Climate futures science for adaptation: re-orienting climate analysis and utilizing communications research to transform climate change outlooks

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: Geographical Sciences

Abstract

Climate change poses risks to agriculture, water resources, human health, and beyond. Each of us will potentially need to adapt. Planning that adaptation requires anticipating changes in risk, and there is great demand for information about future climate.

There has been remarkable progress in climate modelling in recent decades. Climate models can be run to simulate future temperature, rainfall, and extreme weather. Meanwhile, a new area of research and practice has also emerged, known as "climate services", designed to support decision-makers, working with them to explore how they can make their planning resilient to climate change, often using data from climate models. Climate services has many challenges and requires input from many different areas of expertise.

One key challenge is in using climate model data to generate information about the real world. Scientists can analyse simulations to describe the climate of the 2050s in the modelled worlds, but it is impossible to know with certainty what will happen in the real world. This means that there is a necessary "step" in the analysis, to convert the model data into a description of what could happen in reality. There are multiple ways in which scientists and consultants do this. They might estimate a range of what is possible in the 2050s. They might estimate the most likely outcome for the 2050s. They then need to find a way to communicate this to decision-makers, and this is often done using graphs, maps, or statements.

This "step" in the analysis is vitally important because it will determine which future risks are incorporated into decisions. If it is not done well, adaptation planning may fail to take into account climate change risks, potentially leading to unexpected loss and damage from future climate change impacts. And this "step" is very hard to do well! There is no consensus on how to do it. Climate models are imperfect tools for exploring uncertainties, it is very difficult to assess confidence in their outputs and to communicate their results to non-specialists.

In some countries, such as the UK, large programmes have been funded which address this challenge. However, it remains understudied, particularly for regions in the Global South which arguably need the information the most. This is the "climate futures information gap" and the focus for this novel research programme which is founded on two key areas of innovation:
1. Reorienting climate science analysis to better characterise the influence of climate change on a regional scale. Climate science is often led by the model dataset being used. This programme of climate science will be driven by the need to better understand what is possible, plausible, and probable in future. It will involve analysis of many different kinds of climate datasets, and multiple new approaches to analyse uncertainty, including combining model-based estimates and expert judgements.
2. Drawing on insights and methods from communications research to improve information about climate futures. Psychologists and scientists in other fields, for example medical research, have gained insights in how to communicate risk, through methods which test and evaluate different messages and approaches. In collaboration with experts in risk communication, this research programme will design and test alternative communications outputs.

The programme will focus first on southern Africa, and regional level climate change information, required by experts in the civil service and non-governmental organisations to prioritise adaptation action. These stakeholders will be invited to participate in the research, to inform the analysis from the outset, and co-design communications outputs. Following the research in southern Africa, a framework will be developed and refined in other regions and contexts. The ambition is to deliver a new kind of "climate futures" science, which is urgently needed to support adaptation to changing climate.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Delegate at COP27 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact I attended COP27 (UN climate negotiations) to learn more about international policy processes on adaptation, and how my research could be most useful. I also went to find stakeholders who would be interested in engaging with the research. I was able to identify several key people to collaborate with, and also met a project partner, who I had only previously met virtually.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
 
Description Geographical Association Talk for Sixth Form Students 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Sixth form students from Bristol schools were invited to attend a talk about my research, on climate science to inform climate change adaptation in Africa. The talk sparked discussion, and engagement via mentimeter. Teachers commented that it was very relevant to their studies, and it was useful for the students to see how geographical research could be applied to topical issues.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
 
Description Interview with CNBC 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Interview with journalist from CNBC, featured in article.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
URL https://www.cnbc.com/2022/11/04/cop27-climate-summit-loss-and-damage-funding-to-dominate-the-talks.h...
 
Description Interview with National Geographic 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Interview with National Geographic, featured in article.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
URL https://www.nationalgeographic.co.uk/environment-and-conservation/2022/11/as-climate-disasters-grow-...
 
Description Panelist in Cabot Institute COP27 discussion 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Invited to be a panelist in a discussion about COP27, which was broadcast to the Cabot Institute network.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
 
Description Panelist in Sustainability Network COP27 discussion 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact Invited to be a panelist in a discussion about COP27, aimed primarily at students interested in sustainability.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
 
Description Project website 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Project website developed, in order to provide information to interested stakeholders and research participants.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
URL https://www.climatebristol.org/salient/
 
Description Radio Interview - BBC Radio Bristol 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Live interview on BBC Radio Bristol about my visit to COP27 (UN climate negotiations in Egypt), including discussing the relevance of my research to the climate policy process. The intended purpose was to raise awareness of the goals and value of the COP, and to increase public understanding about climate change science and policy.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
 
Description Radio Interview - Heart FM 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Recorded interview with Heart FM about my visit to COP27 (UN climate negotiations in Egypt), including discussing the relevance of my research to the climate policy process. The intended purpose was to raise awareness of the goals and value of the COP, and to increase public understanding about climate change science and policy.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022