Science for climate risk management and climate justice

By Thomas Schinko and Reinhard Mechler, IIASA Risk, Policy and Vulnerability Program

Discussions on dealing with the already palpable as well as future burdens from climate change have moved into the spotlight of international climate policy. They are being tackled as part of the climate negotiations via the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM) for Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change Impacts (Loss and Damage Mechanism), a measure for dealing with impacts and adaptation related to extreme climate events and slow onset events that was agreed in 2013. Debate on the scope, framing and on how the mechanism will eventually be implemented is still continuing, and is heavily framed around moral issues such as compensation, liability, and a need for attributing disasters to climate change, which is a difficult and complex issue.

Opening of COP 21 on 29 November 2015. Photo: Benjamin Géminel via Flickr

Opening of COP 21 on 29 November 2015. Photo: Benjamin Géminel via Flickr

To help move this contentious debate forward, we recently organized a meeting at IIASA to set up a broad scientific network to support work under the Loss and Damage Mechanism with rigorous and evidence-based research.

Since the first climate negotiations, climate justice has been a major source of contention, with countries disagreeing on the level of responsibility for climate change and the extent to which developed and developing countries should contribute to the solutions. These discussions have predominantly focused on climate mitigation responses, but over the last few years, impact and risk issues have moved into the limelight.

Discussions in the run-up to the 21st Conference of the Parties to the Climate Convention (COP 21) in Paris make it clear that answering key questions revolving around climate justice and climate finance will be pivotal for the conference to deliver on any global climate change agreement.

Even though some rich countries currently appear to acknowledge the central role of a mechanism covering losses and damages within a new global climate agreement to be negotiated at COP 21 in Paris, huge reservations remain. With changing climates, extreme weather events are likely to increase in frequency as well as in intensity. The global North fears exposure to soaring claims for financial compensation by countries of the global South, which will be facing the most severe risks from climate change. In fact, even the meaning and nature of Loss and Damage is still being debated – some suggest the Loss and Damage mechanism should be part of adaptation, while others want it to focus on residual risks that remain after adaptation efforts have been taken. For example, it could finance potential climate-induced migration.

Discussion of compensation raises complex issues about liability, and would presumably require attribution of losses and damages to emitters. Indeed, climate science has been making great progress in attribution research. Recent work has shown a significant human element in mega-events such as superstorm Sandy in 2013 in the US or the Australian heatwave in 2013. Yet, as our kick-off meeting reconfirmed, linking anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions to extreme weather events and to risks for people and property will remain extremely complex, not least as risks from climate-related events are shaped by many factors, including climate variability, rising exposure of people and assets, as well as socio-economic vulnerability dynamics. While the basic case for climate justice has been made, the concrete, enforceable case remains much harder to establish.

A protest for

A protest for “climate justice” at Quezon City, Philippines on 14 November 2015. Photo: RB Ibañez via Flickr

For these good reasons and to not derail the debate by fixating on questions regarding liability, the debate has extended beyond the narrow focus on compensation – the omnipresent elephant in the room of the UNFCCC process. The meeting at IIASA, which brought together 14 researchers from 10 institutions and 8 countries, also suggested that for a productive discussion, it makes sense to focus broadly on managing various climate risks by fostering current policies and practices while keeping the climate justice debate in close consideration.

This proposal essentially suggests to build on a long history of managing climate-related (and geophysical driven) extremes by employing a broad portfolio of different disaster risk management tools, including financial instruments such as insurance or regional risk pools. As identified also by the IPCC’s 5th assessment report, building on this body of knowledge and practice for comprehensively tackling existing and increasing extremes, holds a lot of promise and has seen international support, e.g. by the Sendai Framework for Action.

The discussion at IIASA focused on these two angles – climate justice and climate risk management – and worked out the following specific foci and building blocks for an evidence-based research approach to support the operationalization of the Loss and Damage Mechanism:

  • Articulation of principles and definitions of Loss and Damage, including ethical and normative issues central to the discourse (e.g. liability and responsibility).
  • Definition of the Loss and Damage space vis-á-vis the adaptation space.
  • Research on the politics and institutional dimensions of the debate.
  • Defining the scope for dealing with sudden-onset risk versus slow-onset impacts.

In the coming months the novel network effort will tackle these issues and questions in order to provide actionable but research-based input into the Loss and Damage deliberations.

Note: The authors thank the researchers present at the kick-off event at IIASA for their input on the topic and this blog post: Florent Baarsch (Climate Analytics, Berlin), Laurens Bouwer (Deltares, Delft), Rachel James (University of Oxford), Stefan Kienberger (University of Salzburg), Ana Lopez (University of Oxford), Colin McQuistan (Practical Action, Rugby), Jaroslav Mysiak (FEEM, Venice), Ilan Noy (University of Wellington), Joeri Roegelj (IIASA), Olivia Serdeczny (Climate Analytics, Berlin), Swenja Surminski (LSE, London), Koko Warner (UNU-EHS, Bonn)

References
Bouwer LM (2013). Projections of future extreme weather losses under changes in climate and exposure. RiskAnalysis 33(5):915–930

Herring, S.C., Hoerling, M.P., Peterson, T.C., Stott P.A. (eds) (2014). Explaining extreme events of 2013 from a climate perspective. Special Supplement to the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society 95(9)

James, R., Otto, F., Parker, H., Boyd, E., Cornforth, R. Mitchell, D. and M. Allen (2014). Characterizing loss and damage from climate change. Nature Climate Change 4: 938-39

Mechler, R. Bouwer, L., Linnerooth-Bayer, J., Hochrainer-Stigler, S., Aerts, J., Surminski, S. (2014). Managing unnatural disaster risk from climate extremes. Nature Climate Change 4: 235-237

Peterson, T.C., Hoerling, M.P., Stott, P.A., Herring, S.C. (2013). Explaining Extreme Events of 2012 from a Climate Perspective. Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., 94: S1–S74. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1175/BAMS-D-13-00085.1
Trenberth, K.E., Fasullo, J.T., Shepherd, T.G. (2015). Attribution of climate extreme events. Nature Climate Change 5: 725–730. doi:10.1038/nclimate2657

This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the Nexus blog, nor of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

Pessimism is not an option: The road to sustainable development

Interview with Naoko Ishii, CEO and Chairperson of the Global Environment Facility (GEF), an independent organization that provides grants for projects working towards sustainability. IIASA, the GEF, and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) have recently partnered on a new project to explore integrated solutions for water, energy, and land.

Naoko Ishii ©Global Environment Facility

Naoko Ishii ©Global Environment Facility

Q What is sustainable development and why is it important?
As Brundtland put it, sustainable development meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

If we do not achieve sustainable development, we will fail to provide even the barest essentials of life—food, water, and shelter—for the growing population. The extra two billion people that will inhabit the world in 2050 can only be accommodated if we are serious about sustainable development.

On a personal level I care about sustainable development because I care about the future, I care about young people, and I care about humanity. Achieving sustainable development is, in my opinion, the single most important issue we face today. Without it, all life on Earth is in jeopardy.

The Global Environment Facility (GEF) was created on the eve of the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio to assist in the protection of the global environment and promote sustainable development. The benefits of such an endeavor have only become clearer over time. It is no coincidence that in 2015 all nations of the world will adopt a set of sustainable development goals which place a strong emphasis on the “global commons,” and that in parallel we have a new global agreement on climate change within reach.

How do you see the world in 2050? What are your most optimistic and pessimistic visions?
I am an optimistic person so I will say that, by 2050, every government, every business, and every individual will take the environment into consideration in all their actions. By 2050, we will all be caring for the Earth, taking responsibility for the use of our planet’s resources, and building economies which will leave no one without dignity or necessary subsistence. We will live within safe planetary boundaries. Pessimism is not an option for me.

How can science help the world achieve sustainable development?
Science plays a critical role.  We need it to monitor the state of our resources, the impacts of our activities, and the progress being made.  Science can also help identify solutions. It can help encourage businesses to make smart decisions, for example, about saving money though energy efficiency, risk mitigation, and new revenue opportunities driven by innovation and new business models.

Sustainable development is a truly cross-cutting endeavor: it spans many sectors, from agriculture to economics, and transcends national boundaries. Science can play an important role by producing research that is integrated, cross-sectoral and international. In this way, synergies, co-benefits, and trade-offs can be explored in order to identify the smartest paths to achieving multiple sustainable development goals at the same time

©The GEF

“Sustainable development is a truly cross-cutting endeavor: it spans many sectors, from agriculture to economics, and transcends national boundaries.” ©The GEF

How do you see the role of Global Environment Facility in implementing the Sustainable Development Goals?
The GEF is uniquely placed to support the global commons—the planet’s finite environmental resources that provide the stable conditions required for a sustainable, prosperous future for all.  Our new strategy—GEF2020—lays out an ambitious vision for the GEF, aimed at addressing the underlying drivers of environmental degradation and delivering integrated, holistic, solutions. We are building on more than 20 years of experience providing support to over 165 countries. By working with national governments, local communities, the private sector, civil society organizations and indigenous peoples, we help find and implement integrated solutions to global challenges.

What are the advantages of a cross-sectoral and cross-border approach to identifying paths to sustainable development?
Many environmental challenges and threats to sustainable development do not respect borders.  Moreover, they are often interdependent, or share common drivers. For example, biodiversity loss and climate change is partly driven by unsustainable forest management, which is in turn connected to production of globally traded commodities like palm oil or soy. Problems like this require an integrated, cross-cutting approach.

Given the importance of cross-sectoral interventions, at the GEF we will be implementing a program of integrated approach pilot projects. We believe that these will help countries and the global community in tackling underlying drivers of environmental degradation. I am also very excited about a research program we have recently launched in partnership with IIASA and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization, focusing on development and implementation of integrated solutions to tackle the water-food-energy nexus.

Note: This article gives the views of the interviewee, and not the position of the Nexus blog, nor of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

Beating the heat with more data on urban form and function

By Linda See, IIASA Ecosystems Services and Management Program

We had another very hot summer this year in Europe and many other parts of the world. Many European cities, including London, Madrid, Frankfurt, Paris and Geneva, broke new temperature records.

Cities are particularly vulnerable to increasing temperatures because of a phenomenon known as the urban heat island effect. First measured more than a half a century ago by Tim Oke, the increased temperatures measured in urban areas are a result of urban land use, or higher amounts of impervious surfaces such as concrete and concentrated urban structures. The urban heat island effect impacts human health and well-being. It’s not just a matter of comfort: during the heat wave in 2003, more than 70,000 people in Europe are estimated to have perished, mostly urban dwellers.

IMG_7148

Summer 2015 in Ljubljana, Slovenia. ©K. Leitzell | IIASA

While climate models have many uncertainties, they do all agree that the urban heat island effect will increase in frequency and duration in the future. A recent article by Hannah Hoag in Nature paints a bleak picture of just how unprepared cities are for dealing with increasing temperatures. The paper cites positive and negative examples of mitigation from various cities but it falls short of suggesting a more widely applicable solution.

What we need is a standardized way of approaching the problem. Underlying this lack of standards is the paucity of data on the form and function of cities. By form I mean the geometry of the city–a 3D model of the buildings and road network, and information on the building materials—as well as a map of the basic land cover including impervious surfaces like roads and sidewalks, and areas of vegetation such as gardens, parks, and fields. Function refers to the building use, road types, use of irrigation and air conditioning and other factors that affect local atmospheric conditions. As climate models become more highly resolved, they will need vast amounts of such information to feed into them.

These issues are what led me and my colleagues (Prof Gerald Mills of UCD, Dr Jason Ching of UNC and many others) to conceive the World Urban Database and Access Portal Tools (WUDAPT) initiative (www.wudapt.org). WUDAPT is a community-driven data collection effort that draws upon the considerable network of urban climate modelers around the world. We start by dividing a city into atmospherically distinct areas, or Local Climate Zones (LCZs) developed by Stewart and Oke, which provides a standard methodology for characterizing cities that can improve the parameters needed for data-hungry urban climate models.

Using freely available satellite imagery of the Earth’s surface, the success of the approach relies on local urban experts to provide representative examples of different LCZs across their city. We are currently working towards creating an LCZ classification for all C40 cities (a network of cities committed to addressing climate change) but are encouraging volunteers to work on any cities that are of interest to them. We refer to this as Level 0 data collection because it provides a basic classification for each city. Further detailed data collection efforts (referred to as Levels 1 and 2) will use a citizen science approach to gather information on building materials and function, landscape morphology and vegetation types.

The Local Climate Zone (LCZ) map for Kiev.

The Local Climate Zone (LCZ) map for Kiev.

WUDAPT will equip climate modelers and urban planners with the data needed to examine a range of mitigation and adaptation scenarios: For example what effect will green roofs, changes in land use or changes in the urban energy infrastructure have on the urban heat island and future climate?

The ultimate goal of WUDAPT is to develop a very detailed open access urban database for all major cities in the world, which will be valuable for many other applications from energy modelling to greenhouse gas assessment. If we want to improve the science of urban climatology and help cities develop their own urban heat adaptation plans, then WUDAPT represents one concrete step towards reaching this goal. Contact us if you want to get involved.

About the WUDAPT Project
The WUDAPT concept has been developed during two workshops, one held in Dublin Ireland in July 2014 and the second in conjunction with the International Conference on Urban Climate in Toulouse; a third workshop is set to take place in Hong Kong in December 2015. More information can be found on the WUDAPT website at: http://www.wudapt.org.

References
Bechtel, B., Alexander, P., Böhner, J., Ching, J., Conrad, O., Feddema, J., Mills, G., See, L. and Stewart, I. 2015. Mapping local climate zones for a worldwide database of form and function of cities.  International Journal of Geographic Information, 4(1), 199-219.

Hoag, H. 2015. How cities can beat the heat. Nature, 524, 402-404.

See, L., Mills, G. and Ching. J. 2015. Community initiative counters urban heat. Nature, 526,43 (01 October 2015) doi:10.1038/526043b

Stewart, I.D. and Oke, T.R. 2012. Local Climate Zones for urban temperature studies. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 93(12), 1879-1900.

Wake, B. 2012. Defining local zones. Nature Climate Change, 2, 487.

Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the Nexus blog, nor of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

Interview: Population characteristics and the climate

IIASA demographer Erich Striessnig talks about new research linking population change with climate change scenarios.

What does your research say about population and climate?
In our recent review article published in the journal Population Studies, we give a summary of much of the work that has been carried out over the past few years both at IIASA and at the Wittgenstein Centre for Demography and Global Human Capital (IIASA, VID/ÖAW; WU) on the contribution of changes in population size and structures to greenhouse gas emissions, as well as societies’ capacity to adapt to climate change. Similar to Mia Landauer in last week’s blog entry, we emphasize the importance of addressing challenges to mitigation and adaptation jointly.

What’s new or unexpected in this study?
The main novelty behind our approach is the explicit inclusion of the full population detail by age, sex, and educational attainment in assessments of societies’ future adaptive and mitigation potential. This is exemplified in the context of IPCC-related climate change modelling which until recently has included only very limited information on the future of population. The new Shared Socioeconomic Pathways (SSPs), which were developed with a huge contribution by IIASA, are an important step to overcoming this situation and to make models of both future greenhouse gas emissions, as well as vulnerability and adaptive capacity with respect to climate change far more realistic.

Population characteristics - not just size - make a major impact on greenhouse gas emissions as well as people's ability to adapt to a changing climate. ©Chris Ford via Flickr

Population characteristics – not just numbers – make a major impact on greenhouse gas emissions as well as people’s ability to adapt to a changing climate. ©Chris Ford via Flickr

Why is it important to consider the composition of population in regards to future climate change issues?
When thinking about the challenges of the future, it is important also to think about the capabilities that future societies will have to face them. I don’t mean that we should simply lean back and wait for science-fictional future technologies to solve all the problems of humanity, but a look at the changing future composition of populations around the world gives reason for optimism that future societies will be better at preparing, coping, and dealing with the consequences of yet unavoidable climate change than we are today.

What are the links between education and climate change?
Particularly in the developing world, education leads to reduced poverty. But economic growth and the resulting greater affluence, and consumption, also increases global CO2 emissions. So on a first look, education appears to worsen climate change. This has made some environmental activists skeptical about the value of education in the context of mitigation. But to avoid playing poverty eradication and well-being against climate change mitigation, it is necessary to look at behavioral differences at given levels of income. In fact, better education has been shown to be related to more eco-friendly consumption behavior, especially when it comes to home energy use and transportation, two of the main drivers of climate change. In addition to that, education has also been a major driver of technological advancements in the transition to cleaner energy sources.

Research shows that people's education levels also play a role in how adaptable they are to potential climate-related impacts such as storms and floods. ©Aldrich Lim via Flickr

Research shows that people’s education levels also play a role in how adaptable they are to potential climate-related impacts such as storms and floods. ©Aldrich Lim via Flickr

How do the new SSPs bring demography into the study of climate change?
Population growth is undoubtedly one of the main drivers of greenhouse gas emissions and thus climate change. What’s far less acknowledged is the importance of differential climate impact depending on demographic characteristics. Groundbreaking work by researchers from IIASA and the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) featured in the article has shown that people have different footprints when they are young than when they are old and that household consumption differs between rural and urban dwellers. Providing different scenarios for the future composition of populations by age, sex, and educational attainment, the new SSPs for the first time allow researchers from different fields to study the dynamics between population and climate change within a common reference frame.

References
Lutz W, Striessnig E (2015) Demographic aspects of climate change mitigation and adaptation. Population Studies: A Journal of Demography, 69(S1):S69-S76 (April 2015). doi: 10.1080/00324728.2014.969929

O’Neill, Brian C., Michael Dalton, Regina Fuchs, Leiwen Jiang, Shonali Pachauri, and Katarina Zigova. “Global Demographic Trends and Future Carbon Emissions.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 107 (October 2010): 17521–26. doi:10.1073/pnas.1004581107.

Note: This article gives the views of the interviewee, and not the position of the Nexus blog, nor of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

Interview: Linking climate adaptation and mitigation

In a new study in the journal Climatic Change, IIASA Guest Research Scholar Mia Landauer explores the interrelationships between policies dealing with climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Why did you decide to do this study?
Adaptation and mitigation have been traditionally handled as two separate policies to combat climate change. We wanted to explore whether adaptation and mitigation can or should be considered together, because the implementation of the two policies takes place at different scales and the goals of the two climate policies are often considered distant from each other. We approached this question with a systematic literature review, because although such reviews are common in other research fields such as health sciences, there are only a few examples in social and environmental sciences. Ours was the first systematic analysis on how the interrelationships have been studied across different research fields and how these studies have conceptualized the issue.

The United Nation Headquarters complex in New York turns out their lights in observance of “Earth Hour,” in 2015. Credit: John Gillespie via Flickr

Cities are at the forefront of climate policy making and climate impacts. The United Nation Headquarters complex in New York turns out their lights in observance of “Earth Hour,” in 2015. Credit: John Gillespie via Flickr

What were the major findings of your study? What was new or unique?
We found that cities in particular should consider adaptation and mitigation together, because cities are in the forefront of climate policy making and urban actors have to negotiate trade-offs between the two climate policies across multiple scales. We found the highest number of publications on interrelationships between adaptation and mitigation from the field of urban studies.

Our systematic review provides knowledge on how synergies can be identified and conflicts avoided across different urban sectors and scales which is valuable for urban decision makers and planners when they have to consider climate policy making and planning practices.

Why are cities important when researching climate change adaptation and mitigation?
Our systematic review reveals that there is an increasing interest to study the interrelationships especially in cities, which face challenges of global change both in developing and developed countries. Especially under limited resources, integrated adaptation and mitigation strategies can provide a possibility to increase efficiency of cities’ responses to climate change.

A green wall in Paris shows just one example of building innovations to help mitigate climate change. Credit: Mia Landauer 2013

A green wall in Paris shows just one example of building innovations to help mitigate climate change. Credit: Mia Landauer 2013

What are the major conflicts and synergies you identified?
At the organizational scale, the trade-offs and conflicts we found between adaptation and mitigation showed up especially in urban policy and administrative processes, and allocation of resources. In practice, conflicts appear especially when there are competing land uses such as between public and private land. We also identified a number of synergies, which are indications of positive interrelationships. In practice, synergies can be found particularly in the building, infrastructure and energy sectors, with examples ranging from passive building design to urban greening and alternative energy options. In order to enhance synergies, changes in regulations and legislation, policy and planning innovations, raising awareness and cooperation between different actors and sectors should be considered.

How can this information be applied for policy making?
Integration of adaptation and mitigation can reduce vulnerability to climate change and help to implement climate policy and planning in a resource-efficient manner. Our analysis identified many opportunities that can be gained from integration of adaptation and mitigation. Especially in cities we find that it can be beneficial for decision makers and planners to consider adaptation and mitigation policies together, in order to avoid conflicts in planning practices and negotiate difficult trade-offs.

Reference
Landauer M, Juhola S, Soederholm M (2015) Inter-relationships between adaptation and mitigation: a systematic literature review. Climatic Change, Article in press (Published online 8 April 2015) http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10584-015-1395-1

Note: This article gives the views of the interviewee, and not the position of the Nexus blog, nor of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.