Climate Negotiations and Actionable Information

- Session Description (click to collapse)

The stated objective of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is to achieve “stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.”  The Convention further specifies that “such a level should be achieved within a time frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner.”  Thus, in the very first substantive paragraph of the Framework Convention, signatories bound the entire enterprise to a noble but undefined goal that rests on our evolving understanding of interacting physical, biological, agricultural and economic systems.  This evolving understanding is relevant to both of the Convention’s core issues: mitigation and adaptation. 

On mitigation, there is ample information available today—indeed, there was ample information available when the Framework Convention was signed in 1992—for countries to recognize that global emissions of greenhouse gases must be reduced rapidly and dramatically.  However, this recognition is not, in its own right, actionable information for mitigation.  Mitigation agreements and the policies that undergird them are shaped by a range of analyses that hover around the interface of science and policy.  Towards the scientific end of the spectrum there are questions regarding the predictability of the climate system, the risk of climate tipping points, the long-term impacts of elevated greenhouse gases, and the resilience of natural systems.  Technologically, questions center on the relative benefits of various mitigation strategies and decarbonization pathways over the near and long term.  Towards the economic and, ultimately, political side of analysis, Parties are concerned with predicting the cost of various domestic policies and international commitments, and they are very interested in ensuring that other countries are making efforts comparable to their own.  On these issues, transparent analysis is the most critical form of information.

Adaptation information is perhaps even more difficult, and it has not received as much attention under the Framework Convention.  This is not due to a lack of interest, but due to the fact that adaptation information has been viewed as more of a technical issue than a political debate.  That said, the Framework Convention has addressed the need for adaptation information in at least two ways.  First, in the core Adaptation negotiations undertaken under the Bali Action Plan, there has been an emphasis on country-driven research and extension institutions that are capable of integrating global-scale climate data with information on local practices and circumstances to promote effective adaptation.  More specifically, the Framework Convention has addressed the concrete challenges of enhancing adaptation through its Nairobi Work Programme, which has identified information needs in the area of data and observations, risk analysis and extreme events, socio-economic analysis of adaptation options, and downscaling climate information.  These activities reflect a rapidly growing interest in information for adaptation within the Framework Convention.  As this interest meets the copious and, in some instances, irreducible uncertainties associated with climate change predictions at local to regional scale, the question of what adaptation means when information is insufficient to inform conventional adaptive actions will take on greater prominence within the Framework Convention.  The dynamic of this interaction will be a focal topic for this presentation.

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- Moderator (click to collapse)

Ben Zaitchik

Ben Zaitchik is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences of The Johns Hopkins University. His research interests include climate dynamics and surface hydrology. Hisresearch is directed at understanding, managing, and coping with climatic and hydrologic variability. Understanding variability requires examination of the natural processes that drive climate and surface change. Managing variability relates to the ability to control anthropogenic influences on climate and hydrology at the local, regional, and global scales. Coping with variability includes improved forecast systems and methods of risk assessment. In each of these areas of research, Dr. Zaitchik uses a combination of observation—both in situ and remotely sensed—and numerical modeling techniques.

Dr. Zaitchik has received numerous awards and honors, including a 2009 Meritorious Service Award from the U.S. State Department, a 2007 Peer Award for Outstanding Research Associatefrom NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, the 2003 American Geophysical Union Outstanding Student Paper Award in Hydrology, and a 1999 National Science Foundation Graduate Student Fellowship. He is a member of the American Meteorological Society and the American Geophysical Union.

Education:

Ph.D., Geology and Geophysics, Yale University, 2006
M.S., Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, Cornell University, 2001
A.B., Biology, Harvard University, 1998

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