Climate Exchange

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The use of climate scenarios for adaptation planning in Papua New Guinea (PNG).

Written by: Karen Hiawalyer.

The observed impacts of climate change pose immediate threats to the development aspirations of both developed and developing countries. Future emissions of Green House Gases (GHG) further exacerbates the uncertainty in future climate change impacts. Consequently, both public and private sectors are faced with the challenge to implement ‘no-regrets’ adaptation actions. This article will discuss the top-down and bottom-up approaches to adaptation and further talk about the use of climate scenarios for climate change adaptation planning. The article will give the example of Papua New Guinea (PNG), a developing country and the challenges of climate change adaptation planning using climate scenarios.

Climate change adaptation is defined by the UNFCCC as a way in which ecologies, societies and economies practice or implement activities and/or measures that reduce their vulnerability to the negative impacts of climate change while also benefit from the positive impacts. In addition, ecologies, societies and economies need to reduce the impacts of future climate change by increasing their resilience. The UNFCCC states that in order for this to be done effectively, there will need to be changes in processes, practices, and structures across economic, ecological and social dimensions. In defining vulnerability and resilience, vulnerability includes the extent to which a system can cope or is unable to cope with the impacts of climate change which includes climate variability and weather extremes. Resilience is a process of improving performances without changing or affecting normal methods or procedures (Pelling, 2011) in order to recover readily from the adverse impacts of climate change. When increasing the resilience of a particular system, this system then becomes less vulnerable to the impacts of climate change (Dessai and Hulme, 2004).

According to Pelling (2011), adapting to climate change must not only take into account the technical or managerial concerns in research and policy development. Instead, the social root causes of climate change like development policy, demographics, cultural norms, political regime form and social values can also assist us in understanding that climate change adaptation is not only climate change specific but also includes the human process of development (ibid.). Taking these aspects into consideration in decision making and development planning not only increases a systems resilience but also reduces its vulnerability to the impacts of climate change. Hence, decision makers will need to be equipped with all relevant information concerning scientific and socioeconomic trends, in order to better assess current climate risks and predict future risks for better policy and planning (Lempert et al., 2004).

1. Climate Scenarios and decision making.

The IPCC through the Working Group III in its “Special Report on Emissions Scenarios” (SRES), has developed four scenario categories and storylines representing seven scenario groups (Nakicenovic et al., 2000). These scenarios are determined by driving forces such as population, economic and social development, energy and technology, agriculture and land use emissions, and additional gas emissions other than carbon dioxide. The scenarios have been developed using different modeling approaches in order to create likely outcomes through future projections. Even though the SRES maps out the possible global climate futures, the likelihood or probability of assumptions for projections and components of the projections are still questioned. Schneider (2001) also argues that policy and decision makers need more specific probabilities in scenario storylines in order to make better informed policy decisions. However, Lempert and Schlesinger (2001) state that ensembles of multiple scenarios are enough to assess the robustness of alternative, near-term climate policies. There is still a wide debate as to whether climate scenarios and probabilities are useful especially in regards to climate change adaptation policies (Dessai and Hulme, 2004).

2. Top down and bottom up approaches to adaptation.

Dessai and Hulme, (2004) have outlined two approaches to climate adaptation policy. The first approach is the top down approach which also can be seen as the predict-then-act approach. This approach is more prediction oriented utilizes climate scenarios and climate modeling at a more macro level. It also looks at the biophysical aspects of adaptation for example in water irrigation or infrastructure resilience. The predict-then-act approach can be very useful in some areas like cost benefit analysis of projects but can be challenging when it comes to climate change, given its diverse geographic and time scales and its uncertainty (Lempert et al., 2004). Some authors argue that the shortcoming of this approach is that it does not include the climate-society relationship in policy or planning. There is also a lot of uncertainty in the social vulnerability and human aspects of future climate predictions. The second approach is the bottom up approach, which can also be called the ‘assess-risk-of’ policy approach. This approach looks closely at the processes and causes underlying vulnerability. It views the vulnerability of a system (ecological, economical or social) and assesses its development ambitions and resilience. Furthermore, the bottom up approach also uses present and past climate and weather information (recent and historic) for adaptation planning. With the bottom up approach to adaptation, vulnerability assessments are done to assess the climate variability in the short term rather than in the long term. Though different in characteristics, both approaches are in fact complementary (Dessai and Hulme, 2004; van Pelt and Swart, 2011; Wilby et al., 2009).

3. A case study of Climate Change Policy option for Papua New Guinea (PNG).

3.1. Current situation analysis

PNG is the largest nation in the Pacific both in terms of its estimated population of 7.1 million and the landmass covering approximately 460,000 square kilometers. The population is dispersed widely across the country and has been growing at an average rate of 2.3% per year (DNPM, 2010; PNG Preliminary Census, 2011). Eighty five percent PNG’s population is rural based and relies on forest exploitation, fishing, hunting and subsistence agriculture for their livelihood. Furthermore, this rural population also account for 94% of PNGs people living in poverty (ADB, 2011). Weak infrastructure, weak service delivery mechanisms, marketing difficulties and low civil society capacity reduce possibilities for alternative livelihoods and access to renewable energy schemes.

On the international stage, PNG has worked hard for the world to recognize the value of its forests as carbon stores. National action on reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation and conservation, sustainable forest management and carbon stocks enhancement (REDD+) increased significantly since its adoption in Bali in 2007. The Copenhagen Accord provides an opportunity for substantial funding for REDD+ readiness action. (PNG Climate Compatible Development Strategy, 2010).

At the domestic front, PNG is committed to mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to the adverse impacts of climate change. PNGs Vision 2050 envisages low-carbon economic development, with an aspirating goal of carbon neutrality by 2050. The PNG Development Strategic Plan (DSP) has a climate change sector goal to adapt to the domestic impacts of climate change and contribute to the global efforts to abate greenhouse gas emissions. The Medium Term Development Plan (MTDP) 2010-2015 further articulates several targets and strategies to achieve that goal. PNG has not yet developed a comprehensive ‘no-regrets’ climate change policy. In the interim though, PNG in collaboration with the World Bank has developed its climate change strategy. With regards to adaptation, PNG builds on the risk assessment and management methodology. Given recent and historic data, PNG has identified six main areas for adaptation planning due mainly to the high-risk exposure to climate change these areas have faced and are facing. They are;

1. Coastal Flooding
2. Inland Flooding
3. Migration
4. Malaria
5. Agriculture
6. Coral reefs

The adaptation strategy does not use future climate scenarios to plan adaptation activities. Since PNG is already facing the impacts of climate change, the strategy seeks to identify current high risk hazards in order to build adaptive capacity and reduce the vulnerability of already affected communities.

3.2. PNG Climate Future

The notable climate change trends for the Pacific region over the past 60 years include:
• Increased rainfall in the Northeast and a decreased rainfall the South of the South Pacific convergence zone;
• Average temperatures have increased by 0.1°C – 0.2°C per decade since 1970, however, warming has not been consistent everywhere, with the greatest warming occurring near the equator and westward of 180 Degrees East;
• Sea surface temperatures in the region have increased by 0.7C between 1950-2000;
• Sea levels are rising globally, with the greatest rise (>8mm/year) being in the Western Pacific; and,
• Occurrence of ocean acidification in the region.

According to the Pacific Climate Change Science Program Country report for PNG, during the period of the 21st Century PNG can expect the following:

• Surface air temperature and sea surface temperature are projected to continue to increase (very high confidence)
• Annual and seasonal mean rainfall is projected to increase (high confidence)
• The intensity and frequency of days of extreme heat are projected to increase (very high confidence).
• The intensity and frequency of days of extreme rainfall are projected to increase (high confidence)
• The incidence of drought is projected to decrease (moderate confidence)
• Tropical cyclone numbers are projected to decline in the south-west Pacific Ocean basin (0–40ºS, 130ºE –170ºE) (moderate confidence)
• Ocean acidification is projected to continue (very high confidence)
• Mean sea-level rise is projected to continue (very high confidence)

The climate projections used to develop the climate future in the pacific and in PNG were derived from an ensemble of 18 global climate models and this produces a range of possible futures (Australian Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO, 2011).
The projections stated above are not location specific in terms of including PNG provincial and city boundary projections but it does include average changes around the region’s sea surface temperatures and surface air temperatures. Furthermore, downscaling simulations produce different results from broader scale modeling.
3.3. Implications of climate change projections for policy in PNG.

Although the climate projections are not particularly country specific, they give an idea of PNGs future climate and what decision makers can expect for climate change impacts in the decades ahead. The increase in the frequency and intensity of rainfall, increase in sea level rise and ocean acidification will pose both threats and opportunities for PNG. Given the fact that approximately 85% of PNGs population live in rural areas and this percentage of people are engaged as the labor force for the fisheries, agriculture and forestry sectors, PNG will have to develop a ‘no-regrets’ policy that focuses on the adaptation of the most vulnerable communities and sectors on which these communities are dependent. Even though PNG has identified immediate areas to be addressed through adaptation, climate change projections are not specific enough for decision makers to be fully informed regarding adaptation planning and budgeting (Schneider, 2001).

With regards to mitigation, Over 95% of Papua New Guinea’s emissions are derived from land use, land-use change and forestry, including the effects of forest fires. The remainder come from mining, transport, the production of energy and oil and gas (PNG Climate Change Strategy, 2010). Even though PNG has made a commitment to contribute to global efforts to reduce GHG emissions, there are still uncertainties to future geographical and economic developments (Dessai and Hulme, 2004). Furthermore, PNG’s very first Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) plant will go into operation in 2014. The PNG LNG project will have a lifespan of about 30 years (until 2043). This will then affect the emission scenarios for PNG therefore affecting climate projections and causing greater uncertainty to the range of possible futures. This will make it more challenging for PNGs efforts to abate GHG emissions and for adaptation planning.

4. Conclusion

In the progress of improving the projections for global climate models, there is the need for more research into scenario driving forces and especially future predictions of these forces, which may be varied from country to country (Burton et al., 2002). For the moment, though there has been much debate about the likelihoods and probability of assumptions in scenarios, regions may find such scenarios and climate projections useful in their adaptation planning like the national and regional adaptation assessment in Europe for the River Rhine (van Pelt and Swart, 2011).

With regards to the top down or bottom up approaches to adaptation, it can be said that the top down approach favors use by countries with a significant level of adaptive capacity, technological capacity and financial resources to make the investments especially in the face of uncertainty. To further improve the top down approach, climatic models can be further improved to decrease uncertainty through research. The bottom up approach to adaptation can be used in the case where there is the need for short to mid-term levels of vulnerability reduction and planning for adaptation. The bottom up approach should also look at biophysical aspects of adaptation rather than socio-economic information alone. Furthermore, countries with limited adaptive capacity, financial and technological capacity might find it easier to use recent and historic information for adaptation planning and policy. The two approaches can be complemented through the top down approach that is purely biophysical, to include the social aspects and social behavior in its approach and future long term predictions. The bottom up approach can also be further improved through more research into social capital and social networks, individuals and cultures in order to improve understanding of social vulnerability, and improve resilience (Dessai and Hulme, 2004).

In the development of PNG’s climate change policy, there needs to be comprehensive research into both the biophysical and socioeconomic aspects of climate change vulnerability. Climate projections for PNG’s produce various climate futures under different scenarios and given the future economic activities in PNG, uncertainties in these predictions may increase. Thus, assistance from development partners in the areas of socioeconomic vulnerability assessments and research for adaptation policy including increasing adaptive capacities to improve resilience to climate change would therefore be a better immediate option for PNG.

© Karen Hiawalyer

Suggested citing:

Hiawalyer, K. 2014.  The use of climate scenarios for adaptation planning in Papua New Guinea (PNG) [Online]. Available at: use of climate scenarios for adaptation planning in Papua New Guinea (PNG)/  [accessed + date when the website was accessed].


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