UNEP releases Summary of Report on Research Priorities for Programme of Research on Climate Change Vulnerability, Impacts and Adaptation (PROVIA)

Climate variability and change affect virtually all physical, biological and human systems on the planet. A major challenge of the research community is to provide relevant information to policymakers on vulnerability, impacts and adaptation (VIA) in the context of a changing climate and to do so in a coherent and coordinated way. The Programme of Research on Climate Change Vulnerability, Impacts and Adaptation (PROVIA) aims to respond to this challenge by harmonizing, mobilizing and communicating the growing knowledge-base on VIA to relevant audiences.

PROVIA, in consultation with both experts and policymakers, has developed a set of Research Priorities for the global VIA community whose activities are primarily carried out by individual researchers and research institutions. The topics reflect a balance between research ‘supply’ from the expert community and research ‘demand’ from policymakers and decision-makers. The Research Priorities include new and emerging topics as well as topics that have long been recognized as important but for which research is still required.

The focus of the PROVIA Research Priorities is on vulnerability, impacts and adaptation, rather than climate science per se, and the VIA topics depend to a varying extent on the state of climate knowledge. Since there remains significant uncertainty about how some key climate drivers may change (e.g., future evolution of tropical cyclones and stability of polar land and seaice), a common theme is the importance of building capacity for adaptation, resilience and risk management under uncertainty in both developing and developed countries.

Extract “Vulnerable Coastal Areas and Islands”

Increase understanding of VIA and natural processes in the most vulnerable coastal areas, which include mega deltas, coastal wetlands, islands, coral reefs and coastal cities

A large part of the world’s population lives near coasts, many in dense urban areas. The combination of high population density and rapid growth, especially in Asia, is putting strain on many coastal areas while climate changes such as sea level rise and increased coastal flooding are simultaneously increasing vulnerability (Nicholls et al. 2007; Nicholls and Cazenave, 2010). The geographical isolation of many islands can present a range of specific challenges, increasing vulnerability and impacts while limiting the potential for adaptation.

Since many islands include distinct cultures and endemic ecosystems and species, potential losses associated with climate change and other stressors are very large (Mimura et al. 2007; Sem, 2007; Sovacool, 2012; Wong, 2010). Research is needed to identify: (a) the most vulnerable populations to a range of coastal hazards including storm surge flooding (Buonaiuto et al. 2011; Few et al. 2007); (b) impacts of sea level rise on groundwater, fisheries, coral reefs and mangroves (Werner and Simmons, 2009; Mimura et al. 2007; Loucks et al. 2010); (c) how natural systems and processes affect vulnerability (e.g., the role of coral reefs and mangroves in reducing storm surge damage and erosion) and (d) the pros and cons of hard infrastructure (e.g., sea walls and surge barriers) and soft infrastructure (e.g., sand dunes and coastal wetlands) (Sovacool, 2011).

Integrated studies are also needed to determine how vulnerable coastal areas, including islands with endemic species, may be affected by multiple stresses caused by growing human populations and a changing climate. Studies on effective ways to protect endemic populations and cope with invasive species are needed as well. There is a need for small islands to form research partnerships to learn from each other and pool resources (Sem, 2007). Key topics include options for migration as sea levels rise and legal recourse and liability. Another topic is how local resources upon which small island populations depend (e.g., food and tourism) may be influenced by sea level rise.

Research on how populations can be made more resilient in the face of these changes is also critical (Sovacool, 2012; Sem, 2007). Critical activities that support this research priority include:

  •  Assessing coastal adaptations (e.g., hard and soft infrastructure)
  •  Evaluating options for, and desirability of, migration and retreat
  •  Analyzing multiple stresses facing islands

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