APN Publishes its Climate Synthesis Report for the UNFCCC COP17 in Durban

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Climate in Asia and the Pacific: A Synthesis of APN Activities

The adverse effects of climate change and natural climate variability pose a significant threat to humanity, with the poorest communities being the most vulnerable. Scientific understanding of our climate is advancing at a significant rate, with new information emerging about the likely impacts of climate change, the options to adapt to these changes, and new approaches to mitigation.

Through national and international fora, it is becoming clear that climate is one of the most pressing issues in the political arena today. This has been evident in government and stakeholder meetings such as the 34th G8 Summit (Japan, 2008) and the most recent United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 16th Conference of the Parties (COP) Meeting (Cancun, Mexico, 2010) and the Copenhagen Accord, where commitments to climate change have been underscored, particularly the need to support developing countries for financing and transferring knowledge and skills to respond effectively to climate change.

IPCC is the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change and its Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) states that “warming of the climate system is unequivocal” and that climate change will interact at all scales with other aspects of the global environment and aggravate existing concerns about the provision of natural resources including water, soil and air pollution, health hazards, disaster risk, and deforestation. Their combined impacts may be compounded in the future in the absence of integrated mitigation and adaptation measures [IPCCAR4 (SPM), 2007].

With this background, it comes as no surprise that the majority of projects funded by the APN since its inception have had a climate component.

The present synthesis report (download) is part of the APN’s larger aim to contribute, from the science perspective, to the development of policy options for appropriate responses to climate vulnerability and impacts, including adaptation and mitigation, which in turn will contribute to sustainable development. The timing of this publication also leads into three major activities of the “Planet Under Pressure: New Knowledge Towards Solutions Conference” and the “Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development,” both taking place in the first half of 2012, and the work of the current IPCC fifth assessment with the report scheduled for release in 2014.

The present synthesis report indicates that, while there is much activity at the global level, there is a great need to intensify investigative research of climate change and climate variability and trends at the regional level, as these are still poorly understood. Consistent socio-economic data collection is needed, as is the need for an interdisciplinary approach to solving complex climate change problems. The increasing frequency and severity of floods, droughts and extreme temperatures requires the use of appropriate indices to improve monitoring and prediction of extreme events.

The effects of climate on water resources have been studied in APN projects but many issues remain unclear. There is a need for models to better predict the effects of seasonal to inter-annual climate on water availability and quality. Coastal communities continue to be highly vulnerable to sea level rise and research is needed in identifying appropriate adaptation measures, strategies, and policies. Small islands are especially vulnerable and research is required into relocation options or alternatively, where relocation is not an option, into engineering solutions. APN has supported international workshops to reduce vulnerability and devise coping strategies for agriculture to climate variability and change. These have built the knowledge-base for developing predictive capacity to manage climate variability and climate change-related vulnerability, strengthen overall climate responses and build resilience to socio-economic and environmental shocks, which is one of the region’s urgent development needs.

APN projects have contributed substantially to the building of regional capacity to include climate change in national sustainable development strategies and action plans. APN workshops on trends in climate extremes have provided a framework for international trend analysis in developing countries around the world. However, what is abundantly clear is that open access to climate data, including relevant socioeconomic data, will be essential for countries in the Asia-Pacific region to carry out risk assessments of their vulnerability to trends in climate within a regional framework. It is, therefore, in the interest of all countries of the APN to promote the open exchange of climate-related data.

The need for climate change adaptation is increasingly recognized by communities, with an initial focus on assessing vulnerabilities and identifying adaptation options. The complexity of adaptation due to the multidisciplinary nature of the required solutions and the lack of long-term data poses a great challenge. Approaches at the grassroots levels (including the identification of local champions) that involve communities and local governments to incorporate climate change adaptation practices into development planning will be needed, and Integrated Assessment Models (IAMs) will need to be customized for local to regional and sectoral levels.

Modelling the effects of climate on agriculture and fishery production needs to be refined. Critical to climate adaptation research, practice and policy are downscaled climate data. Developing Regional Climate Models (RCMs) in Asia has helped provide more detailed information on monsoon circulation; and high-resolution regional/local information from RCMs can be used in impact, vulnerability and adaptation studies. There is a need for further work on RCMs and statistical downscaling methods to help localize Global Climate Model (GCM) results and to quantify the uncertainties associated with these results. Especially problematic in the Asia-Pacific region are Small Islands States and areas with rough and steep terrain like the Himalayas.

The investments by APN in projects aimed at improving the Asia-Pacific region’s understanding of climate in the region, at assessing the risks to society and nature from climate variability and change, and at raising awareness of these issues to decision-makers and the public are well justified in terms of need and benefits. Formal assessments and literature citations have demonstrated that these activities have been effective and of high quality.

Given the high quality of APN projects and the potential of many to yield longer-term benefits through the provision of marginal resources, there should be an investigation of innovative means to sustain such projects beyond the term of initial APN support.

Strategic planning of APN would benefit by ensuring that it maintains close contact with relevant international developments on indicators of the impact of research and capacity building. The APN should continue to recognize the benefits of applying appropriate models to assist in the integration of information in complex systems. The APN recognizes that effective application of climate knowledge to practical problems of societies across the Asia-Pacific region requires effective dialogue across the traditional boundaries of science, technology and policy.

The APN has a role to play in promoting research in the region that defines the strategies that lead to true sustainable development. The Asia-Pacific region has a rich variety of cultures, and the APN has been effective in promoting connections and alliances across all these cultures. This effectiveness comes from the recognition of cultural differences and not imposing a monolithic approach. These sensitivities to culture will be especially important as the APN continues to promote exchanges of knowledge on climate-related issues across disciplines and sectors.

Clearly, the most important aspect of interactions across a region is the human factor. The APN has been effective in promoting innumerable networks of participants in its projects related to climate. One potential element in the future development of sustained networks is through the engagement of early-career researchers who can carry their scientific and social networks into the future.

Finally, while substantial progress has been made by APN-supported projects on climate science, capacity building and policy outreach, much remains to be done in the Asia-Pacific region. Among the key trends impacting the region are rising population, increasing urbanization, rapid economic development, rising energy demand, massive land use and cover change, increases in temperature, heatwaves, floods and droughts, and globalization. APN may wish to invest in some of these areas in its future strategies and research agendas.

The full report can be downloaded here. For more information on the synthesis report, please contact Dr. Linda Stevenson, Executive Science Officer, APN Secretariat at lastevenson@apn-gcr.org.