Saturday, September 18, 2010

How science will shape climate adaptation plans

Vicky Pope of the Met Office, in the Guardian (UK): …A project commissioned by the Environment Agency to investigate the impact of climate change on the Thames estuary over the next 100 years concluded that current government predictions for sea level rise are realistic. A major outcome from the scientific analysis was that the worst-case scenarios for high water levels can be significantly reduced - from 4.2m to 2.7m – because we are able to rule out the more extreme sea level rise. As a result, massive investment in a tide-excluding estuary barrage is unlikely to be needed this century. This will be reviewed as more information becomes available, taking a flexible approach to adaptation.

The energy industry, working with the Met Office, looked at the likely impact of climate change on its infrastructure. The project found that very few changes in design standards are required, although it did highlight a number of issues. For instance, transformers could suffer higher failure rates and efficiency of some types of thermal power station could be markedly reduced because of increasing temperatures. A particular concern highlighted by this report and reiterated in today's report from the Climate Change Committee - the independent body that advises government on its climate targets - is that little is known about how winds will change in the future - important because of the increasing role of wind power in the UK energy mix.

…We need particularly to look at how we communicate complex and often conflicting results. In order to explain complex science to a lay audience, scientists and journalists are prone to progressively downplay the complexity. Conversely, in striving to adopt a more scientific approach and include the full range of uncertainty, we often give sceptics an easy route to undermine the science.

All too often uncertainty in science offers a convenient excuse for delaying important decisions. However, in the case of climate change there is overwhelming evidence that the climate is changing — in part due to human activities — and that changes will accelerate if emissions continue unabated…..

The Thames at sunset, near Greenwich, shot by Dlloyd, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

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