Mar 22, 2011
Adaptation 'needs to move up the agenda'
Adaptation urgently needs to move up the climate change agenda, according to Richard Betts, head of climate impacts at the Met Office in the UK.
"Talking about adaptation to climate change has for a long time been frowned upon as it is seen as giving up on mitigation," Betts told environmentalresearchweb. "But people need to wake up to the fact that we are already locked into a certain amount of climate change and we need to make sure we are prepared for the consequences."
Betts is concerned that there is a tendency in industry to design products and infrastructure based on past data for specifications such as resilience to temperature or risk of flooding. "Many companies focus only on reducing their carbon footprint and don't realise they also need to think about adaptation," said Betts.
Betts believes it is the role of the media, climatologists and policymakers to make sure that the need for adaptation moves up the agenda and that people are not so distracted by mitigation alone.
"But good adaptation strategies can only be designed if information on climate change projections is presented correctly," said Betts. "To keep mitigation at the top of the agenda, there has been a tendency to talk about disasters and ignore the uncertainty in many of the predictions or even the positive aspects of climate change."
Betts cites the example of the modelling of the Amazon rainforest, which, depending on which model is used, gives a picture of severe drying or increased precipitation. "Our model shows that global warming could reduce rainfall and dry out soil in the Amazon, risking extensive dieback of the forest," said Betts. "But other models show different scenarios and, while we've not been able to prove that our model is wrong, the truth is, we don't really know what is going to happen. But our predictions received a lot of coverage, without this uncertainty being mentioned." This, he argues, can lead to the wrong adaptation strategies being developed.
However, Betts is encouraged by the increasing number of companies that ask him and his colleagues at the Met Office for help in developing adaptation strategies. "There is a dawning awareness that developing adaptation strategies, especially in sectors such as energy and transport infrastructure, is important," said Betts. "Some companies are even realising that this can give them a competitive advantage and can help identify new business opportunities for the future."
About the author
Nadya Anscombe is a freelance science journalist based in Bristol, UK.