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Rodin: Climate Scientists Should Shift Focus to Adaptation
People in the developing world are bearing the brunt of global climate change, and require assistance from the developed world to adapt to deteriorating conditions. But so far, research initiatives lag behind what is needed to provide the necessary resilience, according to Rockefeller Foundation President Judith Rodin.
"Now that you, the scientists, have substantiated beyond the shadow of a doubt that a climate crisis is upon us, you must shift your research focus to solutions," she told the audience at her plenary address to the AAAS Annual Meeting on 15 February 2008.
Drawing chuckles from the crowd, Rodin showed a graph of a recent upswing in climate research publications that mirrors the familiar "hockey stick" shape of sharply rising world temperature produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and made famous by Nobel laureate Al Gore's documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth."
While praising researchers for their work to uncover the fact of global climate change, she now wants scientists to design "the intellectual architecture to shelter those with the fewest means from the wrath of a warming world and an imperiled environment," she said.
Rodin pointed to recent reports by the IPCC and the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA) that suggest increasing global inequity will be one of the gravest consequences of climate change. In a world where 70 percent of the wealth among the world's poor comes from their ecosystems, as the MEA suggests, climate change and environmental degradation will have devastating social and economic effects, she noted.
Echoing the IPCC's most recent report, Rodin said climate change "will have the greatest effects on those who have done the least to cause it."
Rodin said the explosion of unplanned urban areas is one such effect that may be overlooked, citing a United Nations study that concluded more 60 percent of the world's population will live in cities by 2030. "For the most part, these are not cities with postcard skylines," she noted. Many new urban dwellers will be environmental refugees, driven by crop failures into slums "deeply vulnerable to the effects of extreme weather" such as flooding, she added.
But even as globalization has brought the consequences of greenhouse gas emissions to bear on an entire planet, the vast amounts of knowledge and interconnectedness associated with globalization can be harnessed to solve the problem, Rodin suggested.
"Whether [globalization] serves as an engine for good or for ill is entirely up to us," she said, noting that the Rockefeller Foundation strives to produce "smart globalization" programs that can help nations more equally absorb the the risks of threats like climate change.
The Foundation ran into the problem headlong recently in its partnership with the Gates Foundation to improve agricultural yields in sub-Saharan Africa. In the midst of soil and seed improvement, "it became increasingly clear as we developed this work that if our poverty reduction strategies through agricultural development were to bear fruit, we would also have to prepare for the effects of the climate change that were already happening," Rodin said. In response, the project has added new initiatives on weather prediction, insurance and building resilience among the region's farmers.
"You can see that addressing global poverty and climate change are not necessarily competing, as many have tried to argue. The best way to break one is to bend the other," Rodin said.
But these communities need more help from the developed world "if they have any hope, I think, of taming the three-headed hydra of climate risk, poverty and precipitous urbanization," she continued.
In many places, researchers lack the basic data they need to develop adaptation strategies for climate change. For instance, sub-Saharan Africa has the lowest density of meteorological stations of any place in the world, about one-eighth the number recommended by the World Meteorological Association. Without this essential data, predicting severe weather events -- let alone coming up with ways to survive them -- has been hampered severely in the region.
"We have the least data on places that face the most danger," Rodin said.
Money is another problem. Referencing data collected by AAAS, Rodin said the United States spends only 1/1000 of its federal research and development funding on climate change adaptation studies. The UN Framework on Climate Change estimates that developing nations delivered only $67 million to developing nations for climate change adaptation in 2007 -- "less than what U.S. consumers spent on suntan lotion each month," she noted.
Trained as a behavioral psychologist, Rodin was the president of the University of Pennsylvania from 1994 to 2004, the first woman to lead an Ivy League university. She became president of the Rockefeller Foundation in 2005.
16 February 2008