Basic Research the Key to Climate Mitigation, Adaptation

Some climate scientists believe that the summer 2010 floods in Pakistan (above) and heatwave in Russia came from the same climate pattern. (Sajjad Qayyum/AFP/Getty Images)

Asia Society's Sustainability Roundtable, a regular feature on the re:ASIA blog, features insight and analysis on current events from our team of sustainability experts. This week, we asked our roundtable to reflect on last week's G8 summit, which took place May 26-27 in Deauville, France. How did the summit address issues such as nuclear safety, climate change and the ongoing bioenergy debate?

Dan Stellar serves as the Assistant Director for the Columbia Water Center, a program of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. Lakis Polycarpou is Communications Coordinator at the Water Center, where he writes extensively on the global water crisis.

Although climate change issues were high on the agenda at the recent G8 summit, the meeting produced little in the way of concrete plans and binding commitments. As we look towards the next event on the "climate calendar," December's talks in Durban, early analysis suggests that it is unlikely that the conference — like the G8 meeting — will result in a comprehensive agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

However, even in the absence of such an agreement, there are many steps nations can take now to lay the groundwork for future climate mitigation and adaptation. One of the most important is to increase support for basic climate science.

While the issue of anthropogenic climate change remains contentious in some quarters, it is known that long-term climate change happens in the context of shorter-term natural climate variability — variability that climate scientists have only really begun to understand in the last few years. Recent research points to the globally interconnected nature of this variability. For example, some scientists believe that last year's floods in Pakistan and Russia's deadly heatwave came from the same climate pattern.

A better understanding of these connections could allow for much more effective short- and medium-term risk management as well as long-term climate adaptation, affecting everything from infrastructure design, to water resource allocation, to the structuring of index-based insurance for flood and drought risk management.

In order to achieve this goal, however, we should be careful not to let debate about anthropogenic change or the political stalemate on curbing emissions stall the basic climate research that is still needed.