Understanding Climate Risk

Science, policy and decision-making

Total failure to adapt

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Joseph Romm of Climate Progress had an article on Grist that was reprinted on Climate Spectator, detailing cuts to climate adaptation funding being either planned or implemented by the Republican controlled lower house in the US. Some of them are committee recommendations, others are contained in appropriation bills. Not being totally au fait with US political governance, I’m assuming they all have to get through the Democrat-controlled Senate. Still, they make chilling reading:

NOAA CLIMATE SERVICE: In the Commerce, Justice, and Science committee report, “it is the Committee’s intention that no funds shall be used [PDF] to create a Climate Service at NOAA.”

ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS CLIMATE READINESS: Language in the Energy and Water appropriation committee report offered by Rep. Rob Woodall (R-Ga.) prohibits spending on response to climate change in U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects, with $4.9 million cut from their budget and transferred to the Spending Reduction Account. Approved by a House vote of 218-191.

AGRICULTURE CLIMATE READINESS: A rider in the Agriculture appropriation (Sec. 755) blocks the Agriculture Department (USDA) from carrying out its Policy Statement on Climate Adaptation. The rider by Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) would prevent the USDA from even assessing what impacts climate change might have on farmers, foresters and other landholders. Approved by a House vote of 238-179.

HOMELAND SECURITY CLIMATE READINESS: A provision in the Homeland Security appropriation (H.R. 2017, Sec. 707) offered by Rep. John Carter (R-Texas) prevents the Department of Homeland Security from running its Climate Change Adaptation Task Force. Approved by a House vote of 242-180.

Romm has a go at pragmatists who he says: naively believe we can get D.C. politicians to support adaptation funding if only we stop talking about climate science. They call themselves climate pragmatists.

Climate pragmatism has been alive in Australia for some time. The Howard Government was pragmatic when they funded adaptation well before they got into mitigation policy (which was just before they lost the election in 2007). The rationale being that if you get people working in climate-sensitive sectors like agriculture and water in the midst of a crippling drought, there will be a dividend from that work regardless of how strongly the climate change signal is. This is the so-called no regrets strategy (I hate no regrets strategies, by the way – they are a copout built from a lack of nerve and intellectual capacity). The current government’s approach to adaptation is also pretty pragmatic.

We also have climate pragmatism in the liberal-led state governments where climate change is morphing into terms such as climate variation. The rationale is similar to above. This strategy will yield benefits, but will not countenance the idea of transformation if risks look like getting really serious (like fire risk is in South-eastern Australia since 1996, for instance) because pragmatism is all about not taking risks to manage risks, not matter how serious the risks being managed become. The science outlining climate risk points to serious outcomes, as do the resulting economics – on a theoretical basis. What we lack are worked-through examples.

So we don’t have a really good idea of the economic benefits of adaptation that can be plonked down in front of a policy maker. Politicy makers require practical examples that can be communicated simply – not theory. I had a funding proposal to do just that declined a month back. Lack of methodology or some-such. Let’s just say there is no clear methodology available at present – that’s what we were about – finding out how best to assess the economics of non-linear changes in climate risk.

So let’s be pragmatic. Adapt to climate variations but don’t scare the horses. Given Australia’s propensity to import politics from the US, are we going to import their emerging climate adaptation policy as well? Which would see even pragmatism go to the wall. Thank heavens Malcolm Turnbull spoke out for climate science a couple of weeks ago, but who remembers that now?

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Written by Roger Jones

August 5, 2011 at 12:57 am

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