Discussion: Research Priorities

A number of research priorities were identified by workshop participants. They covered a broad range of issues: linking vulnerability, impacts, and adaptation research with mitigation and climate models; developing risk approaches; linking across scales; scenarios; stakeholder involvement; support for pending decisions; and research syntheses.

LINKING VULNERABILITY, IMPACTS, AND ADAPTATION RESEARCH WITH MITIGATION AND CLIMATE MODELING

Increasing agreement is emerging that mitigation and adaptation policies and research cannot be treated separately from one another. The two are tightly linked in the context of broad tradeoffs in both macro-level climate response strategies and more localized decision contexts, such as infrastructure, transportation, and land use planning. Even with strong mitigation initiatives, some adaptation will be needed. Conversely, insufficient mitigation efforts will preclude or nullify some or all adaptive strategies due to the magnitude of earth system change. Despite recent calls for integration across adaptation and mitigation, including within the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) process, progress in this direction has thus far been limited. Adaptation work generally receives less attention and funding. Scales, tools, and methods of analysis often differ between the two areas of research and policy.

Path-breaking initiatives can be developed in the area of integrated planning for adaptation and mitigation, especially at the regional scale.



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement



Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.
Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.

OCR for page 23
Discussion: Research Priorities A number of research priorities were identified by workshop par- ticipants. They covered a broad range of issues: linking vulnerability, impacts, and adaptation research with mitigation and climate models; developing risk approaches; linking across scales; scenarios; stakeholder involvement; support for pending decisions; and research syntheses. LINkING VuLNERAbILITy, IMPACTS, AND ADAPTATION RESEARCH WITH MITIGATION AND CLIMATE MODELING Increasing agreement is emerging that mitigation and adaptation policies and research cannot be treated separately from one another. The two are tightly linked in the context of broad tradeoffs in both macro- level climate response strategies and more localized decision contexts, such as infrastructure, transportation, and land use planning. Even with strong mitigation initiatives, some adaptation will be needed. Conversely, insufficient mitigation efforts will preclude or nullify some or all adaptive strategies due to the magnitude of earth system change. Despite recent calls for integration across adaptation and mitigation, including within the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) process, progress in this direction has thus far been limited. Adaptation work generally receives less attention and funding. Scales, tools, and methods of analysis often differ between the two areas of research and policy. Path-breaking initiatives can be developed in the area of integrated planning for adaptation and mitigation, especially at the regional scale. 

OCR for page 23
 NEW DIRECTIONS IN CLIMATE CHANGE Without such efforts, it is likely that feedback loops will generate unin- tended consequences. For example, biofuel production is affecting food security, which in turn has impacts on migration, health, land use, and sustainable development. Increased efficiency in energy production can increase rates of energy use. Demographic trends or shifts can overwhelm otherwise effective strategies for mitigation, adaptation, or both. The effects of water projects can vary with different levels of flow and usage. As multiple stressors accelerate, these kinds of feedback relationships across mitigation- and adaptation-related variables are likely to increase in policy importance. Researchers need to ask questions such as: Are there critical thresholds in the ability to adapt? If so, what kinds of response can avoid these thresholds? How might future climate-related changes, especially abrupt ones, affect remaining capacities for climate change response? For instance, might some livelihood systems become more or less feasible? Are certain populations more vulnerable? Climate modelers are also becoming more interested in issues of vulnerability, impacts, and adaptation, especially as they give more seri- ous attention to more severe climate futures than previously examined. In the emerging effort to develop linked mitigation-adaptation scenarios and models, the community of vulnerability, impacts, and adaptation researchers needs to be a full partner, not just to provide input data as an add-on or afterthought. Nonetheless, the necessary integrated approaches have not yet been developed. Both communities will be challenged and will need to work together to address this research front. Development of improved capabilities for vulnerability, impacts, and adaptation model- ing in integrated assessment will depend on underlying research by the vulnerability, impacts, and adaptation research community and more focused vulnerability, impacts, and adaptation models and tools that are interoperable with climate models. Approaches to modeling and data acquisition for climate impacts will, in many cases, be scaled differently than for climate drivers: the impacts work will be more local and regional and will need to scale up. In all likelihood, modeling of climate drivers will require downscaling as well. Innovative approaches will be required to overcome data limitations. DEVELOPING RISk APPROACHES Participants observed that decision makers are coming to accept that climate change is a risk management problem, which implies a need to attend more to events that have low probabilities of occurrence, but can produce dramatic impacts if they do occur. Analytic structures are needed to think about costs and benefits in risk terms, to estimate the sensitiv- ity of cost to mitigation, and to address the variety of climate-driven

OCR for page 23
 RESEARCH PRIORITIES hazards. Climate change projections are now giving greater credence to more severe changes in average temperature and other parameters. Some decision makers are becoming more interested in these low-probability, high-impact risks. In addition, indications that prior earth system models grossly underestimated the uncertainty bounds of rapid and large-scale phenomena, such as ice sheet melting, suggest that more attention is merited by other extreme events to which low estimated probabilities have been previously assigned. For example, projected rises in sea levels vary widely even within a narrow range of mean global temperature increases. Physical scientists often prefer to discuss phenomena for which they can cite higher confidence levels, which tend to be associated with higher probability and lower-consequence events. At the same time, public offi- cials often avoid discussing low-probability, high-impact phenomena to avoid alarming constituencies. Improved climate models may reduce uncertainties around the locations, timing, and extent of future impacts, but less research attention has focused on the considerable uncertain- ties about how associated vulnerabilities and adaptation measures will change over time. The concept of risk as a product of statistical probability and social consequence resonates with decision makers. The following research directions can help the vulnerability, impacts, and adaptation community to engage with risk approaches more directly: • Analyze impacts and adaptation approaches in terms of risk, on both short- and long-term time scales, and for both social groups and locales. • Ask in what instances communities understand their risks or per- ceive themselves as able to reduce risk. • Ask in what instances the cumulative reduction of small-scale risks increases or decreases vulnerability to more significant events. • Provide clear information about risks as input to cost-benefit discussions. LINkS ACROSS SCALES Researchers in the field of vulnerability, impacts, and adaptation often conduct finely scaled analyses, which are essential, but to be useful for broader climate-related research, policy, and assessment their work must link upward to larger geographical scales. The rigor of the research itself can be sharpened, not necessarily with quantitative models, but with care- ful selection of datasets and methods. Regionally integrated studies are one option, such as analyzing the

OCR for page 23
 NEW DIRECTIONS IN CLIMATE CHANGE growth, use, and outputs of specific biomass sources and how they inter- face with local ecosystems and resources in specific places. These results can be structured as scenarios or narratives. If this research community is to respond to emerging needs for decision support, a series of correspond- ing methodological needs arise. Stakeholder involvement is a related issue that may merit separate attention. SCENARIOS Illustrative scenarios, storylines, and regional narratives are com- pelling ways to use qualitative methods to accomplish integration and identify potential disasters. They can be constructed from the bottom up, incorporating participation by stakeholders and vulnerable groups. They can begin with the scenarios of projected greenhouse gas concen- tration pathways and physical impacts. For example, as a metropolis such as Mexico City faces increasing water scarcity and decreasing water quality, what are two or three possible adaptation routes and associated complications? Such scenarios, however, need to incorporate feedback mechanisms. For example, gains in economic development or energy supply have effects on fertility and other demographic variables. Even small demo- graphic changes can foil expectations for existing and pending policies. Public perceptions are often of central importance. Perceptions of risk and of capacity to effect change can influence the success or failure of policy, since policy implementation relies on a series of actions by individual and collective decision makers. Outcomes may be highly contingent on a broad range of human-environment variables. STAkEHOLDER INVOLVEMENT Some workshop participants expressed concern that it may be neces- sary to balance tradeoffs between research coordination and stakeholder participation. Stakeholders and implementation communities are some- times included early and intensively in research project development without sufficient forethought or caution. These groups are diverse in their needs, goals, roles, values, and definitions of success. Many are vul- nerable to political pressures, which can discourage healthy scientific cri- tique or unduly raise client expectations. Risk management frameworks, as noted above, can assist. Corresponding models may be available from adaptation work by public health organizations.

OCR for page 23
 RESEARCH PRIORITIES SuPPORT FOR PENDING DECISIONS There is a growing need for short-term decision support, includ- ing rapid assessments and indicators. Workshop participants identified ways in which researchers in vulnerability, impacts, and adaptation might contribute: • Provide clear and precise quantitative estimates of climate change impacts and costs of mitigation and adaptation failures, as needed by decision makers, even if these must be accompanied by caveats and uncertainties. • Develop metrics that are useful in decision making, including inte- grated monetary and nonmonetary social indicators. • Identify the economic and social costs and benefits of specific adap- tation measures, such as ecosystem protection, health interventions, and land use measures. • Rely on scientific foundations vetted by the IPCC to help protect against political censorship or backlash. RESEARCH SyNTHESES Increasing opportunities are arising to link diverse human– environment research methods, data and research areas, including quali- tative and quantitative methods, space-based observational datasets, and security perspectives. To make these connections, researchers in the field of vulnerability, impacts and adaptation need to be clear and articulate in communicating the broad range of variables that must be included for effective, integrated, quantitative models, recognizing that appropriate inputs may vary for particular decision support goals and users. Par- ticipants noted several specific research areas in need of attention and synthesis: • Identify specific outputs needed from biogeochemical models of climate change as inputs to analyses of vulnerability, impacts, and adaptation. • Elevate understanding of empirical complexities in human- environment systems, such as institutional and demographic dynamics, that are often neglected in existing impacts projections. Economic analy- ses tend to focus only on aggregate impacts, without looking at unquan- tified household- and local-level phenomena that ultimately scale up to larger scale impacts. They also tend to rely on means, excluding impacts of more extreme and nonlinear physical phenomena. • Use the strengths of systems theory to facilitate interactions across working group communities and within the vulnerability, impacts, and adaptation community.