Wednesday, May 25, 2011

New Adaptation Mavens Advice Column over at CAKE

Don't Pave Me In

Dear Adaptation Mavens,
I manage a small land trust created to protect a lovely little wetland beloved by birds, birders, and human or amphibian couples seeking a romantic getaway. In addition to the wetland there’s a nice meadow that boasts gorgeous spring flowers, and a beautiful hardwood forest around the entire perimeter of the trust land. We’re not far from a good-sized urban area, and we just heard about plans to create a large suburban development right next to our land trust! Acres of currently forested hillside upslope from our land will be cleared for houses, and of course there will be more roads put in to accommodate all the new traffic.
Read more...

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Guest Blog: The "Risky" Business of Adaptation

By Alexander (Sascha) Petersen, Executive Director of Adaptation International based in Austin, Texas.

Becoming Climate Savvy doesn’t happen overnight.  It takes spending time on CAKE for concepts such as risk, resilience, and vulnerability to become second nature and really roll off the tongue. Before getting to that point, it almost feels like you are learning a new language. Yet, learning this language is important because these concepts are embedded in approaches to adaptation from all around the world. Let’s take a moment to focus on risk.

Adaptation planning frameworks from Australia to Canada have used the traditional concept of risk (hazard x likelihood) to help prioritize climate impacts and potential vulnerabilities. For example, ICLEI Oceana’s Adaptation Toolkit (2008) has a risk matrix that can be used to categorize climate impacts into 4 different levels.

CONSEQUENCE

Negligible
Minor
Moderate
Major
Catastrophic
LIKELIHOOD

1
2
3
4
5
Almost Certain
5
Medium
Medium
High
Very High
Very High
Likely
4
Low
Medium
Medium
High
Very High
Possible
3
Low
Low
Medium
High
High
Unlikely
2
Low
Low
Medium
Medium
High
Rare
1
Low
Low
Low
Medium
Medium
Table 1: Priority Risk Ranking Chart, Local Government Cities Climate Adaptation Toolkit, 2008, ICLEI Oceana

Climate impacts that are both almost certain and have the potential for major or catastrophic impacts are the most critical and those that are either unlikely or have very low potential impact are the least critical to address. The question then becomes: Is it enough to focus on prioritizing climate impacts due to risk? Or, should we use project specific risk tolerance or sensitivity to guide adaptation planning?

Let’s explore this idea and consider the potential sea level rise impacts on two coastal facilities, a gazebo in a park and level one trauma center hospital. For the sake of this example, let’s set aside the legal and regulatory issues as well as the multi-jurisdictional framework for the coastal zone that would complicate the matter, and limit our discussion to the two facilities and the classic three general sea level rise response options: 1) protect, 2) accommodate, or 3) retreat. Now, to be clear, I have nothing against gazebos; in fact, I generally find them quite pleasing, but even the most casual or non-climate savvy observer can see that it doesn’t make sense to respond to sea level rise in the same way for both these projects. Given the uncertainty in future sea levels, risk tolerance or sensitivity should be used in selecting the appropriate sea level rise scenario for planning.  

For the gazebo, it makes sense to select a lower sea level rise scenario that would require limited investment (keep in mind that either of the three general response options could still apply, you could: 1) build a sea wall to protect the gazebo, 2) move the gazebo to higher ground in the park, or 3) relocate the gazebo to another park entirely). Although the risk of this sea level threshold being exceeded may be relatively high, the sensitivity of gazebo and risk of potential loss is relatively minor. Conversely, the sensitivity of the hospital’s critical trauma facility to salt water inundation is high and justifies the selection of a higher sea level rise scenario for planning, in order to decrease the likelihood of that threshold being exceeded. 
 
The United States, and many other countries, have been using a risk based approach to management for a long time. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) bases many of its requirements on the 100-year floodplain and, in general, we as a society have decided that a 1 in 100 chance of flooding is worth additional requirements (i.e. more free board or flood insurance) in order to limit the potential impact of that flooding. Using the higher resolution risk tolerance or sensitivity approach, it would no longer be enough to have two classifications (in the 100-year floodplain or outside the 100-year floodplain) and two sets of requirements. The value of the built infrastructure (or by extension the natural environment) and the potential impact of its loss would determine the level of risk planning required. For the gazebo in the above example, perhaps planning for a 50-year flood event would be sufficient. For the hospital, planning for the 1,000-year event may be more important. Of course, climate change is shifting what it means to be a 100-year flood event and the past is no longer an adequate predictor of the future, but that is a topic for another post.
 
The Netherlands has already taken this approach on a regional basis. Some high value areas are protected against 10,000-year flood events (red) where other areas are only protected to a 1,250-year flood standard (green). 
Figure 1: Dike Rings and Safety Standards in the Netherlands.  Eijsbergen, Poot, & van der Geer, 2008, Flood Risk Understanding Concepts. Rijksoverheid (Ministry of Transport, Public Works and Water Management)
Of course implementing this approach isn’t trivial and there are many factors not included in the description above. However, using risk tolerance and sensitivity to “right size” the adaptation response to the project is a great way to stretch limited resources and get the most out of our adaptation efforts. Now, that’s being climate savvy.