Adapting to Climate Change: Managing Tomorrow's Risks with Today's Decisions

October 17, 2011

Climate change poses a range of threats to communities around the world. Leading scientists tell us that more violent storm events, crippling heat waves, greater droughts and significant sea level rise are all now possible.

Despite the strong consensus in the scientific community about the issue, many leaders and citizens remain skeptical. Even among those convinced that climate change is underway, the uncertainties about its local impacts remain high. As a result, more immediate problems facing local communities tend to take precedence over longer-term planning for potential climate change.

So what can communities do now, in the face of competing beliefs and priorities, to manage the risks posed by this complex issue? 

With our partners Battelle and Bio-Era, and sponsored by the Lincoln Institute for Land Policy, CBI has developed an effective means to engage stakeholders in climate change adaptation. We have discovered that beginning to tackle climate change adaptation does not necessarily require marshaling significant and new resources. Rather, it requires that communities factor risks and uncertainties into today’s planning and decision making, especially around longer-term infrastructure investments and land use. 

The decision-making process we propose for communities blends the latest climate change science, scenario planning, and consensus building to help them make more robust and flexible decisions that will address a range of possible climatic futures. It is by applying these tools concurrently that communities may identify the most appropriate pathways to adaptation – pathways that identify risks and build broad consensus around solutions.

Appropriate adaptive measures are naturally prefaced on access to the best possible information on the local impacts of climate change.  Organizations in many regions, both in the United States and around the world, are currently engaged in developing more locally-specific models. We help decision makers find, commission, interpret and transpose relevant downscaled climate change information.

Our scenario planning offers a way for decision-makers to compare various options against a range of possible futures. Working collaboratively with stakeholders, we examine current and emerging elements and forces likely to shape the future, and design a finite set of possible scenarios. The options and decisions generated by participants that fare best under multiple scenarios may be considered the most robust.

Because climate change and the adaptive measures taken in response to it have broad consequences that extend far beyond traditional realms of decision making, it is also important to engage a wide range of stakeholders in assessing its risks and making choices. CBI’s consensus-based approach offers a suite of tools for bringing together stakeholders to engage in effective dialogue and discover paths forward to creatively addressing this critical issue.

The course, Local Communities Adapting to Climate Change: Managing Risk in Decision Making, introduces the risks associated with climate change and tools for effective planning and decision making. This course will soon be online and available to all free-of-charge.

If you would like to know more about the online course and CBI’s work in the area of climate change adaptation, please contact Todd Schenk.

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