By Shaun Martin, WWF-US
It can be challenging to find climate change adaptation resources that explain complex concepts to lay audiences in easy-to-understand language. Academic journal articles, project case studies, vulnerability assessments, and the like often speak to the experts rather than newcomers. Providing these types of documents to those new to the field is like asking them to watch a mystery movie one hour after it started – they might catch on eventually, but chances are they will leave the cinema confused and frustrated.
Thankfully there are a number of resources out there that are appropriate for those who are relatively new to adaptation. Here are a few that I have found particularly useful and always include in the bundle of pdf’s that I distribute to our workshop participants. All are available free of charge online.
We can’t all be climate scientists but this guide produced by GIZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH, formerly GTZ helps us understand what they are talking about. It was designed to show development practitioners and decision makers how to obtain climate change information, interpret it adequately, and communicate it responsibly. In a very non-intimidating, user-friendly format, Part I covers the basics – things such the Earth’s climate system, the difference between weather and climate, emission scenarios, and how future climate information is generated. I personally appreciate the brief but enlightening sections on global climate models and region climate models. Part II provides practical steps in finding, interpreting, and communicating climate information for adaptation purposes. It is by no means comprehensive, but a great starting point for those new to the field.
In the field of climate change, everybody wants easily accessible definitions for the multitude of terms and acronyms that have mushroomed over the past 20 years. And while there has been no shortage of online dictionaries and glossaries that provide definitions for climate change terminology, I particularly like the one developed by REEEP (Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency Partnership) at its site reegle.info. I love this glossary because it not only provides definitions from various sources, but also creates a visualization of related terms to the word you want defined. Just type in a word or phrase like “climate change adaptation” and you will get two definitions (one from reegle and one from Wikipedia in this case), plus 11 related terms such as “adaptive capacity,” “NAPA,” and “climate compatible development.” Clicking on any of those will bring up their respective definitions and related terms. To date, the glossary defines more than 1500 terms, and while mostly focused on clean energy and mitigation, the developers promise to include more adaptation-related terms in the future.
Preparing for Climate Change: a Guidebook for Local, Regional, and State Governments by the Center for Science in the Earth System (The Climate Impacts Group), Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean, the University of Washington, and King County, Washington.
Many people are looking for a cookbook approach to adaptation, with all the ingredients and instructions to solve our problems laid out in easy recipes. Such a manual simply does not exist, but this is the closest thing I’ve found to it. While written for state and local governments in the United States, the approach to preparing for climate change outlined here could be adapted and apply to most situations anywhere. In its opening pages, the manual provides a list of key terms, a checklist for steps in preparing for climate change, well articulated arguments on why we must be proactive in adapting, and suggestions for moving beyond common barriers like, “I’ll deal with climate change when you can tell me exactly what I need to plan for.” (How many times have we heard that one?) The manual then walks through the steps involved in assessing vulnerability and incorporating what you learn into the planning process. What I really like is how thorough this manual is. Far from what we might envision as city planning (infrastructure, transportation, emergency response, etc.,) it encompasses areas that give conservationists reason for hope – forests, aquatic and coastal ecosystems, and even biodiversity.
One of the key challenges we all face as climate change adaptation professionals is to effectively communicate what we know to a wide variety of audiences to influence their decisions and behavior. Climate change and adaptation pose unique challenges on a number of fronts – we must often talk to those who deny the existence of climate change, and to those who don’t understand it whether they believe it or not. We must deal with uncertainty while motivating people to prepare for the future. This guide offers very practical guidance on issues such as getting your audience’s attention, addressing scientific uncertainty, overusing emotional appeals, and making behavioral change easy. I find particularly useful the lists of troublesome terms and suggested substitutions for use with the general public. (“Positive feedback” usually means a self-reinforcing, vicious cycle to the scientist, but means “constructive criticism” to everyone else!) Check out page 27.