For decades, scientists have built and refined global climate models to predict the changes wrought by greenhouse-gas emissions. The models capture broad trends; they don’t make localized predictions. But such predictions are what municipal planners and those running facilities such as power stations and wastewater-treatment plants need to anticipate potential disasters, be they floods in Indonesia, heatwaves in Portugal, or a cold snap that leaves Texans in the dark.
Information is lacking about extremes at a particular location, and climate adaptation has lagged. In June 2021, the chair of the Adaptation Committee of the UK Climate Change Committee described the topic as “under-resourced, underfunded and often ignored”.
During the pandemic, scientists around the globe switched gears to find the answers the world needed. They rapidly solved protein structures, tracked viral genomics, repurposed drugs and developed vaccines, apps and behaviour-change strategies. Our warming world will cause even more disruption, but the research response is too little, too removed and too theoretical. There needs to be a broader, open shift to apply science to local climate adaptation.
Basic, localized climate-risk information should be invested in as a public good, like education, law enforcement and vaccination. Wealthier communities and businesses are already hiring consultants to provide tailored climate-risk information. But these services are expensive. A client wanting information about its exposure to hazards such as floods, fires and extreme heat could pay upwards of $1 million for a year-long subscription; a large corporation would pay a much steeper price. Such for-profit systems leave poor communities without access to information they need to prepare for climate risks.
Governments must work with academia, non-governmental organizations and the private sector to develop publicly available models and tools to give decision-makers basic information at the scale they need. This approach has proved useful for another catastrophic risk: earthquakes. A team of scientists, local and national governments, and partner organizations created InaSAFE, a free platform that produces natural-hazard scenarios to help inform planning and preparedness efforts. After a 6.5-magnitude earthquake hit Aceh in Indonesia in 2016, disaster managers used it to rapidly determine which communities faced the greatest likelihood of damage.
High-income nations can jump-start the science of practical climate predictions — as they did with vaccine development for COVID-19 — although the need is especially great in low-income countries. It’s time to apply science to develop local solutions to the global climate crisis.
Read the full article, published in Nature by Alice C. Hill HERE