitepaper from the European Climate Research Alliance (ECRA) which is more geared towards consolidation.
I’m impatient when it comes to seeing developments regarding both climate change adaptation as well as mitigation, and therefore I decided to organise a hybrid workshop in Oslo to accelerate the pace of progress when it comes to climate change adaptation. The workshop was hosted by the Norwegian Meteorological Institute and involved a collaboration with CORDEX, the Norwegian Public Health Institute and ESA. Its web page provides more information about it: https://sites.google.com/met.no/concord-oslo-workshop.
One objective of the workshop was to facilitate discussions within the regional climate modelling community on how to proceed together with impact researchers. It did involve a degree of coproduction of knowledge itself as it also included impact researchers. We wanted to take stock of the present situation regarding our experience and preparedness of providing guidance for climate change adaptation. It’s sometimes useful to take a step back and ask whether we are heading in the right direction.
Some of the issues discussed during the workshop
There was an expressed concern that climate change adaptation is threatened by the time aspect (“something that will happen in the far future”) and that it’s not regarded as an urgent need. Furthermore, long time planning is required, but other more emerging things are higher prioritised. On top of this, there also seems to be a lack of useful information according to some participants.
Sometimes there is no data or information and sometimes there is too much. And the users don’t know exactly how to choose between the whole available dataset or a selection of a small number of climate model results. Climate scientists are still thinking about how to extract useful information, which can be interpreted as useful messages that decision-makers can act upon.
Ensuring transfer of reliable knowledge and actionable information requires effort, time and money. Merely providing climate simulations is not enough for impact assessments, and we need a framework for this. One point was made about the provision of climate indices/services often being too generic and do not fit the users needs
There is sometimes a misunderstanding concerning why climate models necessarily don’t align with historical observations. Further cross-sectoral cooperation is essential as there was an impression that many impact modellers don’t know how to use climate simulations as input for their models. Hence there is a large variety in the way of use of available climate information and knowledge.
Although there are some guidelines provided by Euro-CORDEX, they may still be difficult to use for people with limited climate literacy. We need to bring together information from climate models, observations, process understanding, meteorological understanding and expert judgement to come up with storylines of the plausible worst case for planning purposes, allowing for stress-testing of scenarios etc.
The workshop participants represented countries from all over the world who had concerns that can be described by a wide range of examples of climate impacts, such as dust storms in the Middle East, typhoons outside Japan, projections of flooding in the Andes, icing on power lines in Norway, impact on groundwater resources in the UK (FUTURE-DRAINAGE), and links between admission data for cardiovascular disorders and temperature in Europe (EXHAUSTION).
In South Asia, there are plans for robust projections of climate extremes and adaptation (APN). Regional climate information is also relevant for renewable energy potential, and extreme precipitation is of course always a concern.
There is an impression that more work is dedicated to the use of dynamical (regional climate models, RCMs) than empirical-statistical downscaling (ESD). Perhaps less trust is put in the latter because of lack of knowledge of how physically consistent they are.
High spatial resolution is desired, but also large ensembles are needed (“the law of small numbers”, see ). The topic of Machine learning was also discussed, and nonlinearity is a challenge. A concern about inconsistencies among the nested simulations was acknowledged, and there is a need to measure the skill and quantify the uncertainty.
One challenge, of course, is having reliable observations with good coverage. Nevertheless, I think that we can say that we both have traditional challenges connected to the modelling of regional climate, in addition to cross-sectoral challenges concerning coproduction of knowledge and how to best get multi-directional flow of knowledge.
C. Deser, R. Knutti, S. Solomon, and A.S. Phillips, “Communication of the role of natural variability in future North American climate”, Nature Climate Change, vol. 2, pp. 775-779, 2012. http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nclimate1562