Understanding Climate Risk

Science, policy and decision-making

NCCARF Climate Adaptation Conference 2013

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The NCCARF (National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility) Climate Adaptation Conference climate adaptation knowledge + partnerships is on from June 25-27 in Sydney. I’m attending to present the results of our recently completed project Valuing Adaptation under Rapid Change. There are many researchers and practitioners of climate adaptation from Australia and overseas here, but there is also a sense of things winding down, because NCCARF finishes up at the end of June with no obvious Commonwealth footprint in climate adaptation beyond that date.

Throw in the recent efforts by some state governments to open up for business and cut green tape, there is a genuine uncertainty about the future of research that aims to improve the three pillars of sustainable development: economy, environment and society, over long time scales. Ahh yes, but I hear you say, research is like policy, it doesn’t only need to be enacted (i.e., published in the peer reviewed literature), it needs to be enabled and implemented. And that’s something that research has not always been able to do. NCCARF has managed to do some of this, but with mixed success.

NCCARF is probably producing its best at the last. Five years of funding has consumed the time to start up, for collaborations to get moving and for the different disciplines involved to learn how to communicate with each other. And with researchers, policymakers and practitioners this issue is much more complex. The first couple of years were spent getting research networks together and putting together research strategies. Only then were full-on projects commissioned. These have been completed over the past twelve months or so.

Many other smaller research projects have been commissioned. Training of young researchers and decision-makers has also been very successfully carried out through NCCARF. Yet, the people who have the most to gain through adaptation are not creating a great furor about its demise.

When overseas researchers visit our shores, they comment on how advanced the local research effort is. This is true for many aspects, but the institutional relevance of Australian adaptation research is not necessarily transferable to other countries. EU has top-down research, policy and planning – here it is anything goes and mind the denial. Australia has not had resources to run broad-scale impact models – until very recently – CSIRO being the exception. The US and EU have much better capacity in this area.

Where we excel the most is in engagement with stakeholders, but these successes show up best on a project-by-project basis. Learnings from project engagement have not yet been incorporated into the way that policy and institutions operate (the US and Canada, closest to Australia in this regard, has the same problem). Indeed, today I heard in a couple of presentations where stakeholder-research collaborations had worked brilliantly; so much so that policy rejected the results and went back to the old model in response – almost as if they had to regain control of the agenda.

There is general agreement that more science (in the form of predictive or technical knowledge) is not going to be the key ingredient for better adaptation to a changing climate. Now  it’s time for the social sciences, economics and management-business areas who implement innovation and change. And I admit, a few years ago when I was keen for economics to be included, I was less keen on innovation systems, which I considered to be mostly smoke and mirrors. A colleague, Celeste Young, who has practical experience of business innovation changed my mind. It wasn’t all airport speak – there are business processes that can be used to get implementable research off the ground.

Governments come and governments go, but adaptation is with us, now and for the next century and beyond. This community of researchers, policymakers and practitioners have to figure out how to survive the short-term push to increase short term financial returns in order to secure long-term value and the social returns that come with them. In ecosystems, for communities and for the country as a whole.


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  1. […] like? I was handed a copy earlier today and have had a quick look on the way back from the NCCARF Adaptation Conference. It is a handsome document that is very sensible, like a new pair of shoes. Given the sheer […]

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