17 December 2018

Lara Hansen is the Chief Scientist and Executive Director of EcoAdapt, a non-profit organisation based in the United States. She was a guest speaker at AFMA’s recent climate adaptation workshop, held in Melbourne, and also presented to staff in Canberra.

Lara’s focus at EcoAdapt is to help governments, organisations and individuals adapt to the effects of climate change. We met with Lara to hear more about the work she does, how climate change is perceived and how the world is progressing in adapting to climate change.

Getting people to care about climate change is an ongoing challenge, with most people acknowledging it exists, but they often don’t quite understand the potential impacts. That’s where I come in.

My first foray into climate change was in 1998 when I started my post-doctorate study in ecology, focusing on the effects of environmental change on coral. Coincidentally, the first global coral bleaching event occurred the same year.

In 2001, I was appointed as the Chief Climate Change Scientist at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), providing technical support for 54 global eco-regions, including the Coral Triangle area and the Great Barrier Reef.

Seven years later in 2008, I founded EcoAdapt with two colleagues to work with people who recognise climate change as a problem but don’t have the technical skills to do anything about it.

We provide them with support strategies to adapt to these climate change effects, and our mission is to build the field of adaptation, and build the science of adaptation.

EcoAdapt predominantly works in North America in marine systems, forest management and human community planning. We lead international projects that tie into larger areas that we see need help, and one of those areas is fisheries.

To help people understand what climate change adaptation planning means, we often use an analogy around an umbrella. Climate science can’t tell us exactly what the world will be like at a specific date in the future, but it can tell us what is likely to happen within a range of conditions, similar to what a weather report can tell you about what might happen over the course of the next few days. When you plan your weekend  you probably consult a weather report to consider what you may want to do, what you might wear to do it, how you might travel or what you might need to bring. In short, given what you want to do this weekend, should you bring along an umbrella?

Climate change projections give us the information to think about what we might expect in the coming years, then we need to determine what we want to be able to do in that future, what we need to achieve that and what we need to have in place (plans, regulations, industries) to make that happen. In other words, what sort of umbrella will we need?

You can apply this to fisheries. For species predicted to have little or no impact from climate change, management strategies need little or no change. Whereas for species predicted to be impacted greatly, they will most certainly require changes to the management of the fishery.

The bottom line is, when it comes to climate change, it needs a proactive strategy, not reactive. We have information to be making climate-informed decisions today, and we have the tools required to make those decisions.

Australia has great datasets on climate change created by agencies like CSIRO, the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, the Integrated Marine Observing System, and the Australian Institute of Marine Science. AFMA is making great strides by undertaking its climate change adaptation projects.

To read about how AFMA is adapting fisheries management to the effects of climate change, visit afma.gov.au.