Science and climate resilience: Room for improvement in Asia
Asia and the Pacific is the world’s most vulnerable region to climate change. As the region works to prepare national and local resilience plans, scientific data are crucial.
Asia and the Pacific is the world’s most vulnerable region to climate change. As the region works to prepare national and local resilience plans, scientific data are crucial. We sat down with Richard Jones, Science Fellow at the UK Met Office and visiting professor at Oxford University, to learn more about how better scientific data can improve climate resilience planning in the region.
You look at climate change from a very scientific point of view – could you tell us a bit more about innovations, methodology in this area?
There is an increasing focus on the impact of extreme events; an understanding that a lot of the impacts of climate change will come through extreme events, being able to explain when extreme events happen, whether there was an influence of climate change, and then, crucially, whether we are likely to see more of those in the future. So in terms of scientific methods, this involves both methods to quantify the contribution of climate change to the intensity or frequency of extreme events, and then, for instance, using detailed modeling to understand how extreme rainfall events may change in the future. Until recently, the models we’ve been using have often been a unable to capture these events because they happen at a relatively small scale and the resolution of the models has been too coarse. Now the modeling has evolved, so we can begin to look at those events in a much more detailed way, so we have more confidence in the results we are getting.
What are your new methodologies saying about Asia and the Pacific in particular? Have you been able to draw any interim conclusions?
Some work that we’ve been doing in Southeast Asia, with a focus on Singapore, is indicating that either the frequency or the intensity of small-scale extreme rainfall events will increase in the future. We are also currently looking at typhoons in the Philippines, but it’s still at an early stage and we don’t have any results yet. This is a new area of investigation for us.
What areas are you focusing on now?
We tend to look at all aspects of the weather or climate. Certainly temperature, rainfall and winds are some of the main areas because they have a critical effect on infrastructure that people depend on. We also consider large-scale weather systems such as the monsoon - whether rains are increasing or decreasing, if you’ll get a dry spell or not during the rainy season, how much the temperature will increase during the warm season. The change now is that we’re looking at everything in a lot more detail than before. An example is nighttime temperature: if it stays above a certain threshold for a prolonged period of time, it can have serious effects on health.
Should we be drawing any different conclusions in cities versus rural areas? Are you taking into account migration shifts?
This is an interesting and new area of work. There is an increasing focus on cities, and climate trends in the urban environment, in part because a large percentage of the population lives in cities. The scale of building is increasing rapidly, and often without much planning or knowledge of what the climate is even now – let alone what it might be like in the future. This is an area where there is significant scope for more research.
You have this wealth of useful data – how difficult would it be for developing countries to utilize the data?
That’s a big issue. The first aspect is that there are a lot of data out there, and without a good understanding of what information you can draw from them – it’s hard for developing countries to know what to do with the data. In the national hydromet services, universities and other research institutes, there are people who have the expertise, but lack a track record in applying the data in those locations. That often has to do with not enough confidence to put that expertise to work, so we need to build that confidence. A much larger aspect is the communication of that information to the people who are doing the planning, building or implementing projects, who need to understand what the implications of climate and climate change are on these projects.
How would you quantify Asia’s level of knowledge on analyzing and using climate data?
In many countries it’s good, they have good national meteorological information systems to disseminate this information and they have a good understanding of weather systems that affect them. Taking that knowledge and expertise and applying it in a climate change context for infrastructure planning, instead of just weather forecasting, is different. They have the skills, but they don’t have the experience in applying the knowledge. In some countries in Central Asia the overall capacity is lower, but they, of course, have scientists and so to the basis for building the required capabilities.
How can multilateral development banks facilitate that process?
We’re working on international development funded projects with several institutions on risk mapping, coordinating with civil society to understand what the issues are, with people who could become agents for communication and international and national scientists collecting, generating and translating data into useful information – all of this is happening. We are also looking, for example in the case of the Philippines, at early warning systems to protect against typhoons. There’s an awful lot we can do.
Richard Jones is a world-leading expert on developing regional climate models and interpreting their results. With 25 years of experience in this field, his work focuses on generating and applying regional climate information and modeling systems relevant to climate resilience and adaptation, mainly in an international development context.