Friday, March 10, 2017

Adapting to climate change: The challenges of transformation

In attempting to adapt to climate change, it is recognised that a continuation of the status quo may no longer suffice and a shift to more radical and transformative approaches may be necessary. In this regard, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) note that transformation is likely to involve a change in underlying norms, values and power structures and an introduction of new institutional and regulatory practices. A recently published paper in the Journal of Extreme Events by researchers from Maynooth University and the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, Norwich highlights the challenges faced in implementing transformative adaptation. The research, being funded by the Irish Environmental Protection Agency, is concerned with understanding societal transformation to manage flood risks across four European countries: Ireland, Austria, France and the Netherlands.

Drawing on flood defence planning in Ireland; specifically, Skibbereen, County Cork and Clontarf, County Dublin, the research identified those barriers that persistently emerge in the context of transformative adaptation. In Skibbereen, transformative adaptation was centred on plans in 2009 to develop a multi-functional environmental park on public land on the towns periphery to alleviate flooding. The concept was designed to provide significant recreational and environmental benefits and was to be the first park of its kind in Ireland in terms of its multi-functionality in integrating both engineering and non-engineering flood measures and recreational facilities. It was deemed transformative on these grounds. In Clontarf, plans by the local authority to construct an earthen mound through the centre of a heavily utilised promenade to reduce the risk of coastal flooding were vehemently opposed by the community in 2011. The project was deemed transformative in that it was considered to fundamentally alter existing social values and norms ascribed to the promenade and its functionality from a community perspective.

The findings showed that three primary factors played a role in creating barriers to transformative change across both case studies, namely threats to emotional place attachment and place identity and rigid regulations in Clontarf, and reliance on technical knowledge in both Skibbereen and Clontarf. Despite ongoing flood risks in Clontarf, interviewees involved in the study highlighted that protection of the form and functionality of the promenade was of primary importance, whereby the community did not wish changes to interfere with their attachment to the landscape nor impinge on their sense of connection to the area. As one local resident noted, the proposed changes would serve to “sterilize the prom” if implemented, something which the community was determined to prevent from happening for current and future generations. In Clontarf, people also criticised how the local authority notified them of the proposed plans, describing communication strategies used as “stone-age”, and highlighting the inadequacy of regulatory practices for notifying the public of proposed flood defence plans. Across both cases, the researchers also found that Irish flood risk management planning is heavily dependent on those with technical expertise, and engineering solutions therefore continue to dominate nationally. Indeed, a representative with responsibility for flood risk management from a local authority typified this argument, noting that if flood defences are not designed that you can put something else in front of it and make it higher, its very difficult to retrofit it.

The study argues that where social or institutional barriers emerge, transformation may more likely succeed through a series of incremental changes. The research has practical implications for future adaptation planning as facilitating transformation through incrementalism requires flexible adaptation strategies that are responsive to changing social values over time. Darren Clarke, a researcher involved in the study commented that “this is one of the first studies of its kind globally to explore barriers to transformative adaptation using real-world examples. The results of this research therefore offer important lessons for future adaptation planning across all sectors as often more is learned when processes fail than succeed.”

Friday, March 3, 2017

PhD Students Attend Sri Lankan Climate Change Conference

PhD researchers at ICAURS Padraig Flattery and Darren Clarke recently attended a climate change conference in Sri Lanka - the 'International Conference on Climate Change 2017: Climate Change, Facing the challenge beyond COP21'. The event was held over two days in Sri Lanka's capital city, Colombo. The conference was facilitated by the International Institute of Knowledge Management (TIIKM), and was attended by students and academics from all over the world.

The conference was chaired by Dr. Erandathie Lokupitiya, who works in the department of Zoology and Environment sciences at the University of Colombo. She opened the conference in the early morning along with representatives from TIIKM.
Dr Erandathie Lokupitiya
The first keynote speech was by Professor Scott Denning of Colorado State University, who gave a fascinating talk on the sources of uncertainty in climate change projections into the future. This was followed by the first technical session of the conference - 'Measurements and modeling in relation to greenhouse gas exchange and future climate prediction'. First up to present was Padraig Flattery who introduced the international audience to soil carbon modelling in Ireland. Other topics in this session included future climate projections and statistical downscaling approaches in Sri Lanka, global carbon flux estimation and mathematical approaches to future climate projection.
Padraig Flattery presenting at the conference
After a fantastic Sri Lankan lunch the afternoon saw a session on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security with topics including Paddy field salinity, climate smart/resilient agriculture, extreme weather and conservation tillage. After this the first day closed with a workshop conducted by Prof. Denning on the role of industry in climate change mitigation - which sparked some interesting conversation and debate.
Selection of the local food 
Day two began early with a session on climate change impacts on forests, biodiversity conservation and natural resource management, followed by a keynote forum by Dr. Elanor Milne from the University of Leicester who discussed land management and climate change co-benefits, accounting tools and the carbon benefits project. The next technical session discussed the impacts of climate change on water, sanitation and livelihoods in the developing world and preparedness, with talks on sea level change, drought, water resources and emergency food reserves.
Traditional dancers and musicians entertain the audience

After another fantastic lunch and interesting poster session, the final technical session on climate change adaptation, mitigation and sustainable development began. Here we heard talks on energy use from tea and rubber manufacturing, livestock production, shrimp farming and gender and climate change. Darren Clarke held the room's attention with his presentation on barriers to transformative adaptation: responses to flood risk in Ireland.

Darren Clarke engaging the crowd

The conference concluded with an award ceremony where each person who presented got a certificate. Prizes were also given for the best presenter in each session, the overall best presentation and a number of plaques were awarded to the keynote speakers and conference chair. Padraig was awarded the 'Session's Best Presentation' certificate and medal for his talk on the first day.

Receiving the medal

Medal winners
Overall it was an excellent conference and a great chance to meet researchers from all over the world. We look forward to getting the opportunity to present our research at international conferences in the future.

By Darren Clarke & Padraig Flattery

The authors would like to express huge thanks to the conference organisers, chair, keynote speakers and people of Sri Lanka for making it such a wonderful trip. Credit for the photos used in this blog goes to TIIKM, taken from their Facebook page

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Too fast or too slow?

The discussion around Karl et al., 2015 continues in certain segments of the media.

Last week, the allegations were that the paper was rushed to influence the Paris agreement. That the multi-year multi-party talks could be swayed by a single paper is of course pure bunkum (as an aside Bunkum arises from the behaviour of a politician from Buncombe County where NCEI is located). The Paris climate agreement was the culmination of thousands of individual studies and painstaking, careful, assessments of a wealth of scientific evidence that led to a conclusion by the governments of the world that action was imperative. That any single study was, or could ever be, a ‘clincher’ is pure fantasy. The weight and breadth of evidence is what convinced all parties and is the work of many thousands of experts.

This week, there has been a volte face (about face) and the allegation instead is that Karl et al. led to a delay in the release of ERSSTv4 which was ‘unacceptable’. You’ll forgive me for a second while I sweep up the remains of my shattered irony-meter strewn about over the floor.

Right, where was I? Well, firstly, the new allegation fundamentally clears up one allegation in that the ERSSTv4 product was in no sense experimental and had undergone full internal review as well as having (at the time) two peer-reviewed published papers describing it.

Huang et al. put out a technical paper, published in the Journal of Climate in February 2015, on the new dataset, accompanied by a paper describing its uncertainties by Liu et al.  The Huang et al. paper covered in detail the dataset specification.  It did not address the implications of the dataset related to temperature trends over the past several decades. It was a highly technical paper focused on explaining the details of new corrections to sea surface temperatures. It was not intended for general public communication.  

At the same time, NOAA and ISTI had in late 2014 released a major upgrade to monthly global land data holdings source that is updated each month in NOAA’s regular global temperature monitoring.  It has extra stations in many regions of the world and improved coverage , and that is why Karl et al. took advantage of this for a snapshot data set analysis that ended in 2014. The envisaged upgrade to GHCNM will regularly add new data and process these data through the existing land analysis processing suite.

Whenever NOAA puts out new data sets, that will be updated each month for tracking global temperatures they always get numerous questions that they have to be able to answer. So, NOAA waited on releasing this new ERSSTv4 data set until the Karl et al. paper was out because the Karl et al. paper presented the implications of the new corrections and new land data sources to previously reported trends appearing in prominent works such as the Fifth IPCC assessment including, but not limited to, the recent behaviour. NOAA took extra steps to ensure the impact of the new corrections and data could be readily explained. It took an extra 4 months to accomplish this. If the Karl et al. paper had not been in the pipeline, arguably NOAA would have had to write up a stand-alone paper to explain the implications of the updated data set, essentially the “Karl et al. paper.”

And there is still nothing in these process complaints that substantiates anything but high-quality science that has already been reproduced by other scientists in peer-reviewed scientific articles. Those studies validated NOAA's work. They validated the science, the data provided to them by NOAA, and the quality of the work.