The 2014 Adaptation Futures Conference

Friday, May 30, 2014

Adaptation activity is necessarily focussed on particular climate risks that are expressed at local levels. At times we can benefit from taking a broader view at what is happening internationally. The third Adaptation Futures Conference from 12-16 May in Fortaleza, Brazil, provided a valuable opportunity to assess the extent of international activity in adaptation research. Brazil presented an interesting setting for the conference, with a population of nearly 200 million people, a land area the size of Australia, and one of the world’s largest economies, it is a place of vast contrasts and significant variability in many aspects of adaptive capacity. Brazil is the most water-rich country on earth, but much of the eastern part of the country is undergoing a severe drought. This is impacting on agricultural production, water supply to cities and ecosystems. There are even concerns that some cities may run out of water during the World Cup!

Some of key themes coming through the conference were the need for new governance arrangements and institutional architectures to address climate-related risks, for example through greater regional cooperation. There was a strong call for new modes of science, with researchers working with practitioners and users and undertaking science with society (not for society) to find solutions to avoid climate impacts. Mobilising and engaging the private sector was also a prominent point, with Laura Carnevari from Acclimatize demonstrating the important roles that industries can play in supporting adaptation in their own sectors and across society. She concluded that we need to better understand the diversity of the private sector and its risks (along their supply chains), and understand the interests of investors, in order to improve relationships between researchers and industry. There was also debate as to whether climate science can really produce the information needed for better decision making at regional and local scales.

Mark Stafford-Smith argued that we need to change the narrative surrounding adaptation, from one focused on producing technological options to address long-term, complex problems, to one focused solutions that address near-term (<20 year) risks and issues and that bring concerns regarding values and institutions more clearly into consideration. Adaptation needs to be considered primarily a social and economic challenge, not an environmental one. Others argued that we must be much more prepared for surprises.

There were many great examples of innovation, with low cost solutions to major challenges developed in conjunction with the community. New laws and institutions are being developed to support adaptation in developing countries but there was a strong call for implementation, not simply consultants and researchers generating more reports.

I had a very positive response to my presentation on learnings from the VCCCAR experience and I feel that the community we have developed to support adaptation in Victoria, through the efforts NCCCARF, CSIRO, BOM, consultants and state and local government initiatives is at the leading edge of global action. 

VCCCAR Director Rod Keenan