The reality of adapting to a rapidly changing climate
As an environmental scientist, Professor Brendan Mackey knows that the science is clear on how human activity is causing rapid climate change, a result of emissions from burning fossil fuels (oil, coal, gas) and deforestation.
In his role as Director of Griffith University’s Climate Change Response Program, he is trying to help people understand what is at stake and how to adapt to the unavoidable consequences.
“The fact is we’ve changed the climate so much already that even if we were to stop emissions tomorrow, we’ll be living with the impact of a changing climate for decades and centuries to come,” he says.
Small island developing states throughout the Pacific are particularly exposed to climate change risks, facing a combination of rising sea levels, increasingly unreliable weather patterns and the degradation of marine habitats, especially coral reefs.
In the face of this rapidly changing climate, Professor Mackey and a diverse team of Griffith experts established the EcoAdapt project, which focuses on climate change adaptation interventions in the coastal zone of Pacific island states and territories.
The EcoAdapt project has adopted an innovative approach to its task by assembling a nimble, multidisciplinary team that takes a holistic view of the emerging issues.
“The impacts of climate change are system wide, so you cannot address the adaptation problem from the perspective of any one discipline,” says Professor Mackey.
The team combines the integrated expertise of micro-economists, coastal engineers, marine ecologists, planners, social scientists and other specialist researchers to gain a broader understanding of the problems and the possible solutions.
Researcher Dan Ware, the Project Manager for EcoAdapt, sees this co-ordinated approach as key to developing solutions for vulnerable communities to become resilient to climate change.
“Our research is guiding the way investments are made into the resilience of communities and ecosystems in the Pacific, so that we can protect as many people as possible across as large an area as possible.”
The team employs a range of technologies, including GIS (geographic information system), satellite imagery and drones to collect data and develop highly detailed 3D modelling.
Dr Serena Lee, a Griffith Research Fellow whose expertise in ocean modelling gives her a deep understanding of the challenges faced in coastal zones, has been inspired by EcoAdapt’s integrated approach.
“We need to link up in order to solve these problems. While I focus on what’s happening in the ocean, what excites me is being able to then feed that knowledge to other components within the EcoAdapt project to understand how that’s going to affect the local weather, marine ecosystems and the land-based ecosystem.
“This project really brings those processes together and it allows me to work with other experts who are at the top of their field.”
In a relatively short period, the EcoAdapt project has fostered new relationships and partnerships throughout the Pacific region, supported by the hands-on involvement of local communities whose way of life is directly under threat.
While its current focus is on the developing small-island states of the South Pacific, there are moves to also apply the work elsewhere, such as the many islands facing similar challenges in Indonesia.
‘Unfortunately, climate change adaptation is a “growth business”’, Professor Mackey says.
“Everyone is going to be impacted by climate change, and everyone needs to be thinking about adaptation. It just has to become part of the reality we have to deal with now, on both a strategic and a day-to-day basis.”