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What Do We Need to Know in a Changing Climate? A Research Agenda to Support Adaptation

As the world continues to feel the effects of drought, sea level rise, and more volatile weather, it’s clear that adaptation efforts have never been more imperative. These initiatives are critically important in order to protect communities—especially in impoverished places—from the worsening impacts of climate change.

WRI’s Vulnerability & Adaptation team has been working to ensure that adaptation is a central component of the international development agenda. Over the past few years, WRI and its partners have conducted practical research and analysis on three continents across a broad spectrum of adaptation topics, including monitoring and evaluation; case studies on information use for adaptation; the role of national institutions; and a broad set of decision-making principles for a changing climate. But what have we learned from the results of these efforts? And how can we ensure that global adaptation efforts are conducted effectively and efficiently?

We recently stepped back and evaluated the work we’ve done to try and answer these questions. One of our clearest conclusions is that much remains to be learned about “what works” in adaptation. The results of our efforts point toward five areas of long-term, practical, applied research that could help provide a foundation for effective adaptation moving forward: adaptation success, critical thresholds, adaptation options, information systems, and institutions.

A Time for Leadership on Climate Justice

I spent the recent U.N. climate negotiations in Doha trying to reconcile two injustices. The first is captured by Nicholas Stern’s “brutal arithmetic.” This is the simple, unavoidable fact that bold greenhouse gas emissions reductions will be needed from all countries to hold global temperature increase to 2°C above pre-industrial levels, thus preventing climate change’s most dangerous impacts. Developing nations, many of which are battling crippling poverty and inequality at home, are being told that the traditional, high-carbon pathway to prosperity is off-limits, and that they, too, will need to embrace aggressive mitigation actions. This is a glaring injustice – the product of two decades of missed opportunities in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), inadequate domestic action in industrialized countries, and substantial geopolitical changes in major emerging economies.

But the second injustice is even greater – one that is manifest and which must be avoided. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has illustrated, breaching the 2°C threshold would seriously degrade vital ecosystems and the communities who depend on them. This, itself, is an issue of justice, as climate change undermines the realization of human rights, including the right to food, health, an adequate standard of living, and even the right to life. Those same developing countries who are home to the poorest and most vulnerable members of our global community—and who are now compelled to act on reducing emissions—will be hit first and hardest by climate change’s impacts.

Where Is Climate Adaptation Funding Going? A New Project Aims to Find Out

Experts say that developing nations could require more than $100 billion for adaptation each year. Developed countries say that they have already delivered more than $33 billion so far towards this climate adaptation funding.

However, some question whether these funds are going to the right places and meeting real needs. Is adaptation finance being directed towards the nations that need it the most? Is it being used to support projects that will allow people to adapt to climate change’s impacts?

We currently don’t have adequate answers to these questions—but we hope to soon. At the recent UN climate change negotiations in Doha, Qatar, Oxfam, the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), and WRI launched the Adaptation Finance Accountability Initiative to help civil society organizations find out where adaptation finance is really going.

The Question Is: Where Should Adaptation Finance Go?

The easy answer is that adaptation finance should go to activities that strengthen the resilience and reduce the vulnerability of countries most susceptible to climate change’s impacts. People in developing countries will likely be hit hardest by global warming.

While Congress Dawdles, Florida Counties Show Leadership on Addressing Climate Change

"Think globally, act locally" is a slogan that aptly describes what I witnessed last week at the 4th Annual Southeast Florida Climate Leadership Summit. At the event, local government officials from four counties gathered to discuss how to mitigate and adapt to climate change’s impacts.

Yep, you heard that correctly – government officials in the United States—in a “purple” state, no less—came together in a bipartisan manner to address climate change mitigation and adaptation. In fact, mayors, members of Congress, county commissioners, and officials in charge of water issues in the state discussed how to move forward with action plans in response to sea-level rise – a climate change impact which is not theoretical, but happening now.

Putting Aside Partisanship for Action

Unlike Congress, these public officials aren't debating the facts of climate change and its impacts or whether we should act. They see current effects and understand that in the face of streets flooding more regularly, drinking water supplies threatened by salinization, and models showing that some neighborhoods could become uninhabitable, what political party you support is irrelevant. Climate change impacts like sea level rise don't discriminate between Democrats and Republicans.

Rebuilding Cities After Sandy: 3 Keys to Climate Resilience

As negotiators in Doha move toward a new global climate agreement this week, politicians and planners in the United States are still busy absorbing the lessons of Hurricane Sandy.

With half of all Americans living near the ocean, Hurricane Sandy provides a wake-up call for state and municipal authorities in coastal areas nationwide. New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo is leading the way, pledging a new generation of storm-resistant infrastructure and forming three commissions to explore how the state can better prepare for climate change’s coming impacts.

Sandy wrought a 1,000-mile trail of damage in towns and cities along the East Coast shoreline. As climate change intensifies, more severe storms (and storm surges), rising seas, extreme heat, and other destructive impacts loom on the horizon. How can New York City; Newark, N.J.; and other cities hit by Sandy rebuild in ways that avoid a repeat of the devastation that deprived millions of the basic essentials of modern life? How can other coastal cities adapt to become more resilient to a warming climate?

Put simply, they need to “build back better,” a phrase first coined by President Clinton following the 2004 Asian tsunami. In practice, this means coupling short-term efforts to get communities back on their feet with longer-term urban development that adapts to expected climate change impacts.

As they seek to make our coastal cities and towns more climate resilient, urban leaders should adopt three key approaches that we believe will be critical to success:

Why Businesses Must Focus on Climate Change Mitigation AND Adaptation

This week, Hurricane Sandy drew attention to the increasing climate-related risks for communities and businesses.

More and more companies are recognizing and reporting on actions they’re taking to “mitigate” climate change, reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions through energy efficiency, renewable power, and cleaner vehicles. Now, businesses are finding they’ll also need to “adapt” to more volatile conditions and help vulnerable communities become more resilient. Adaptation means recognizing and preparing for impacts like water stress, coastal flooding, community health issues, or supply chain disruptions, among other issues.

WRI discussed why businesses need to embrace mitigation AND adaptation strategies at the recent Net Impact conference, where I sat on a panel entitled: “Climate Change Adaptation: Mitigating Risk and Building Resilience.” Dr. David Evans, Director of the Center for Sustainability at Noblis, moderated the panel. Other panelists included Gabriela Burian, Director for Sustainable Agriculture Ecosystems at Monsanto, and John Schulz, Director of Sustainability Operations at AT&T.

Why Is Choosing a Host Country for the Green Climate Fund Such an Important Decision?

The second meeting of the Green Climate Fund (GCF), the institution that’s expected to become the main global fund for climate change finance, will take place tomorrow in Songdo, Korea. While the Board will discuss several issues—everything from criteria for its executive director to hammering out a work plan—one is likely to take center stage: choosing the Fund’s host country.

Six countries are currently vying for the role: Germany (Bonn), Korea (Songdo), Mexico (Mexico City), Namibia (Windhoek), Poland (Warsaw), and Switzerland (Geneva). The decision is an important one—the appointed country will be tasked with providing a home for one of the main vehicles to help the world’s most vulnerable nations mitigate and adapt to climate change.

WRI and Mary Robinson Foundation Formally Launch the Climate Justice Dialogue

This post was co-authored with Wendi Bevins, an intern in WRI's Climate and Energy Program.

On September 25, the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice (MRFCJ) signed a Memorandum of Understanding, formally launching the "Climate Justice Dialogue." This initiative aims to mobilize political will and creative thinking to shape an equitable and ambitious international climate agreement in 2015—one that ensures environmental integrity and protects the communities most vulnerable to climate change.

The State of International Climate Negotiations

It’s now a full 20 years since adoption of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which is designed to stabilize “greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.” Despite important steps forward in Cancun and Durban, governments acknowledge that their combined efforts in reducing greenhouse gas emissions are insufficient to limit a global average temperature increase to 2°C.

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