By Luisa Cristini, PhD. University of Hawaii at Manoa.
In preparation for the upcoming UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, Rio +20 (link to the blog entry on Rio +20), many international meetings have been organized, like the one I had the chance to participate in: the conference “Adaptation Futures, 2012 International Conference on Climate Change Adaptation” in Tucson, Arizona (http://www.adaptation.arizona.edu/adaptation2012). The conference, co-hosted by the University of Arizona (UA) and by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP)’s Programme on Research on Climate Change Vulnerability, Impacts and Adaptation (PROVIA), brought together practitioners, scientists, students, policy makers, and professionals from developed and developing countries to explore the ways in which we can adapt to the changing climate across the globe and to share insights into the challenges and opportunities that adaptation presents.
I hit the ground of Tucson in the early morning of Monday 28 May after flying over the huge and impressive Sonora Desert, with it dark sand and rocks lightening in the sunrise. The air is hot and dry, and Arizona, with its dusty, brownish land and cactus vegetation, seems the perfect place to talk about climate change, drought and water issues.
The welcoming reception is a great opportunity for networking, especially for me, as I am alone at the conference, and I end up shaking hands and exchanging cards and contacts with the promise to check out a poster or go to an oral presentation during the conference.
The conference is opened by the chairs Diana Liverman, of UA, and Martin Perry, of PROVIA. Opening speeches are given also by the Mayor of Tucson, the President of UA and a representative from the White House’s Science Office. Afterwards, the first plenary session starts, with presentations on policy and research perspectives, by delegates from UNEP and the Indian Institute of Technology.
It’s eleven when the parallel papers and panel sessions start in eight different rooms of the venue. All topics are very interesting and I have a hard time deciding which option to choose. I finally decide to attend a panel session on gender and climate change. The panelists show presentations on their work in San Salvador, Mexico, the Pacific and Nepal, and there’s also some time for discussion on the role of women in climate change adaptation, especially in developing countries.
There are plenty of beverages and snacks, so I decide to skip a real lunch and study the abstracts of the papers in the upcoming afternoon sessions on the terrace. Afterwards I join a panel discussion on the spatial resolution of climate change information for adaptation. It turns out, that the information stakeholders (such as government officials and community planners) need depends on the policy they want to apply. In some cases, policy-makers can do fine with the (relatively coarse) resolution of current regional climate models.
In the following session- a PROVIA expert panel on assessing the effectiveness of adaptation – we consider how climate change is a “motivation” for sustainable development, i.e., a pressing reason to take action towards development that is not harmful to the environment. However, there is a need to develop key indicators to evaluate the success (or failure) of adaptation actions.
The poster presentations have been divided into geographical areas, today showing case studies from Africa and Europe. The day ends with a plenary session on perspectives from the private and NGO sectors including speakers from Oxfam International and ICF International.
Today is my day. In the afternoon I will present my research in a parallel session on tourism and adaptation. I grab a coffee before entering the first plenary session of the day, with five presentations on research frontiers in climate adaptation by delegates from the IPCC, the Stockholm Environment Institute and the UK Committee on Climate Change Adaptation.
After the first plenary, I join a panel on the vulnerability of coastal systems. Speakers from Australia, New Zealand, Louisiana and Florida show the changes in their coastal environments due to sea level rise and other coastal hazards deriving from climate change, describe future (scary!) scenarios and explore feasible adaptation plans.
The second panel of the day I join is organized by USAID and deals with the mainstreaming of climate change adaptation into development. We discuss how the cooperation to development (i.e., the work that many organizations do in developing countries to help them develop) should include education on climate change and how, additionally, it could be improved by such training.
I skip lunch, because I’m too excited to eat. I check over my presentation on the terrace and wonder how many people I will have in the room in less than an hour listening to my 15 minute talk. When I enter the room, the chair of my session, James Buizer, Director of the Adaptation and International Development Program at the Institute of the Environment at UA, is already there with the other speakers. In a few minutes the audience reaches about 30 people and we start. I carry out research in climate change vulnerability and adaptation strategies at the University of Hawaii Sea Grant College Program. My work aims to understand climate change impacts on the economy of Hawaii and the Pacific Islands region, heavily dependent on tourism, and to recommend strategies for adaptation and mitigation of climate change. The audience seems interested in the analytical tool I have developed and applied and I received a lot of positive feedback and suggestions on how to deepen my research. I am especially happy to see that my talk serves as the starting point for a productive discussion and for connecting with other researchers working on similar topics.
As the discussion continues for quite long after the end of the session, I am late for the next and can attend to only the last part of a session on adapting energy and infrastructure, with speakers from Germany and the Netherlands.
I finally eat some snacks while wandering in the poster hall glancing at Asian and Middle Eastern adaptation examples. The last plenary panel of the day focuses on adaptation and development featuring speakers from the Asia Development Bank and the Climate for Development Framework Programme, Africa.
Dinner tonight is at the conference banquet hall, set up on the top floor of the university’s garage, shaded by photovoltaic panels and with mountain view. It’s another great opportunity for networking. In my case, I’m at a table with Australian researchers, a doctoral student from the Arizona State University in Phoenix and the only other Italian that I met at the conference, a scientist from Rome working at the University of Malta. A mariachi band composed of high-school students entertains throughout the evening with traditional music.
The day starts with a plenary session on climate risks and transformative adaptation. Among the speakers, John Overpeck, a paleoclimatologist of UA explains the risks of abrupt climate change and drought, while Cynthia Rosenzweig, of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, investigates how cities and urban environments can adapt to abrupt climate change.
Afterwards I join a panel on climate adaptation partnerships for sustainable development towards Rio+20, with speakers from the Asia-Pacific Network for Global Change.
I find the next session on uncertainty and adaptation particularly interesting, with entertaining and interactive presentations by researchers from the UK Climate Impacts Programme, the University of Lisbon, the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and the University of Victoria. The discussion focuses on understanding the non-linearity of the climate system and the uncertainty within probabilistic climate projections. Also, an important concept is stresses: uncertainties on future climate projections should not be understood by the general public as lack of knowledge, but as open questions that need more research.
Right after lunch a plenary session discusses how to enable adaptation, with delegates from the UN Convention of Climate Change (UNFCC) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). Afterwards I join a panel discussion of future climate scenarios where we talk about relocation of vulnerable populations, impact assessment and the new IPCC scenario framework.
Today the posters are grouped in: Australasia and Oceania, Latin America and the Caribbean, and United States and Canada. I come across three posters from the Ontario Center for Climate Impacts and Adaptation Resources (http://www.climateontario.ca/) that could be interesting for the Gamiing Nature Center. They cover hydrological monitoring of watersheds (abstract: https://elsevier.conference-services.net/resources/247/2898/pdf/CLAD2012_0322.pdf), a guide to climate change adaptation in Ontario’s ecosystems (abstract: https://elsevier.conference-services.net/resources/247/2898/pdf/CLAD2012_0340.pdf), and the Canadian climate change adaptation community of practice (abstract: https://elsevier.conference-services.net/resources/247/2898/pdf/CLAD2012_0321.pdf), an online community for adaptation practitioners (http://www.ccadaptation.ca/?signin).
The day, and the conference, closes with a plenary session on the next steps for adaptation. The conference chairs and three early career scholars explain their thoughts and impressions on the conference and draw conclusions to present at Rio+20. They also announce that the third International Conference on Climate Change Adaptation will be held in Fortaleza, Brazil, in 2014. And I hope I will be able to participate.
In the evening, before packing up my stuff and organizing my trip back home, I decide to have a walk in search of souvenirs. Now it’s not so hot anymore and in the last three days I’ve been too busy. I spot “Pop Cycle” a nice shop on 4th Avenue owned by two friends who have fun in reusing and re-cycling old materials to produce new unique artistic products and accessories (http://www.popcycleshop.com/index.html). I spend over $130 in presents for all my beloved ones. However I don’t feel bad, as I’m giving these materials a second chance. At least, it’s a good excuse to shop!
My flight leaves at 5 in the morning and, while flying over the desert, and then the ocean, I think about the conference. In general, my impression was very positive. I had the chance to approach and engage in discussion with several researchers and received a lot of new input for my work. I was delighted to see such a diverse group of conference participants with people from many different countries speaking many different languages. Besides the challenges that adaptation to climate change presents, I feel that there is also hope and plenty of energy and resources to face these challenges and transform them into opportunities. I feel more motivated and confident that there are many people, at least those who participated in the conference, with the passion and willingness to take part in the global effort towards developing a sustainable future. The way to a sustainable and just world is long and strenuous, but now I am sure that we are not alone.