Friday, July 13, 2012

Planning Climate Change Adaptation

Greetings from the Melbourne Business School, where I am taking part in a "Climate Services Think Tank", hosted by the Bureau of Meteorology and the University of Melbourne. Apart from the sponsoring organizations there are people from Victorian coastal councils, which face flooding and inland councils with an increased bushfire risk. The moderator put me on the spot by asking me to speak first on why I was there. So I explained I was in Melbourne to speak at ICCSE2012, on education for climate change mitigation and was interested in the overlap with adaptation. I commented that climate science was easy and the hard part was getting people to actually do something (which got a round of applause).

The first speaker was David Walland from BoM, on the Global Framework for Climate Services. Meteorologists have been collaborating internationally for hundreds of years, through the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and is predecessors. The area being focused on with climate change mitigation is how to put the existing climate information in a form which can be used to make decisions. There are other UN bodies involved, such as United Nation's office for disaster risk reduction, UNISDR.

The major issue here seemed to be that meteorology bureaus were used to providing short term predictions, over hours to months, whereas climate change is about decades. If a flood is predicted in a few hours, then it is relatively easy to get decision makers to listen, but harder if the risk is decades away. Also people do not welcome bad news and so it needs to be from a credible source (the Bureau of Meteorology is credible, whereas some UN body may not be).

One issue to come out of the discussion was that the debate over human induced climate change may adversely effect adaption. If people don't believe that climate change is caused by human activities, they may then not listen to adaption advice. In terms of adaption, it might be better to avoid mentioning causes.

Better Communication of Climate Change Information Online

One theme of the event was better commutation. What struck me was that the web based examples show of what was considered good, did not appear to me to be well designed web pages. The web pages were too complex, with too much information. An example, is the Department of Primary Industries, Victoria's "Climate Risk" website. This contains a considerable amount of information, but not organized in a way which is easy to find or understand.

Some of the impacts of climate change can be subtle. AN example is that Victoria's wine industry is at risk of bushfire. The grapes absorb smoke from bushfire which taints the wine made. This can only be discovered after the wine is made. Grapes burnt from excessive UV light are unsuitable for making sparkling wine.

Andrew Watkins from BoM Climate Change Adaption, talked on dealing with real time climate variability. This seemed a curious term, as in this case "real time" is over months, not minutes. BoM put out ENSO Wrap UP, Seasonal Outlooks and Rainfall Ranges. What stuck me was these documents all have a lot of text and a few graphs. They would be very difficult to interpret for a non-expert. Some newer report formats use more maps with "hazard warnings" marked on them. Also BoM are exploring interactive maps and podcast videos.

Along the way there was discussion of "Climate Dogs", which turned out to be a series of animations from DPI, using cattle dogs:
Fire Risk

Fred Cumming from Department of Sustainability and Environment talked about fire risk. He discussed the risk and consequences with climate change. As an example, dry lightening causes fires, but only "dry lightening", not accompanied by heavy rain. Fred pointed out that planning for fire has a long lead time. Firefighters need to be trained and equipment obtained. The Elvis the firefighting helicopter needs to be booked a year in advance.

Professor Jim McLennan, La Trobe University, discussed research interviewing survivors of the Black Saturday Bushfires. There were extensive media warnings of an extreme fire danger. Of those interviewed, 50% could recall the warnings, 20% were oblivious. About 80% of those who were aware of the warnings prepared for the fires. Farmers and rural townspeople had a high level of awareness of the fire threat, but bushland dwellers did not. Very few people chose to leave before the threat and these were elderly, had children, or had what were occasional residences. A few people left under imminent threat, after a warning from a friend or relative, or sight of the flames or embers approaching.

Of those who stayed and defenced their homes, 80% were successful. Professor McLennan reported similar results from later WA fires. Reports on response to bushfire warnings are avialable from the Bushfire CRC.

This research suggests that issuing warnings is not easy, as people want certain, local and short term warnings. Unfortunately this is not technically possible and may require rethinking as to warning and response strategies. It may be necessary to have a stay and defend policy, because it is not possible to issue sufficiently precise evacuation advice.

Climate data for emergency management of floods has similar issues to bush-fires. However, flooding and inundation can happen at any time of year, it is not seasonal. Victoria had a policy of planning og a sea level rise of at least 0.8m by 2100, but this was too long term for real politics. The new policy is for 1% plus 0.2m by 2040. The Victorian Government provides a Victorian Coastal Inundation Dataset, but the details can be hard to interpret for the general community.

One issue to come up with flood data was who the predictions are for: experts or the general public?

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