J9.4 Integration of Local Planners' and Scientists' Knowledge of Consequences, Vulnerabilities, and Adaptation Strategies to Climate Change Related Hazards

Monday, 24 January 2011: 4:45 PM
618-620 (Washington State Convention Center)
Seth Tuler, Social and Environmental Research Institute, Greenfield, MA; and K. Dow, J. C. Whitehead, T. Webler, and N. Kettle

Climate changes and the need for adaptation planning are becoming increasingly evident in coastal areas. Climate-related changes, such as sea level, coastal storms, intense rainfall events, in combination with local actions may lead to a diverse set of adaptation needs. Coastal managers and communities desire a better understanding of the relevance of these large scale global processes for local decisions and circumstances.

While there has been a great deal of attention to calls for higher resolution of spatial and temporal climate information, there is also a need for a greater knowledge of the climate sensitivity and interactions among multiple local systems; for example, from financial planning to social to wastewater. A better understanding of the interactions of local systems to climate can provide insight into the local consequences of climate change. Consequences can be direct effects (e.g., flooding from sea level rise, shoreline erosion) but they are likely to often be the result of complex, “downstream” interactions as well (e.g., loss of income from reduced tourism and recreation leading to reduced budgets, inability to purchase hazard insurance potentially influencing the tax base, new pressures on infrastructure leading to investment needs). Community planners must also understand how impacts are related to differences in vulnerability, how municipal actions can exacerbate impacts (e.g., construction of protective seawalls and revetments), and how management decisions interact in productive and unproductive ways.

In short, managing the diverse hazards associated climate change poses formidable informational and communication challenges for coastal managers and communities. Furthermore, good information does not necessarily lead to good climate change adaptation or hazard resilience plans. There is a need for step-by-step advice on how to go about doing this kind of planning. Recent reports on adaptation planning suggest that planners would clearly benefit from planning tools/processes that: a) organize and integrate, at the local level, information and management actions in a manner that makes transparent what the community is already doing to address these hazards and what are the significant remaining gaps that need to be filled and b) engage decision-makers, local residents, and other stakeholders from early stages to improve information inputs, credibility of government, and acceptance of final decisions.

In this presentation we will discuss our experiences with a process that addresses these needs, by which communities plan for managing coastal hazards associated with climate change. We have developed and tested a “Vulnerability and Consequence Adaptation Planning Scenario” (VCAPS) process with a barrier island community in South Carolina. This process promotes structured and efficient dialogue and deliberation among a diverse group of individuals. VCAPS combines a facilitated series of meetings mediated by an interactive computer-based diagramming program to help local planners collaboratively develop scenarios about how single and multiple stressors act to affect processes within a social-environmental system and produce consequences of community significance. It highlights vulnerabilities and management interventions that can be taken to adapt to or mitigate consequences. A benefit of this approach is that it highlights causal connections and feedbacks. While some planning tools create matrices or tables, which do summarize large amount of information, tables do not make it explicit how hazards intervene in a community and produce negative consequences. They also do not clarify how different systems are connected. Participants in our case study reported that the process facilitated individual learning and group deliberation and group learning, inspired decision-makers to plan for climate change, and improved understanding of factors that affect vulnerability and the ability to adapt in their community. We will describe the VCAPS process and our experience using it to promote discussion, learning, and adaptation planning in a coastal community.

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