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An Assessment Report of the State of Knowledge on Rise Mitigation and Adaptation


The science of adaptation requires a detailed knowledge of the hazards and their causes in order to be able to assess the threats these hazard may pose. A thorough understanding of the vulnerability of the built environment, the embedded social communities, and the environmental life-support systems on which the welfare of these communities depends is another crucial inputy for a thorough risk assessment that can give guidance to the planning of adaptation. Foresight in terms of possible futures and the consequences of our decisions is crucial for proactive planning of mitigation and adaptation. The societal and individual framework for decision making defines the processes that can lead to mitigation and adaptation. Finally, detailed knowledge of options for mitigation and adaptation viable in the given social, political, and economic context informs decision making.

An assessment of our knowledge related to adaptation to sea level rise and its impacts shows that in all five parts of adaptation science progress has been made recently, but at the same time, large knowledge gaps remain and useable knowledge is limited. A main focus of research has been on understanding the hazards and their potential evolution due to climate change. Vulnerability research has made progress for the built environment and to a lesser extent for the socio-economic system. Foresight is still a concept under development and decisions are mostly not informed by foresight - there is a clear preference to build decision on deterministic predictions of future hazard trajectories. Options are mostly developed based on narrow design criteria that negelect to a large extent the upper end of the hazard spectrum. Preference is given to short-term sustainability over long-term adaptation and preparedness.

At the same time, climate change is impacting the daily life of people already. Many low-lying coastal areas are exposed to more frequent flooding as a result of the rise in local sea level. However, the current rate of sea level rise is low compared to what might happen over the next decades. In some areas, roads and buildings are by now exposed to flooding for up to 200 hours per year and this might rapidly increase to 500 or more hours per year in the near future. Increased risks of extreme weather events, economic costs due to disruptions of public services, changes in the social structure, reduced ecosystem services, increasing likelihood of heat waves and periods of drought, health impacts caused by reduced air quality and new infectious diseases, all are consequences of climate change and sea level rise already impacting lives in Virginia.

The time for mitigating climate change and its impacts and adapting to the changes is running out. There is an urgent need to develop adaptation science and to produce the practice-relevant knowledge that address all these issues. Climate change and sea-level rise pose unprecedented threats to communities across the world, especially the heavily-populated urban coasts. The changes experienced during the last century are unprecedented during the Holocene, that is, the relatively stable 10,000 years in which civilization could develop. There is increasing evidence that the changes anticipated for the 21st Century will push the climate outside the range known to civilization and into a phase of much greater variability. This challenges decision-making in all societal sectors, and it requires a new level of preparedness to mitigate the impacts and adapt to the changes.