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5 Within- and cross-chapter integration and review process

5 Within- and cross-chapter integration and review process

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Climatic Change (2016) 135:157–171

the importance of ongoing assessments for managing climate risk and maximizing economic

opportunities are scattered throughout the NCA3 report. However, the fundamental role of

assessment in decision processes is not mentioned explicitly in either the mitigation or

adaptation chapters of the report; it is only referred to in the chapter on sustained assessment

(Buizer et al. 2013).

The lack of discussion of the relationship between assessments and decision support in the

NCA3 synthesis report was primarily due to length limits. However, future assessment

processes could be more explicit about the relationship between specific assessment topics

and the ways that they either can or should support societal decision processes.

5 Reframing and refining the role of assessments in climate adaptation

5.1 Reframing the conceptual model

The NCA3 Adaptation chapter emphasizes the cyclic or iterative nature of adaptation processes, identifying the importance of stakeholder engagement in the adaptation process.

However, portraying a simple learning loop, it implies that assessment inputs occur at only

one stage of the adaptation cycle—primarily in the context of evaluating adaptation options.

We would argue that assessment activities can and should also be undertaken within the

Bmonitor and evaluate,^ Bidentify risks,^ and Brevise strategy^ stages. Likewise, the Adaptation

chapter focuses primarily on documenting the state of planning and implementing specific

adaptation actions at multiple scales without substantial emphasis on the state of knowledge of

adaptation processes more generally, likely related to the relative infancy of evaluating

adaptation efforts.

There are more detailed depictions of adaptation approaches. In particular, the

adaptation cycle of Willows and Connell (2003) importantly identifies an iterative

risk assessment sub-cycle. Another approach, outlined by Meinke et al. (2009),

identifies multiple points of assessment and incorporates initial components of a

theory of change. We suggest yet another alternative schematic (Fig. 1) that draws

on these earlier figures but more explicitly illustrates how multiple assessment types/stages

support adaptation.

In this figure, the central triangle draws a link to Bennett’s (1975) hierarchy of

objectives, recognizing that a range of societal ‘values’—though clearly evolving over

time and visible in multiple ways through policy, regulations, economic choices, and

lifestyles—form the basis for societal decision-processes that affect everything else in

the cycle (O’Brien 2009). Emerging from these values are aspirations that must be tempered by

what can actually be done due to physical, economic, social and psychological

constraints (e.g. Grothmann and Patt 2005). Above these in the triangle are strategies

to realize the aspirations. Specific adaptation decisions are then needed to take the strategies into

adaptation actions.

Surrounding all and interacting particularly with the adjacent parts of the triangle is the

adaptation-assessment cycle, initiated (at right) with scoping (i.e. should we even be concerned

about climate change risks?), and proceeding through an impacts assessment/adaptation

assessment cycle of traditional Brisk assessment^ or Bvulnerability assessment,^ then an

assessment of response strategies, necessary associated capacities, and barriers, followed by

assessment of effectiveness of the actions taken. This evaluation work should ideally be done

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Climatic Change (2016) 135:157–171

Fig. 1 Conceptual outline of the roles of assessment in adaptation

after metrics are selected, baseline monitoring processes are in place, and the actions

are implemented.

5.2 Assessment of barriers and adaptive capacity

Evaluation of institutional barriers and adaptive capacity is a particularly important consideration in successful adaptation and there is a growing literature on building both specific and

generic climate adaptive capacity as a pre-disposing factor for adaptation (Lemos et al. 2013;

IPCC 2014a). There are also several ways in which adaptive capacity can be assessed, at least

in relative terms, at individual, community, regional, and national levels (Nelson et al. 2010)

that can inform decision makers about where adaptive capacity is weak or strong and what can

be done to build it. It is important, however, to recognize the limitations of large-scale

(national) or generalized adaptive capacity assessment approaches in terms of how they are

conceptualized, and the different approaches needed, depending on the specific climate risks

being considered and their utility in actual decision-making (Hinkel 2011). Adaptive capacity

can be more usefully assessed in systems that are more narrowly defined, where deductive

approaches can identify key adaptive capacity variables. Inductive approaches can link these to

specific outcomes where data are consistently available (Hinkel 2011).

While in the NCA3 there are many statements recognizing the need for enhancing adaptive

capacity, there are only two instances where there is any detail about what constitutes adaptive

capacity and what aspects needed to be enhanced. Notably, improving understanding of

adaptive capacity was recognized as a key research need in the NCA3 Research Agenda

chapter. Subsequent assessment reports could focus more explicitly on assessing specific and

general adaptive capacity within specific decision contexts in order to facilitate adaptation

(Lemos et al. 2013).


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Climatic Change (2016) 135:157–171

5.3 Intersections of adaptation and mitigation

Despite its advantages, Fig. 1 does not consider the impacts of adaptation actions on emissions

trajectories (and vice-versa). These considerations should be integral but are often missing in

adaptation assessments, and this omission may become more problematic as climate impacts

escalate. There is a particular need to assess how adaptation may affect achievement of

mitigation goals and how mitigation activities may limit or facilitate adaptation over time

(Rosenzweig and Tubiello 2007) rather than treating these as independent topics. For example,

the 2014 IPCC Working Group II Report (IPCC 2014a) states that most categories of

adaptation to climate change have positive impacts on mitigation. These include healthier

and more productive soils, crops, and grasslands, greater water security and protection from

flooding, greater diversification of crops and agroforestry to cope with more extreme weather

events and climate change. For example, from 2002 to 2007, Uganda increased the number of

certified organic farmers by 359 %, increasing prices received and organic exports, while

greenhouse gas emissions for these farms are estimated to be 64 % lower than those from nonorganic farms (Sukhdev et al. 2010).

Because information for decision support is becoming more critically needed over time, and

there are so many potential paths forward, assessments should have clear strategic framing

focused on achieving specific objectives (NRC 2007). Developing assessments that are truly

useful is likely to require moving away from the linear, climate-impact focused assessment

process into assessments that are more decision-focused and iterative and that include both

adaptation and mitigation components, and with multiple scales of analysis Bnested^ within a

broader framework as suggested by the NRC 2007 report. These more focused, but perhaps

more intellectually-challenging kinds of assessments could be periodically harvested as

Binterim reports^ in a sustained assessment process as was suggested in the NCA3 advisory

committee report on building a sustained assessment process (Buizer et al. 2013).

Development of reports that are responsive to the scale, context, and decisions at hand, but

that focus on synergies and trade-offs (including with mitigation goals) could be another

important output of a sustained assessment.

5.4 Reframing climate issues: implications for assessments and adaptation

Accumulating changes in global temperatures and other climate-related factors are increasingly

being attributed to human influence via net greenhouse gas emissions rather than the natural

processes that have controlled past climate fluctuations, such as solar and volcanic activity,

changes in the Earth’s orbit and decadal variability driven by ocean conditions (Melillo et al.

2014; IPCC 2014b; Kokic et al. 2014). In contrast, recent public surveys in the US show a

majority of the populace acknowledges that climate means and extremes are changing but

many do not accept that these changes are due to human activity, instead attributing them to

climate variability (Moser 2014), presumably one of the more persistent, long-term causes of

variation noted above. Taken at face value, a lack of attribution to human causes implies an

expectation that current climate trends will reverse at some stage, returning to ‘normal’. This

has direct and negative implications for adaptation implementation, especially for those

adaptations with long lifetimes. Because of these fundamental disconnects between scientific

observations and public opinion, evaluation of alternative values-based paths to risk management (Fig. 1) is a useful strategy, especially in cases where there is reluctance to explicitly

acknowledge that the climate is changing.

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Humans are more or less adapted to the climate of the recent past but existing risk

management efforts are often inadequate, creating a widely recognized Badaptation deficit^

(Burton 2009) that is not restricted to less developed nations. For example, with billions of

dollars of damage incurred annually from floods, drought, storm surges, and heat waves, it is

hard to argue that the US is fully prepared even for current climate conditions. The

potential for increased damage is widely recognized, particularly along coasts, yet

there continue to be investments in new infrastructure, private property, and businesses that will

not withstand the highest current tides, much less future, climate-related, extremes. Similarly,

there are often vulnerable groups within developed nations (e.g. many Native American

communities), which are less prepared for the impacts of climate change (see Maldonado

et al. 2015).

Despite obvious limitations, one option to enhance risk management efforts without

explicitly incorporating additional risks of anthropogenic change is using historical extremes

as a proxy for what the future might bring (e.g. Hallegatte 2009). This can offer significant

benefits in adaptation efforts if, due to perception issues, Bclimate change^ is not an acceptable

entry point. Additionally, this can be inclusive of welfare of affected groups and flow-on

impacts on systems of concern which may facilitate policy implementation (Dupuis and

Knoepfel 2013). Historical and paleo-records (including long-term tree ring, ice core, and

other proxy data) provide an estimate of the envelope of variation in key climaterelated extremes that enables people to relate their own experience to a broader range

of possible events without challenging their underlying perspective on anthropogenic climate

change. Similarly, using space for time analogues (i.e. looking for locations that have historically had the basic climate characteristics anticipated in the future) can be another way of

effective engagement, as the risk management approaches for that climate have already been

addressed, facilitating adoption without the trial-and-error that would otherwise have to occur

(Dunn et al. 2015).

Limitations to the above approaches include expectations of change in both the return

period and the intensity of some events. For example, a range of studies show return periods

for time-specified events shrinking dramatically (IPCC 2014b). Experience in other nations,

such as Australia, shows that preparedness for events beyond the envelope of historical

experience is critical to protecting communities and ecosystems from devastating impacts

(IPCC 2014a). And in the case of flooding caused by sea-level rise in the conterminous US,

Tebaldi et al. (2012) found that by 2050 what was historically a 1-in-100 year event may

become an annual event in some locations. Similarly, the magnitude of some extremes (e.g.,

hurricanes, downpours, heat waves) is changing and is expected to intensify (Melillo et al.

2014; IPCC 2014b). Clearly, if these analyses are sound, then depending only on historical

data and impact relationships can lead to inadequate risk assessment (especially relating to

coincident events) and poor formulation of adaptation options. Figure 2 illustrates the implications of assuming no significant change in the probability distributions of climate risk: the

portion of land experiencing >3 sigma summer heat in a given year increased from 0.1 to

0.2 % in 1951–1980 to 10 % in 2001–2011 (Hansen et al. 2012).

Further progress in climate change attribution is needed to improve our ability to separate

the influences of climate variability from the climate change trend, because this will provide

better predictive capacity and reduce uncertainties. Nevertheless, in some situations it is

possible to reduce risk without necessarily needing more accurate predictions of future

conditions through the development of no-regret, low-regret or robust adaptations (e.g.

Lempert 2013). Again the importance of assessments is emphasized: without ongoing


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