Facing the challenges of climate risks and prospects for readiness that transform our future

Research meets practice: ECCA2019

Head-shot-c36dcb_cd5c1e437e4d47f1b3eddadc285ecfd0mv2 Painting by Eric Roncerel

Tom Downing and Ben Smith attended the European Conference on Climate Adaptation in Lisbon last week. Both have spent good chunks of their professional lives on research in climate resilience—in the University of Oxford and Stockholm Environment Institute. It was exciting to be immersed into that research community again. Some personal reflections:

Tom came away with the notion that complexity science might be getting useful! Our business approach to adaptation rests on the foundation of complexity in coupled socio-ecological systems and the need to act across an uncertain landscape. Roger Jones showed how regional temperature changes in the Pacific (and elsewhere) occur in steps between quasi-stable equilibria. Microsoft posed a big data/artificial intelligence challenge to this community.

Ben presented a reflection on nearly a decade of work on screening climate risks for Multilateral Development Banks, drawing upon our ongoing work for the AfDB, EIB and IADB in particular. The next few years look like a test for how well we can integrate climate information into real world decisions; increasing demand for how to manage climate risks is a huge opportunity, but there are significant risks if best practice isn't applied. We both noted the absence of the major consultancies, as there seems to be a continuing gap between research and practice. In a similar vein we were struck by the huge difference between what's possible in a data and resource-rich European context, and the practical limitations of working with clients in developing countries.

"Wither adapting well?" Tom asked in a side bar. Long ago, this community championed a dynamic process of adaptation rather than the predict-and-provide approach of asset protection. Some exciting work on structuring our collective knowledge in taxonomies and ontologies. The question of adaptation pathways was laid out if not fully answered. Still only hints as to how adaptation processes are contextual. We are still developing our Climate Smart Process Models to organise the decision interspace between the two worlds of risk assessment and resilience action.

We are already planning for the next research confab, Adaptation Futures in Delhi, April 2020. We plan to offer a one-day course on frontiers in adaptation practice. And look out for the Goa Monsoon Academy on Urban Climate Resilience! Join us this August.

A note on the graphic. When we started up the Global Climate Adaptation Partnership, we asked Eric Roncerel to paint the landscape of adaptation. It is a vibrant, full canvas of peaks and troughs of colour. Only hints at pathways drawing upon what we know and navigating uncertain futures. This is a new graphic by Eric. To us, it captures the inner life of adaptation, a head full of options, a world full of possibilities. But not organised, not a knowledge base, real in being messy, unpredictable. Like us all. See his portfolio for more inspiration at:


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