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On the way to Rio+20: Adaptation Futures

By Luisa Cristini, PhD, University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Tucson Downtown. Photo from the conference website.

In a couple of weeks, on June 20-22, 2012, the countries of the United Nations (UN) will gather in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for the Conference on Sustainable Development: Rio+20. The conference is an historic opportunity to define a safer, cleaner, greener and more prosperous future for all the people living in the world. The meeting is taking place 20 years after the 1992 Earth Summit, in Rio as well, where the member states first adopted a development agenda (Agenda 21) to rethink economic growth, advance social equity and ensure environmental protection.

On the way to Rio+20, many “preparatory meetings” have been organized, like the one I had the chance to participate in last week: the conference “Adaptation Futures, 2012 International Conference on Climate Change Adaptation” in Tucson, Arizona. The conference, co-hosted by the University of Arizona and by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP)’s Programme on Research on Climate Change Vulnerability, Impacts and Adaptation (PROVIA), brought together over 700 practitioners, scientists, students, policy makers, and professionals from developed and developing countries to explore the ways in which we can adapt to the changing climate across the globe and to share insights into the challenges and opportunities that adaptation presents. There were representatives from 60 countries with nearly 475 presentations, covering a huge variety of subjects.

The conference showcased cutting-edge research from around the world, focusing on themes of equity and risk, learning, capacity building, methodology, adaptation finance and investment, and ecosystem based adaptation approaches. We explored practical adaptation policies and approaches, and shared strategies for decision-making from the international to the local scale.

High-priority topics and questions included:

  • Regional studies;
  • Update on key emerging climate change and impacts science, including the latest on future extremes, sea level change, water supplies, and landscape transformation;
  • Communicating climate risks to facilitate adaptation;
  • Building adaptive capacity;
  • Examples of adaptations through case studies and best practices, including costs and benefits of implementing these options;
  • Funding priority research and adaptation;
  • Tools for adaptation;
  • Measuring and evaluating adaptation; and
  • Adaptation under 4°C warming.

I was glad to be able to participate in the discussion and to show my results. I carry out research in climate change vulnerability and adaptation strategies at the University of Hawaii Sea Grant College Program. My work aims to understand climate change impacts on the economy of Hawaii and the Pacific Islands region and to recommend strategies for adaptation and mitigation of climate change. I had the opportunity to give an oral presentation in a parallel session, one of the only two presentations on the Pacific in the whole conference. I received a lot of positive feedback and suggestions on how to deepen my research and I was especially happy that my talk served as the starting point for a productive discussion and for connecting with other researchers working on similar topics.

Apart from presenting my own research, I also joined parallel and plenary sessions, as well as panel and poster sessions. The conference was rich in contents and events and it was difficult to choose between the various options. On Tuesday, May 29th, I took part in panel discussions on gender and climate change; the spatial resolution of climate information; and adaptation effectiveness assessment. On Wednesday the 30th I attended sessions on coastal vulnerabilities and adaptation; mainstreaming climate adaptation into development; and adapting energy and infrastructure. On Thursday, the 31st, climate scenarios; uncertainties of climate projections; and partnerships for sustainable development beyond Rio+20. The plenary sessions, two each day, featured many distinguished keynote speakers from the White House, UNEP, the City of Tucson, Oxfam International, the UN Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Asia Development Bank, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), and the International Center for Climate Change and Development. Additionally, every day about one hour was dedicated to the poster presentations, where studies had been divided into geographical areas. Case studies from Africa, Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Australasia and Oceania, Latin America and Caribbean, United States and Canada have were presented and the hall transformed into a real platform for discussion. A welcoming reception and a final banquet gave further opportunity for networking and connecting with participants from all around the world.

In general, my impression of the conference was very positive. I had the chance to approach and engage in discussion with several researchers and received a lot of new input for my work. I was delighted to see many faces of different colors, to hear many languages and to shake many hands. Besides the challenges that adaptation to climate change presents, I feel that there is also hope and plenty of energy and resources to face the challenges and transform them in opportunities. I feel more motivated and confident that there are many people, at least those who participated in the conference, with passion and willingness to take their part in the global effort towards developing a sustainable future.

The results of the discussion in Arizona will be presented by the conference’s chair, Dr Diana Liverman, at Rio+20. The way to a sustainable and just world is long and strenuous, but now I am sure that we are not alone.


Rio+20, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development:

Adaptation Futures, Second International Conference on Climate Change Adaptation:

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