“Preparing for Climate Change” – Steve Schneider continues to confront us with inconvenient truths

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In a very concise little book, co-authors Michael Mastrandrea and Stephen Schneider argue that policies to slow climate change and prepare for its impacts “must  be complementary and concurrent.” Adaptive preparedness is essential, they say, because even with aggressive global efforts to reduce emissions, “mitigation will not be enough to address the climate problem.” And we must insist on “dealing in fairness with those most disadvantaged by either climate impacts or by the effects of climate policies.” Published posthumously, this is either Steve Schneider’s last statement on the subject of climate change, or close to it. It is in accord with the recently released report and recommendations of the National Climate Adaptation Summit, which calls for an overarching national climate change adaptation strategy.Book review re-posted from Nick Sundt on the World Wildlife Fund climate blog, October 12:

Big Ideas in a Little Book on "Preparing for Climate Change"

In a pithy new book,  Preparing for Climate Change, Michael D. Mastrandrea and the late Stephen H. Schneider, argue that policies to slow climate change (mitigation) and to prepare for its impacts (planned adaptation) "must be complementary and concurrent."

In the book's introduction, the authors emphasize that curbing greenhouse gas emissions through mitigation is essential.  They continue (emphasis added):

"It is also clear, however, that mitigation will not be enough to address the climate problem.  Even with aggressive global efforts to reduce emissions, the earth's climate will continue to change significantly for many decades at least, due to past emissions and the inertia of social and physical systems.  Significant impacts resulting from climate change are already evident, and they pose increasing risks for many vulnerable populations and regions.

Alongside mitigation, then, we also need policies focused on adaptation, on making sensible adjustments to the unavoidable changes that we now face.  And we must coordinate adaptation with mitigation, as the success of each will depend on the other.  Today's efforts to reduce emissions will, in due course, determine the severity of climate change, and thus the degree of adaptation required -- or even possible -- in the future.  At the same time, a better understanding of the levels of climate change to which adaptation is difficult will help to shape our judgments about how much mitigation is required."

Mastrandrea and Schneider do not lose sight of the importance of equity considerations in addressing climate change.  "Even with an optimal mix of mitigation and adaptation, the results may still be unfair," they warn.  They say:

"[G]ood governance in the realm of climate policy requires both protecting the planetary commons by managing emissions and vulnerability, and dealing in fairness with those most disadvantaged by either climate impacts or by the effects of climate policies.  The drivers of the problem -- generally richer countries -- can make payments to those who have contributed less -- generally poorer countries -- and these payments can be fashioned for fairness and political cooperation."

The piece concludes:

"Slowing down pressure on the climate system and addressing the needs of marginalized countries and groups are the main `insurance policies' we have against potentially  dangerous, irreversible climate events and the injustices that inevitably will accompany them.  As the world struggles to fashion fair and effective forms of mitigation, adaptation, too, will be essential if we are to avoid the worst consequences of climate change."

With only 104 pages, the small book is a quick read and an excellent introduction to the science of climate change and the most essential elements of climate change policy.

Earlier CSW post:

Forthcoming book by Michael Mastrandrea and Stephen Schneider:  “Preparing for Climate Change"

Report and recommendations from the National Climate Adaptation Summit

A report [PDF] by the National Climate Adaptation Summit Committee, with findings, conclusions, and recommended near-term priorities following the National Climate Adaptation Summit held in Washington, DC, in May, was transmitted to the President’s Science and Technology Adviser John Holdren and released publicly on September 29.

Climate Science Watch participated in the Summit, which brought together more than 180 invited users and providers of climate adaptation information to explore issues of how to make the U.S. more resilient to climate change. The goal of the Summit was “to inform federal, state, regional, and local climate adaptation efforts, including the planning of the federal Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force and the U.S. Global Change Research Program.”

“Even with mitigation efforts,” the Summit report says, “climate change will continue to unfold for decades due to the long atmospheric lifetime of past greenhouse-gas emissions and the gradual release of excess heat that has built up in the oceans. Climate change adaptation is thus a necessity for our Nation and the world.”

The Summit report identifies seven priorities for near-term action, starting with the need to develop “an overarching national strategy to guide federal climate climate change adaptation programs. This strategy should establish agency roles, clear goals and metrics, and better mechanisms for coordinating federal and non-federal activities.”

In addition to creating a national climate adaptation strategy, the Summit report said additional steps are neeeded, starting at the top with visible Presidential leadership. “Increased Presidential engagement on climate adaptation issues would both elevate the importance of adaptation activities within the government and raise the profile of the adaptation challenge with the nation as a whole. Opportunities include being more vocal on the importance of this topic, the validity of the science, and the need to take reasonable actions.”

That’s something we’ve been saying for some time. Earlier CSW posts on the Adaptation Summit:

Holdren at Adaptation Summit: We’re not serious until we put a price on greenhouse gas emissions

Text of remarks by Obama science adviser John Holdren to the National Climate Adaptation Summit

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