Science and Adaptation: Prevention is the Key

Cyclone_NargisCOP23 is significantly emphasizing the impact of extreme weather on climate change adaptation. This issue is even more prevalent with the major weather events that have occurred in the past several months: intense hurricanes in the Caribbean and the southern United States, flooding in South East Asia, and severe drought on the West Coast of the U.S. and northern China. In the opening plenary of the COP23, the Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) laid out our past and our future projections: the outlook was grim. This past year was one of three hottest years on record, with these past five years being the warmest average since the WMO began monitoring in the 1850’s. And unfortunately, these severe weather events tend to impact the most vulnerable communities in the world.

The majority of hungry people live in the most disaster-prone areas of the world, creating an ever-continuous cycle of lack of food and further destruction. But these disasters are usually predictable: we can predict floods, typhoons, and droughts. Science has created a system of which we have a better understanding of how these systems work, when they will come, the effect they will have, and potential steps we can take to avoid their impact.

global-temp-and-co2-1880-2009Article 7.7(c) of the Paris Agreement emphasizes adaptation to climate change, specifically with respect to increased technology and science to prevent the impacts of climate change. But the first step to prevention is warning. The Global Climate Observing System has determined seven global climate indicators to assist in the determination of the status of climate change. These indicators include surface temperature, ocean warming, atmospheric CO2, ocean acidification, sea level rise, glacier mass balance, Arctic and Antarctic sea ice level. These indicators give scientists better understanding and mechanisms of the impacts of climate change. Policymakers and scientists can then turn around and implement these impacts into cohesive plans to adapt to the ever-increasing harm from climate change, using these indicators to better predict where future harms will likely occur.

thailands-rice-farmersThe UN and NGO’s have recognized the importance of science and planning in the implementation of adaptation plans to create better systems for individuals that live in the most prone areas. One particular group, the World Food programme, began implementing investment opportunities in local crops, reducing the focus to small community projects. These investment plans allowed farmers more security in their crops and gave them the ability to invest in better equipment and increased opportunities for advancement of their farming practices. Overall, by ensuring the farmer’s crops, especially in areas that are of greatest concern to climate change, the economy of the entire area was boosted.

Science plays an important role in understanding climate change. But science should also play an important role in the solution. By using the science that is already in place, communities and NGOs can establish better mechanisms for adapting to climate change and the harms that inevitably come with them. Petteri Taalas, Secretary-General of the WMO, warned that these severe weather events we have been observing are only the beginning. If there is no mitigation of climate impacts then the events will only get worse. But before mitigation can make any significant impact, countries must adapt. They must adapt to the impacts of climate change and science can be there, guiding them on their way to more sustainable development and security.