Early warning systems in support of adaptation across climate timescales
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Tuesday, 19 January 2010: 11:00 AM
Early warning systems can be interpreted narrowly as technological instruments for detecting and forecasting impending hazard events and for issuing alerts. This approach, however, does not clarify whether warning information is actually used at the national and local levels to reduce risks. The disaster research and emergency management communities have shown over the past forty years that warnings of impending hazards need to be complemented by information on the risks actually posed by the hazards and likely strategies and pathways to mitigate the loss and damage in the particular context in which they arise. Effective adaptations require information for long-term infrastructural planning and as critically deliberative mechanisms to structure learning and redesign in the face of emergent problems. Key gaps within the present context are that information on physical states and impacts are not optimally integrated into a coherent overall storyline, in real-time, to meaningfully characterize conditions, cumulative or intensifying impacts across climate timescales (such as during drought) are difficult to characterize. Monitoring and forecasting systems attempt to deliver the critical climate information---what, when, and where--- with some measure of skill. However a comprehensive EWS must address formulation and dissemination of the warning message, capacity for developing relevant risk scenarios to improve preparedness, and guidance on pathways and networks for action.
Climate will be continually changing, moving at a relatively rapid rate, outside the range to which society has adapted in the past. The precise amounts and timing of these changes will not be known with certainty for improving integration of such information would create improvements in decision support for planning, mitigation, early warning, triggering, and response. Scenario development is critical in this context. An assessment of successful design criteria for a variety of early warning systems (health, hurricanes, technology, and others) suggests that several sub-systems are needed for effective actionable warnings. In this presentation we (1) review the strengths and limitations of existing early warnings in the context of changing climate, (2) outline the development of an ongoing early warning system development designed with the preceding concepts in mind (such as National Integrated Drought Information System), and (3) build on this model and other types of early warning systems from non-climate sectors (in astronomy, finance and technology) to foster proactive knowledge assessment and management to inform responses to abrupt or rapid-onset changes.