When J.R.R. Tolkien began penning a modest sequel to The Hobbit, the epic that would emerge 18 years later as The Lord of the Rings wasn’t exactly what he had in mind. Indeed, the significance of the Ring only surfaced a year into the process.
At times, writing Royal Society policy reports can feel like an epic undertaking (albeit one firmly rooted in the realms of science not fantasy, and one guided by a Working Group’s collective wisdom not an author’s imagination). But as the journey proceeds there’s comfort in the fact that great writing – whether literary yarn or policy report – often requires adjustment and improvement rather than slavish adherence to the original brief.
As the report I’ve been working on for the past 18 months – Resilience to extreme weather – draws closer to publication, it’s interesting to reflect on how its framing and focus have shifted over its lifetime as new scientific evidence and policy developments have come to light.
In this video – shot either side of Christmas last year – several members of our expert Working Group contemplate the buzzword ‘resilience’ before (from 2.55 onwards) outlining their aspirations for the project.
So, nearly a year on, has the project lived up to its billing? Well, in most part, yes. But with some tweaks (we hope always improvements) along the way. Here are three examples:
1. “We’re looking particularly at the issue of ecosystem-based adaptation – so that’s the use of ecosystems to buffer humans and human systems from climate variations” (Peter Cox)
The report does look at ecosystem-based approaches (expect novel analyses and graphics). But we compare these to engineered and hybrid alternatives. We also look beyond these approaches for coping with specific hazards (sea walls, mangroves et al) to consider how people can adapt and thrive more generally in the face of extreme weather. As such, we address some of the broader principles and processes of building resilience – from the importance of engaging local people to the merits of acting sooner rather than later.
2. “One of the things we’d like to do is bring together the disaster risk and the climate change communities” (Georgina Mace)
This is certainly something we do in the report (and have done throughout the project). But, again, we go a step further. We call not only for the disasters and climate change folk to come together, but also for a whole host of other communities to join the conversation too. We recognise that building resilience requires shared action and responsibility. It’s simply too big a task to tackle in silos or without considering the bigger picture.
3. “The project’s trying to review a whole range of climate-induced hazards and the ways in which those have been responded to at a number of different scales, in a number of different country contexts” (Bhaskar Vira)
Regarding ‘a number of scales’, we examine everything from international frameworks to local appraisals. As for ‘a number of country contexts’, we present examples from around the world (developed and developing countries, urban and rural locations), with four practical illustrations of how different communities are successfully building resilience. And let’s not forget that the project’s taken us via the mountains of Uganda, beaches of New Jersey, neighbourhoods of New Orleans, and riverbanks of Yorkshire. In the end, in order to undertake detailed analyses, we focus on just four of the most frequent and destructive hazards – coastal flooding, inland flooding, droughts and heat waves (though expect the occasional nod to storms and rising sea levels too).
It’s perhaps only fitting that a report about adapting to the impacts of extreme weather should be, well, adapted along the way. In fact, ‘adaptive management’ (the idea of adapting policies and practice as circumstances change and new information becomes available) is something the report specifically applauds.
Of course, a published report doesn’t mean the end of the road. The task from December onwards will be to take the report’s findings to the audiences it’s intended to inform and influence. And I for one am looking forward to the journey. As Tolkien’s characters say, ‘The road goes ever on and on…’