Climate adaptation monitoring – a necessary challenge 

In May 2021, we brought scientists, policymakers, community representatives and climate communicators from around the globe together at our virtual Climate Science Conference. Its aim was to set out a vision for how climate science and services can be harnessed in support of the ambitions of diverse societies worldwide to build a more sustainable, more resilient low carbon future. Following robust discussions and valuable insights from speakers and delegates, nine key recommendations were developed, three of which focused on climate monitoring, our climate theme for this month. 

As well as highlighting a need to accurately monitor greenhouse gas emissions from different countries, it was also concluded that an integrated monitoring, attribution and prediction system is urgently needed to provide monitoring of extreme weather events and their impacts, and to provide early warning of incremental change and high impact low likelihood events (tipping points). The science behind the development of such a system is the subject of a World Climate Research Programme (WCRP) Lighthouse activity. 

Monitoring adaptation 

The third recommendation centred around adaptation and the need for measures to be monitored so that their effectiveness can be assessed. Professor Charlotte Watts, Chief Scientific Adviser and Director for Research and Evidence in the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), spoke at the conference, saying, “Climate science for adaptation is not just about hypotheses of what futures might look like but it’s about how do we inform real action now to improve lives today and tomorrow.”  

Professor Brian O’Neill also spoke in his role as Atmospheric Science & Global Change Manager at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. He commented that, “When thinking about our possible futures for climate change risks…we’re going to need to understand how climate change development pathways and adaptation and mitigation responses will interact together to determine the risks we face and the most effective solutions.”  

Baroness Brown of Cambridge, Chair of the UK’s Climate Change Committee (CCC) Adaptation Sub-Committee, also referenced the need for mitigation and adaptation to go hand in hand: “Significant adaptation is required to deliver nature-based solutions for achieving Net Zero emissions. We must use nature that will work in the climate in 80 years’ time.” 

Around the world, adaptation monitoring is a big gap in the policies of many countries, with monitoring and evaluation of adaptation more difficult to measure than the qualitative data available when considering emissions and mitigation. Brendan Freeman, Senior Analyst, Climate Change Committee, said: “Measurement is fundamental to understanding if adaptation is working. However, current indicators for measuring progress and the effectiveness of adaptation actions are inadequate. There is an urgent need, therefore, for Government to fund work to develop new indicators to support the comprehensive assessment of adaptation progress.” 

Adapting for tomorrow now 

In the UK, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is the lead Government department for domestic climate adaptation. It’s a statutory requirement under the Climate Change Act of 2008 to plan how the UK will adapt to climate change. In 2023, Defra will release the new National Adaptation Programme (NAP), which will highlight the ways that the UK is planning to adapt to climate change in the next five years. The government’s ambition for NAP3 is to have a clear set of objectives for adaptation, and policies, programmes and investments to meet those objectives, with metrics and timelines linked to the 61 risks set out in the third Climate Change Risk Assessment (CCRA3) published in January.   

Climate science and services 

UK urban park

Effective climate services are an important component in informing climate change adaptation measures. As a climate service provider our role is to translate our leading scientific research into user-driven climate services, enabling users to better understand & manage the risks & opportunities arising from climate variability & change.

One of the outputs from the UK Climate Resilience Programme (UKCRP), funded by the UK Government’s Strategic Priorities Fund, are the city packs. Developed by the Met Office, they use the latest UK Climate Projections (UCKP18) to provide high-level, non-technical local summaries of a city’s future climate. The city packs use graphics and tables to communicate scientific research in an accessible way, providing robust climate information to help city decision makers at local and city councils plan for the future, enabling our towns and cities to become more resilient to climate change. 

In Manchester, one of the risks facing the city is flooding, due to the warmer, wetter winters that we expect to experience in the future. Following our work with Manchester City Council, they’re working on adaptation measures which provide co-benefits in local communities. For example, nature-based solutions are a key element used within a park in the West Gorton community area in Greater Manchester. Permeable paving and vegetation reduce flooding and storm water run-off and act as a cool area in heatwaves, helping with multiple impacts of climate change. The park has multiple uses for the community including for sport and recreation, improving wellbeing and benefitting local biodiversity and air quality.  

Dr Rosie Oakes, Met Office Climate Scientist, commented recently in the Mostly Climate podcast, “When you think about climate change, it can be so scary and overwhelming. But as soon as you envisage a future world which is actually better than the one you live in right now because of the adaptation that you put in place, it makes me feel more hopeful at least.” 

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