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Science for Climate Change Adaptation: Enhancing Decision-Support Capability

5 August - 10 August 2012

Workshop Chair(s):
Gerald Meehl
Richard Moss




About the Workshop

The IPCC Fourth Assessment Report in 2007 relied heavily on the SRES scenarios that were run in global coupled climate models to produce climate change information on various timescales in the future.  Formally, none of the SRES scenarios were mitigation scenarios (although one achieved GHG concentrations without explicit climate policies at a level that now seems ambitious).  Research on responses was commonly segregated into two efforts: mitigation to prevent further contributions to climate change, and adaptation to prepare for and manage climate changes that are unavoidable.  In the intervening years, there has been substantial evolution in the framing of the climate change issue.  The societal challenge is now being framed as a combination of adaptation, to respond to changes to which the climate system is already committed over the next several decades, and mitigation, where efforts started now will have significant consequences for the magnitude and nature of climate change and associated impacts after mid-century.  The emerging emphasis on “adaptive risk management”, now reflected in the approach of US National Climate Assessment, seeks to integrate adaptation and mitigation.  The new Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) scenarios grew out of collaborations between the integrated assessment and climate modeling communities that were started in part at an AGCI session in 2006.  The RCPs do not provide socioeconomic scenarios, and these are currently being developed to support research on impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability, as well as anthropogenic forcing and mitigation.  This is important because achieving the lower RCPs will clearly require explicit mitigation policies.  At the same time, a new field of climate science called decadal climate prediction is attempting to produce more viable climate change information for adaptation planning and decision support over the next thirty years or so.

While mitigation has taken precedence in previous policy discussions, the growing awareness that some impacts have already occurred and that more are likely to happen regardless of future mitigation has brought the need for adaptation into sharper focus.  In response, numerous decision-making bodies at regional, national and international levels are placing greater priority on adaptation planning and are echoing the need for physical and social science to inform their efforts.

This growing emphasis on adaptation leads to a greater need for the research and decision-making communities to work in coordination with one another so that scientists can effectively communicate projected climate change impacts and accompanying uncertainties, and decision-makers can describe their information needs to researchers and modelers.  In addition, metrics to evaluate the success of actions taken need to be developed and more consideration should be given to how to place adaptation actions in the context of ongoing efforts toward mitigation.

This interplay between adaptation and mitigation, and the mix of social and physical science research that will be required as we move forward, is reflected in the recent USGCRP Strategic Plan.  A primary goal in the Plan is to advance scientific knowledge of the integrated natural and human components of the Earth system, with a key objective to explore science for adaptation and mitigation.  This would involve advancing understanding of the vulnerability and resilience of integrated human-natural systems. A second major goal listed in the Plan involves providing the scientific basis to inform and enable timely decisions on adaptation and mitigation.  Achieving these objectives will necessarily involve identifying scientific information needs for different types of adaptation decisions, as well as improving the deployment and accessibility of science to inform decisions at the mitigation-adaptation interface.  More clearly defining these concepts and identifying the research that needs to be integrated from various disciplines to provide the elements of “adaptation science” and support integrated risks management are still research issues remaining to be framed and addressed.

Therefore, this Aspen Global Change Institute interdisciplinary workshop will address the science requirements for adaptation planning in relation to science capabilities, particularly with regards to decadal climate prediction, and explore how to enhance decision-support capabilities for climate change adaptation planning. The meeting will include diverse representation from the public and private sectors, users of climate adaptation knowledge, federal agencies supporting science programs on adaptation issues, climate modelers, integrated assessment modelers, social scientists, and the representatives from the community of researchers working on adaptation topics.

This AGCI session is structured to address five key themes.

1:What types of adaptation decisions are emerging and can these be categorized to help identify the social and natural science information needed to support them?
2: What are the physical and social science requirements and capabilities to support different types of adaptation decisions?
3: How does adaptation fit within the context of mitigation, especially with regards to risk management?
4: How do we monitor progress to know if adaptation is working?
5: Moving forward, what is the science agenda for adaptation, for both social science and physical science?

The overall goal of this workshop is to address the question of what is “adaptation science” and what research is needed to meet the information requirements for different types of adaptation challenges. The immediate output will be to publish a scholarly article that synthesizes the knowledge advanced at the meeting toward answering the above questions. This output will be accompanied by the result of an improved interface between physical scientists, social scientists, and decision-makers on adaptation issues and a more refined adaptation science research agenda that is responsive to the needs of users.