The science community needs to become better at communicating with politicians, the media and the public, and show that the uncertainties of science are not a reason to question the whole of the climate change question.
This was one of the key messages when nearly 1000 scientists, ecologists, economists and policy makers gathered to discuss climate adaptation at the world’s first large-scale Climate Adaptation Futures Conference, held recently in Australia.

With climate change already upon us, even the strongest action on emissions will not end climate change, scientists argued. We can no longer mitigate our way out of these challenges.

This means preparing for the unavoidable impacts of climate change now, and exploring the opportunities and difficulties of future political, economic and social adaptation. There is an urgent need to reach the best means by which to influence decision makers amongst governments, businesses and communities about these processes.

But the key to successful adaptation will not come from good science alone. A focus on policy, and the institutions through which they are implemented, will be crucial to this process, argued Dr R.K. Pachauri, Chair of the IPCC, speaking at the conference via video.

A stronger international community will need to be built around adaptation research, methods and impacts. This will assist people throughout the world to better prepare for what climate change impacts will happen, and the most likely ways in which they will occur. For example, adapting to increased droughts and changes in rainfall variation around the world will require research and development in new strains of crops, new practices of grain-fed agriculture, and measures with which to manage, harvest and store water.

A new Platform for Research on Vulnerability, Impacts and Adaptation (PROVIA) will play a key role in consolidating this research. The new umbrella institution will embrace the climate impact research community, enhance communication and stimulate ongoing peer-reviewed work, announced Professor Joseph Alcamo from the UNEP.

Greater collaboration across interdisciplinary sciences, from economists to sociologists and political scientists, will also be essential to prepare for different adaptations scenarios, Professor Alcamo argued.

Successful adaptation to climate change will also be dependent on better communication of the science itself. The need to restore the public and governments’ confidence in the IPCC, and to improve the readership of its upcoming Fifth Assessment Report, is crucial to this process, Dr Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, Vice Chair of the IPCC noted.

But a key part to communicating the science adequately is also coming up with confident statements for governments within a field where so much remains unknown. Scientists called for increased funding to research social attitudes and responses to climate change, and to look for better ways of communicating the science in preparation for adaptation.

Designing processes of climate change adaptation must also take into account the non-material aspects of life, which can’t always be accounted for in economic analysis alone. Factors such as social identity, community and equity will all play crucial roles in the outcomes of successful climate change adaptation, argued Professor Neil Adger.

Rose Butler

Research student in anthropology and climate change at the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra.