Making Climate Information More Accessible: The ADVANCE Approach
At the March Adaptation Community Meeting, Ryan Bartlett shared how WWF, in collaboration with Columbia University’s Center for Climate Systems Research, is taking on the challenge of developing and sharing easy-to-use and understandable climate information.
The challenges to date with climate information include a lack of historical data to establish trends, a preponderance of coarse information that is challenging to interpret in relation to local conditions, and projections that are too far into the future to be useful for planning or policy. Together, these considerations make climate information challenging to use in the context of designing effective action.
Mr. Bartlett explained how the ADVANCE approach seeks to overcome some of these challenges through co-generation of tailored climate risk information. Mr. Bartlett articulated that, “This means from the beginning, we work with stakeholders to determine their decision and planning needs, and then collaborate to figure out what the most useful climate information would be to address those needs.”
This stakeholder engagement can range from in-country workshops with local government staff to meetings with community members. ADVANCE focuses on downscaling climate information to the relevant project areas, providing nearer-term projections (within the next 30 years), and identifying relevant seasons. This last point is particularly important as many early climate models were based on the four seasons of the temperate latitudes, rather than the rainy/dry seasons that much of the southern hemisphere experiences. For example, the graph above attempts to communicate climate risk more clearly. Temperature ranges are given for different time frames in the relevant seasons and in an easy-to-digest format.
In Burma, WWF was tasked with mapping the natural capital base throughout the country, and the ecosystem services provided by forest, wetlands, estuaries and other ecosystems. The team sought to incorporate climate risk into the mapping to make it more about future vulnerability rather than just a current snapshot.
Taking into consideration future rainfall and temperature trends, the team produced different scenario maps for ecosystem services like sediment retention and flood risk reduction. However, combining climate risk with traditional ecosystem services modeling doesn’t work in all contexts. For example, the prevailing coastal vulnerability model is not built to incorporate climate complexity. So the team was unable to show the impact of projected sea level rise, not capturing what is likely to be a major risk to coastal populations.
While many challenges still exist for providing accessible and actionable climate information to decision makers—not least of which is a good degree of irreducible uncertainty inherent in the complexity of the climate system. But the ADVANCE approach is helping to "turn the flood of climate information into a usable stream” by engaging with stakeholders from the beginning, tailoring climate information to fit end-users needs, and communicating that information as clearly and effectively as possible. This approach is a much-needed step toward serving stakeholder needs that may lead to more effective conservation and development.