Perceptions of Climate Risk and Use of Climate Risk Information by Natural Resource Conservation Stakeholders Participating in ADVANCE Projects in Asia and Latin America

Manishka De Mel aCenter for Climate Systems Research, Earth Institute, Columbia University, New York, New York
bNASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, New York, New York

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William Solecki cHunter College of the City University of New York, New York, New York

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Radley Horton dLamont Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University, Palisades, New York

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Ryan Bartlett eWorld Wildlife Fund U.S., Washington, D.C.

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Abigail Hehmeyer eWorld Wildlife Fund U.S., Washington, D.C.

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Shaun Martin eWorld Wildlife Fund U.S., Washington, D.C.

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Cynthia Rosenzweig aCenter for Climate Systems Research, Earth Institute, Columbia University, New York, New York
bNASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, New York, New York

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Abstract

Integrating climate risk information into resilience-building activities in the field is important to ensure that adaptation is based on the best available science. Despite this, many challenges exist when developing, communicating, and incorporating climate risk information. There are limited resources on how stakeholders perceive risks, use risk information, and what barriers exist to limit knowledge integration. This paper seeks to define the following: 1) What do conservation stakeholders consider to be the most significant climate risks they face now and possibly in the future? 2) What have been the most significant barriers to their using climate risk information? 3) What sources and types of knowledge would be most useful for these managers to overcome these barriers? A survey was conducted among stakeholders (n = 224) associated with World Wildlife Fund projects in tropical and subtropical countries. A very high proportion of stakeholders used climate risk information and yet faced integration-related challenges, which included too much uncertainty and the lack of a relevant scale for planning. The main factors preventing the use of climate risk information in decision-making were unavailability of climate risk information, no or limited financial or human resources available to respond, lack of organizational mandate or support, and no or limited institutional incentives. Comparing perceived current and future risks revealed a decline in concern for some future climate hazards. Survey respondents identified scientific reports, climate scientists, and online sources as the most useful information sources of climate risk information, while (i) maps and illustrations; (ii) scenarios format; and (iii) data tables, graphs, and charts were identified as user-friendly formats.

Supplemental information related to this paper is available at the Journals Online website: https://doi.org/10.1175/WCAS-D-20-0010.s1.

© 2021 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Manishka De Mel, manishka.demel@columbia.edu

Abstract

Integrating climate risk information into resilience-building activities in the field is important to ensure that adaptation is based on the best available science. Despite this, many challenges exist when developing, communicating, and incorporating climate risk information. There are limited resources on how stakeholders perceive risks, use risk information, and what barriers exist to limit knowledge integration. This paper seeks to define the following: 1) What do conservation stakeholders consider to be the most significant climate risks they face now and possibly in the future? 2) What have been the most significant barriers to their using climate risk information? 3) What sources and types of knowledge would be most useful for these managers to overcome these barriers? A survey was conducted among stakeholders (n = 224) associated with World Wildlife Fund projects in tropical and subtropical countries. A very high proportion of stakeholders used climate risk information and yet faced integration-related challenges, which included too much uncertainty and the lack of a relevant scale for planning. The main factors preventing the use of climate risk information in decision-making were unavailability of climate risk information, no or limited financial or human resources available to respond, lack of organizational mandate or support, and no or limited institutional incentives. Comparing perceived current and future risks revealed a decline in concern for some future climate hazards. Survey respondents identified scientific reports, climate scientists, and online sources as the most useful information sources of climate risk information, while (i) maps and illustrations; (ii) scenarios format; and (iii) data tables, graphs, and charts were identified as user-friendly formats.

Supplemental information related to this paper is available at the Journals Online website: https://doi.org/10.1175/WCAS-D-20-0010.s1.

© 2021 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Manishka De Mel, manishka.demel@columbia.edu

1. Introduction

Climate change has begun to have significant impacts on a variety of natural resources conversation contexts including habitat and endangered species conservation and management (Baldwin et al. 2018; Reside et al. 2018; Warren et al. 2018). The objective of this paper is to examine how natural resources conservation stakeholders describe and define the key climate risk issues that they face now and might possibly face in the future, and what types of climate risk information are most useful for them as they plan for climate change. It is important to understand the challenges and opportunities that these stakeholders face as they connect their practice to climate adaptation and resiliency.

The paper presents results of a survey conducted by sets of stakeholders (n = 224) associated with World Wildlife Fund (WWF) projects in tropical and subtropical countries, including the WWF–Columbia University Adaptation for Development and Conservation (ADVANCE) program, that were designed to enhance opportunities for local climate change adaptation, conservation, and natural resource management. The survey is focused on addressing stakeholders’ understanding of climate risk. More specifically, the paper seeks to define the following: 1) What do conservation stakeholders consider to be the most significant climate risks they face now and possibly in the future? 2) What have been the most significant barriers to their using climate risk information? 3) What sources and types of knowledge would be most useful for these managers to overcome these barriers?

2. Background

Climate change is already having a profound impact on global ecology and natural resources (IPCC 2019a; Díaz et al. 2019). Natural resource managers and policy makers have started to assess and respond to the current and emerging challenges and opportunities presented by climate change. The most significant changes include shifts in annual temperature, precipitation, annual and seasonal water availability, and the influence of extreme events or shocks associated with large storms, flooding, and drought (IPCC 2018, 2019a,b). While all ecosystems are experiencing climate change, many globally unique ecosystems such as coral reefs and high mountain regions are facing heightened climate risks.

a. Natural resource conservation, decision-making, and climate change

An emerging yet limited literature is available with regard to how natural resource conservation practitioners and policy makers are using climate change information. The present survey is constructed with the goal of addressing the gaps in this existing literature. Climate projections are essential for understanding ecological responses to climate change, with an ongoing, and improved, dialogue between climate scientists and the climate change impacts community being necessary to bridge the gap in the understanding of climate projections (Harris et al. 2014). The need to find ways to scale up the production of usable information tailored to specific applications will deepen, as the demand for climate change adaptation continues to grow (Kalafatis et al. 2015). Effective climate services are considered to be those directed at particular users to address their particular vulnerabilities and adaptation planning needs (Carr and Onzere 2018).

Thus, focusing on the design and delivery of climate services is vital and requires investment of time and attention to build relationships and maintain social networks. To improve the ability for societal groups to adapt to a changing climate, it is necessary to improve the linkages between the production and supply of climate-science information with users’ needs in mind to ensure that the climate science is contextual, credible, trusted, and understood by the users (McNie 2013). Despite a frequent call for more useful climate information, there is no consensus among scientists and policy makers with regard to what constitutes useful information or policy-relevant science (Dilling and Lemos 2011). Feasible adaptation strategies are expected to be highly context sensitive (i.e., actor, governance, and system specific), with systematic diagnostic frameworks being more useful than a prescriptive list of necessary conditions, capacities, or steps to overcome barriers (Moser and Ekstrom 2010).

The usefulness of information can be analyzed using the criteria of salience, credibility, and legitimacy (Cash et al. 2002; McNie 2013). Evaluating the usefulness of climate information for decision support is challenging because varying users can use the same information differently, and it has been found that organizations and individuals are more likely to use information that they have requested (McNie 2013; Oh and Rich 1996). Research indicates that developing useful climate information that satisfies users’ needs is a complex, highly contextual social process. Producing high-quality and credible information alone is insufficient to ensure the production of useful climate information for decision support (McNie 2013). Deliberate engagement with end users and an understanding of the social and cultural contexts in which a research project functions are required for “user inspired” climate science (Wall et al. 2017).

McNie (2013) identifies several criteria that enable the development and delivery of useful climate information. This includes identifying stakeholders’ specific research needs using both formal (e.g., robust social science methods such as focus groups, survey instruments, and individual stakeholder queries) and informal (e.g., questionnaires and informal needs assessments when stakeholders are convened) research methods, using multiple strategies to communicate early and iteratively with stakeholders, and building capacity so stakeholders understand how climate information could be used in their decisions.

While context is undoubtedly important, the intention of this analysis was to examine overall trends and conditions across the samples to identify overarching relationships across the different types of information and data needs. To advance dissemination and use of information more broadly, we suggest there is a need to better understand users in the aggregate to increase the efficiency of interactions and to inform the strategies producers use to reach groups of potential users (Kirchhoff et al. 2013). Further, facilitating these processes and activities requires building and maintaining social capital and strong leadership combined with a flat, decentralized knowledge distribution system McNie (2013). Using a combination of regional and specialized networks can produce a flexible, unstructured regional knowledge network that generates usable information based on initiatives to tailor information for groups of potential users (Kalafatis et al. 2015).

The demands to deliver “actionable” information in direct support of planning will continue to grow as the number of legal and political mandates for incorporating climate change information into decision-making increase (Weaver et al. 2013). Scientific knowledge, including products such as climate projections, is only one part of a much broader system of decision-making practice. Decision support, through communication, mediation, translation, feedback, and trust building (processes), is more effective than one-way communication, such as reports and projections (products). Often, important basic questions are raised in the course of making decisions, and information does not necessarily precede decision-making (Weaver et al. 2013).

Global climate models sometimes fall short of their potential as decision-making tools, limiting the available options for developing informed adaptation and mitigation responses to climate change. This is in part due to long-term climate prediction being complex and dynamic, but also because their output needs to be combined with greenhouse gas emissions and socioeconomic contexts in order to create decision-relevant processes for the production and uptake of climate information (Moss et al. 2010; O’Neill et al. 2017). This problem could be addressed in part by expanding the conception of climate models to be used as scenario generators, rather than as prediction tools. These can provide insights into complex system behavior, aiding critical thinking within robust decision frameworks (Weaver et al. 2013).

Climate models are underutilized as tools for decision-making, limiting informed adaptation responses to climate change. This is a challenge for effective conservation management and planning. Weaver et al. (2013) attributes this to the difficulty in creating decision-relevant processes for the production and uptake of climate information and also because it is challenging to predict multidecadal, regional-scale climate. Kirchhoff et al. (2013) state that the rate and breadth of use of scientific knowledge in environmental decision-making, especially related to climate variability and change, remain below expectations. For example, a meta-analysis of risk analysis in forest conservation management modeling found that just 21% of selected studies, based on an extensive literature survey on decision-making approaches to handling risk and uncertainty in forestry or dealing with adaptive management under climate change, took climate change and related environmental impacts into account in an explicit manner (Yousefpour et al. 2012).

Integrating climate risk in planning and management of resources has evolved in recent years, with several methods being used to engage with stakeholders and include scenario planning and adaptation pathways (Campos et al. 2016; Singletary and Sterle 2017). Scenario planning includes methods such as including records of extreme events (e.g., severe droughts on record) and scenarios with increasing levels of warming (e.g., additions of a 2.5°C temperature increase to a long-term drought record). In a case with water managers in the western United States, over two-thirds of water managers surveyed expressed concerns based on these scenarios (Singletary and Sterle 2017). Adaptation pathways include workshops where discussions are geared toward tangible technical solutions necessary to achieve adaptation goals, which include, for example, a time line and tipping points (Campos et al. 2016).

b. Barriers for using climate information for decision-making

Translation of climate risk requires communication of science in a manner that is easily understood by stakeholders. Briley and others reviewed various case studies of programs that codeveloped usable climate information for decision-making and identified three main barriers to information utilization (Briley et al. 2015). Coproduction actors were climate scientists, boundary organizations, and their stakeholders working on water resources management. The identified barriers include mismatched terminology used by scientists and stakeholders to describe the types of information that are available and needed for problem solving (i.e., translation issues), unrealistic expectations with regard to the development of climate information products for problem solving (e.g., spatial and temporal resolution), and miscalculation of when stakeholders bring climate information into decision-making processes.

Lack of comprehension—that is, the ability to understand a topic—is also a barrier to the uptake of climate science. Kahan et al. (2012) were able to dismiss the notions that public apathy or lack of scientific comprehension are barriers to the use of climate change information. Their study found that members of the public with the highest degrees of science literacy and technical reasoning capacity were not the most concerned about climate change. It was found that they were the ones among whom cultural polarization was greatest. This suggests that divisions of public opinion over climate change stems not from the incomprehension of science, but from a distinctive conflict of interest. This conflict appears to be one between the personal interest individuals have in forming beliefs in line with those held by others with whom they share close ties and the collective one they all share in making use of the best available science to promote common welfare.

Often, use of climate information includes in-person engagements between producers and users, which can be resource intensive (Lemos et al. 2019). Other barriers include cultural differences between science and society (e.g., communication styles), delays between when science is produced versus when it is needed by users, policies that favor “pure basic research” over “use-inspired research,” political and power asymmetries between scientists and users, and differences in what constitutes expertise (Stokes 2011; McNie 2007; Escobar 2011; McNie 2013).

Fostering social capital among research collaborators, such as scientists, practitioners and members of the public can contribute to reducing barriers related to the use of scientific information in decision-making (Wall et al. 2017). Complementing in-person stakeholder interactions with alternative avenues (e.g., live webinars) can enhance usability and aid interactions, given limited resources, the urgency of climate change and strategic investment of time and effort (Lemos et al. 2019).

c. ADVANCE program

The ADVANCE program is a partnership between WWF and Columbia University. Launched in 2015, ADVANCE facilitates planning and decision-making by providing new ways of generating and integrating climate risk information into biodiversity conservation, sustainable development and disaster management policy and practice. The ADVANCE approach to conservation and development activities has been carried out in 12 tropical and subtropical countries including Bhutan, Bolivia, Colombia, India, Mexico, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, and Kyrgyzstan (with stakeholders from other countries participating in workshops).

ADVANCE develops climate risk information through cogeneration, a process whereby scientists and specialists working in conservation and development interact with stakeholders to identify needs and provide guidance for integrated conservation, development, and disaster management activities (New York City Panel on Climate Change 2015; Horton et al. 2016; Bremer and Meisch 2017). This is generally done through the multistep ADVANCE approach, which is modified to suit the needs, objectives and context of each project and stakeholder needs. The ADVANCE approach consists of 7 steps: 1) analyze context, 2) develop learning questions, 3) gather climate data and initiate projections, 4) get feedback on initial climate risk information, 5) produce revised climate risk information, 6) provide guidance on integration into planning and decision-making, and 7) evaluate outcomes and follow up (Horton et al. 2016).

Each project is developed by WWF staff along with stakeholders in each project location to address a key conservation and climate change challenge across various geographic scales and ecosystems. The scale, location, project sector, stakeholders, level of engagement, and resource availability vary with each project. The ADVANCE team was brought into these initiatives to provide climate risk information and support its use in resilience-building activities. The projects are varied—some operated at the sublocal scale, while others were at national or multicountry scale (see Table 1, Fig. 1).1 These projects served as the source population of the survey respondents. It is estimated that approximately 275 people attended these workshops, with over 80% responding to the surveys.

Table 1.

Description of ADVANCE projects.

Table 1.
Fig. 1.
Fig. 1.

ADVANCE workshops and climate projection regions in Latin America and Asia.

Citation: Weather, Climate, and Society 13, 3; 10.1175/WCAS-D-20-0010.1

Each ADVANCE project was designed to address a particular conservation or development challenge (e.g., climate projections for Asian high mountain snow leopard habitats to mangrove conservation in Bolivia) and each operate at various scales (e.g., multicountry regions, national, local). Given the differing nature of each project, they were also organized and operated across a range of activities. However, the methods used to produce localized climate risk information for project planning and implementation were similar in most cases. ADVANCE defines climate risk information as data and knowledge about the likelihood and potential impacts of climate and weather-related events and trends that can negatively affect communities, the built environment, and ecosystems. The term risk can be defined specifically as the frequency or probability that an event or trend will occur along with the harmful consequences or impacts of that event or trend (Pachauri et al. 2014).

The objective of the survey was to assess current knowledge of climate change and use of climate risk information by stakeholders related to WWF ADVANCE projects. Survey respondents included workshop participants from WWF, government, nonprofits, and community-based organizations (typically senior to middle level professionals) working on natural resource management (conservation, water resource management, coastal planning, etc.) and development (urban planners, social scientists, disaster managers, etc.). The stakeholders that attended the ADVANCE-related workshops were all included in the survey assessment.

3. Research methods

The survey instrument was developed via a series of steps (see the online supplemental material for the survey instrument). The initial draft of the survey was constructed in response to critical knowledge gaps defined in the existing research literature and included a focus on climate knowledge needs and gaps among conservation managers. In consultation with WWF and ADVANCE staff, questions are adjusted to meet the specific application contexts such as the types of professions, responsibilities, and backgrounds of the potential respondents. The instrument was then beta tested with select conservation managers in the cohort group to be later surveyed and further adjustments and refinements made specifically with respect to wording and length. Originally, 19 questions were included in the survey, but given the length of time taken to fill out the survey it was reduced to 9 questions. When needed, the instrument was translated into the primary spoken language of the participants or native language interpreters (non-English) were present to review complex phrasing of questions.

The survey was administered as part of the WWF ADVANCE projects as part of each project’s initial workshop; 224 natural resource conservation stakeholders completed the self-administered surveys. The instrument was presented as a survey to gather information on the participants’ background and their current use of climate risk information and climate information needs assessment. All attendees were presented with the survey and time was made available for them to complete it, but not all were willing and able to do so. Approximately 80% of the potential respondents completed the survey. Respondents were given full anonymity and confidentiality.2 The only data-maker data collected were workshop identifiers.

The survey featured three formats of Likert-type scale questions that asked about the professional background of the respondents (e.g., conservationist, resource use expert), their use and familiarity with climate information, and their use of new knowledge and information in practice. The range of options included a variation from not relevant/not important to extremely relevant/extremely important with a nonapplicable option provided.

The survey instrument was divided into three sections: 1) background of the respondents, 2) their understanding of climate trends and climate projections, and 3) use of climate risk information in their work and how it might change with new knowledge and information. Most were close-ended choice questions with components that were open ended so respondents could include additional details as relevant. The background questions were focused on the professional education/training, current occupation, and years of experience of the respondent. The trends and projections questions asked about current key climate risks, potential future climate risk, and how they compare with other key risks that their organization faces. The third set of questions dealt with what kinds of new climate knowledge and information they or their organization would find most useful.

Survey administration and a description of ADVANCE projects and workshops are included in the online supplemental material and Table 1. Basic descriptive statistics of the characteristics (e.g., profession and years of experience) of the respondents and their responses were calculated using Microsoft Excel and SPSS-X.

Survey respondents

The WWF ADVANCE projects represented a wide diversity of ecological and management contexts. The biggest proportion of participants was from Mexico, followed by the Asia high mountains region and Myanmar with the smallest number coming from the Colombia subsample (a total n = 17). More than one-third (38%; 84 of 224) of the participants self-identified as conservation professionals (see Fig. 2), followed by those who identified themselves as scientists/researchers (15%) and technical field staff (10.71%). About 1/10th of the participants represented the development (8%) and humanitarian (2%) professions.

Fig. 2.
Fig. 2.

Respondents by profession.

Citation: Weather, Climate, and Society 13, 3; 10.1175/WCAS-D-20-0010.1

Overall, government employees (e.g., those who worked as national or state/provincial conservation specialists) made up the largest employer category. In Myanmar, over 90% of participants represented this category, followed by Bhutan (63%). In the workshops in Mexico, only 5% of participants worked for the government. The next largest category was nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) (nongovernmental conservation and natural resource-focused organizations excluding WWF), comprising 27%, and WWF employees (either full or part time) made up 13% of workshop participants. The highest participation by WWF employees was in Colombia (65%) followed by Asia’s high mountain region. In the Mexico workshops, 70% were from other NGOs. In Paraguay, 32% were from the private sector and another 32% from the government. Participation by professionals from university/research institutions was about 9%.

Geographically, all the surveys were conducted in tropical or subtropical areas, and with similar proportions of participants from coastal (47%) and noncoastal (53%) regions.3 Asia’s high mountain region includes coastal countries, but the project region/work area was noncoastal and therefore considered to be “noncoastal” for the purpose of this analysis. Participants from Mexico were categorized as “coastal” because of the country’s large coastal regions, even though a few of the workshops were conducted in noncoastal locations.

4. Results

The basic descriptive statistics for the question responses are presented below. Primary categories include how the stakeholders currently use climate change information, the perception of current and future climate risk, and conditions for enhanced climate risk information use.

a. Use of climate change information

1) Use of climate risk information to inform work

The first set of content questions focused how the conservation stakeholders used information with regard to climate change. An overwhelming majority (87%) stated that they have used climate risk information to inform their work. The distribution of use frequency was somewhat bimodal. Of all participants, 38% stated that they use climate information at several times a year, 12% using it on a monthly basis, while over one-quarter (27%) used information of this type on a weekly to daily basis. About 13% of the participants used climate information less than once a year. Looking at use by region/country, participants from Paraguay (59%) and Colombia (41%) stated that they used climate risk information on a daily to weekly basis. The largest proportion of participants who claimed that they have not used climate risk information was from the Asia’s high mountains region. When comparing the use of climate risk information by conservation professionals and other professionals, a similar proportion used some sort of climate risk information (87% in both cases).

A key question in the survey was how the respondents and their agencies use climate risk information. Overall, 41% of those who used climate risk information stated that it was “very” useful for disaster risk management, followed by protected area management (39%) and species conservation (37%). With respect to disaster risk reduction, more participants from Myanmar (63%) found climate risk information to be very useful, compared to those from other regions.

This result might be unsurprising given that Myanmar has been rated as one of the most vulnerable countries to disasters (Kirch et al. 2017). When comparing climate risk information users by region, more participants from Colombia (65%) and Asia’s high mountains (52%) rated climate risk information as being very useful for protected area management. A large proportion of participants from Paraguay (45%) stated that they have not used climate risk information for protected area management (even though they stated that they have used climate risk information in general, for a previous question). Similar results were also seen for species conservation, with more participants from Colombia and Asia’s high mountains rating climate risk information as being very useful.

2) Other uses of climate information

With respect to other uses of climate information, 35% of Bhutan participants found climate risk information being very useful for renewable energy, which in unsurprising, given the large proportion of hydroelectric power used for electricity production (99.5%) and foreign revenue through the export of hydropower to India (Alam et al. 2017). Climate risk information, specifically for livelihood improvement, was rated very useful by participants from the Asia’s high mountains region, which is once again consistent with the goals of the related WWF project that not only focused on snow leopard conservation but also freshwater management and local livelihoods. Because of their focus and work, conservation professionals unsurprisingly found climate risk information more useful (very useful and useful) than other respondents for both protected area management and species conservation.

b. Perceptions of key current and future climate risks

Survey participants then were asked to state which current and potential future risks they were most concerned about, by selecting all appropriate climate hazards from a list (see the survey instrument in the online supplemental material, Table 2, and Fig. 3).

Table 2.

Perceptions of current and future threats. The number–letter combinations (5.a, 5.b, etc.) refer to the response options for question 5 of the survey (see the online supplemental material).

Table 2.
Fig. 3.
Fig. 3.

Comparison of current and future risk.

Citation: Weather, Climate, and Society 13, 3; 10.1175/WCAS-D-20-0010.1

1) Current risks (overall)

The most significant concerns centered on changes in the hydrological cycle including severe rainfall events or droughts. Current issues that participants were most concerned about were droughts and rainfall-related changes (61%) followed by more frequent heat waves and heat waves/extreme heat (55%). Overall conservation professionals were more concerned about these issues than other professionals. All groups were least concerned about sea level rise in the current climate.

2) Future risks (overall)

Future issues that participants were most concerned about were changes in seasonality (53%) followed by rainfall-related issues (52%) and droughts (51%). As in other cases, the group most concerned were conservation professionals. The concern for sea level rise almost doubled when comparing current risks with future risks (19%–36%), indicating that participants believe that sea level rise will become an increasing risk to the participants’ geographies and work in the future.

The most surprising result was a shift in concern for future climate hazards, when compared with current hazards (Table 2; Fig. 2). As examples, there was a difference of about 10% of respondents who felt that droughts were a current key risk (61%) in comparison to them being a key risk in the future (51%) and rainfall 61% (current) to 52% (future). For other risks, the level of concern remained about the same—seasonality 55% (current) to 53% (future) and heat 55% (current) to 49% (future).

3) Current risks (by country/region)

Variation across the ADVANCE project sites with regard to the level of concern for specific risk was present. For example, about two-thirds or more participants from Myanmar (69%) and Mexico (66%) were currently concerned about changes in seasonality. Myanmar (59%), Colombia (47%), and Mexico (34%) were concerned about coastal storms more than others. A large portion of participants from Bolivia (74%), Colombia (71%), and Myanmar (69%) were currently concerned about droughts. Participants from Colombia (76%), Myanmar (75%), Bhutan (74%), and Asia’s high mountains (72%) were concerned about rainfall (heavy rainfall, more rainy days, less rain, unpredictable rain). Participants from Myanmar (84%), Colombia (71%), and Bhutan (67%) are concerned about floods in the present day.

In Myanmar (66%), Colombia (65%), and Asia’s high mountains (60%), participants are concerned about heat waves and extreme high temperatures already occurring. Over 50% of participants from Myanmar were concerned about cold spells. Over two-thirds (67%) of participants from the Asia’s High Mountains project were concerned about more/less snow, which is related to both temperature and precipitation changes. More than one-half (56%) of participants in Myanmar and 41% in Bhutan were concerned about other types of storms (including extreme wind events).

Unsurprisingly, participants from Asia’s high mountains (49%) and Bhutan (41%) were most concerned about ice cap or glacial melt, likely because these are high-altitude regions and the potential for climate change–related shifts in snow and ice pack and riverine flow has been documented and widely publicized (National Research Council 2012). Participants from Colombia (71%) and Myanmar (53%) were among those most concerned about sea level rise, unsurprisingly, given that these are countries with large coastal areas with low-lying cities, farmland, and settlements. In the case of Colombia, a primary focus of the workshop was coastal mangrove forests and in turn participants from Colombia were also the most concerned about “other ocean changes” such as sea surface temperature and acidification.

4) Future risks (by country/region)

Perception of future risks varied by risk and by region. Participants in Mexico (68%) and Bhutan (63%) were most often concerned about changes in seasonality with 68% and 63% of the respondents from each site noting it as a key future risk. Participants from Myanmar (47%) and Colombia (41%) were most concerned about coastal storms. Colombian participants were most apprehensive about floods (76%), droughts (71%), and heat (71%). Bhutan (48%) and Asia’s high mountains (47%) were most concerned about cold extremes, snow (Asia’s high mountains: 53%; Bhutan: 48%), and ice caps and glaciers (Bhutan 59%). Asia’s high mountains (53%), Myanmar (41%), and Bhutan (37%) are concerned about other storms, while rainfall is of concern to participants from Bhutan (70%) and Colombia (65%). For sea level rise, the greatest concern was reported in Colombia (82%). Participants from Colombia were also the most concerned about other ocean changes such as future sea surface temperature and acidification.

Overall, with respect to future risks, the overall response patterns seemed to indicate a lot of variation within each study site and across the sites. In many locations, survey respondents felt that future key risks would be different from current risks. These reported shifts in concerns about climate risks seemed to reflect case-by-case perceptions and not an overall convergence of concerns.

5) Professions

Significant differences in risk perception were present between conservation professionals and other professionals surveyed. Conservation professionals were more concerned about changes in seasonality, droughts and rainfall-related change, and heat waves in the current climate than other professionals.

6) Countries/regions

With respect to geographic context, as expected, a much larger proportion of participants from coastal regions are concerned about coastal climate hazards, when compared to those from inland regions. In coastal regions, 44% of participants are concerned about coastal storms, 31% about sea level rise, and 41% about other ocean changes sea surface temperatures, acidification, changing currents, and upwelling). In inland regions participants concerned about these hazards are 7%, 8%, and 6%, respectively. For future risk, a large proportion of coastal participants were concerned about coastal climate hazards. An increase in the concern for sea level rise 31%–54% was present, while concern for coastal storms declines from 44% to 38%. The difference between coastal and inland participants narrows when considering future hazards, as concern for coastal hazards among inland participants rises to approach those of coastal participants.

7) Government officials in coastal regions

The analysis also examined whether government officials from different coastal regions had similar perceptions. Of the total survey participants, 36 (16%) fell into this category. For current risks, a majority of government officials in coastal regions were concerned about coastal storms (61% as compared with 17% that did not belong to this group). This is a larger percentage than shown by the total respondents from coastal areas (across all sectors, including government officials). When noting future risks, 44% of government officials from coastal areas selected coastal storms (less than current). A similar pattern was seen when compared with the total respondents from coastal areas for future risks related to coastal storms (38% future as compared with 44% current).

For sea level rise, 56% of government officials in coastal areas noted this as a current risk, compared to 12% that did not belong to this group. This too is higher when compared to the total respondents from coastal areas. A slightly higher number selected sea level rise as a future risk (61%). For the group encompassing the total respondents from coastal areas, the numbers shifted from 31% (current) to 54% future for sea level rise.

A little over one-third (36%) of government officials in coastal areas selected other ocean changes (e.g., sea surface temperature and acidification) as a current risk, as compared with 20% of those that did not belong to this group. Future concern grew across both these groups, with 47% of government officials in coastal areas expressing concern, as compared with 26% of those that did not belong to this group. A slightly lower number of total respondents from coastal areas (41%) selected other ocean changes as a current risk, with concern among this group growing slightly (to 42%) when considering the future.

c. Perceived future risk versus future climate projections

Given that the survey results revealed that there was a shift in concern for some future climate hazards, we compared changes in perception (current vs future) with ADVANCE projections of future climate done for that region. For example, in the Manuripi region in Bolivia, there was a large drop in perceived risk for droughts drop from 74% to 37%. This coincides with climate projections for this region that showed that dry season rainfall is likely to see a substantial decrease in rainfall of 27% by the 2050s (although other scenarios show a slight increase of 4%) (SERNAP-RNVSA Manuripi–WWF Bolivia 2017).

In Myanmar, a large shift in perceived risk for heat from 66% to 47% did not coincide with climate projections. ADVANCE projections indicate a marked increase in frequency of extreme heat days, with extreme heat (defined as the historical hottest day of the month) expected to increase to 4–17 days during the hottest month by midcentury (Horton et al. 2017).

d. Key information and knowledge obstacles

Survey participants also specified key obstacles and barriers with respect to their ability to integrate climate change information into their everyday practices. The biggest issues associated with using climate change information were too much uncertainty (65%) and not at a relevant scale for planning (64%). These two responses were often linked, with respondents selecting both of them as somewhat, very, or most significant problems.

In comparison with other respondents, those in Colombia most often felt very significant obstacles and barriers to the use of climate information. In Colombia, respondents answered that “climate change information as difficult to understand and not sure how to interpret” (47%); “climate change information is too generic (not customized)” (41%); “climate change information is not at a relevant temporal scale for planning” (53%); “too much information; difficult to know which is best to use” (47%); “too much uncertainty in climate projections” (65%) and “climate change information is not at a relevant spatial scale for planning” (53%). In Bolivia, Mexico, and Paraguay, survey respondents also faced significant challenges but not at the consistently high levels reported by Colombia respondents. For the other sites, the level of obstacles and barriers were more variable and perceived as not as significant.

Similar proportions of conservation specialists and other professionals found that climate change information is too uncertain and not at the relevant scale for spatial planning. However, more than double the proportion of other professionals found that understanding impacts and risk implied by climate information was very significant, compared to conservation professionals. A similar pattern was seen for “climate change information not relevant to work activities.”

Unavailability of climate risk information was ranked as the main factor preventing its use in decision-making. The second factor was that there are no financial or human resources available to respond (32%). Almost one-quarter of respondents stated that there is a lack of organizational mandate or support and no institutional incentives for using climate risk information. Participants did not think that climate change was politically sensitive, with just 11% characterizing the topic in this way.

1) By project region/country

In Colombia, the main factor preventing use of climate risk information was that there are no financial or human resources available to respond (41%), followed by climate risk information not being available (35%). The Mexico respondents stated that the two main reasons (29% each) were that climate risk information was not available and that their project site or program is facing other risks that are more urgent. In Paraguay and Bolivia, the two main reasons (27% each and 33% each, respectively) were climate risk information not available and that there are no financial or human resources available to respond. Over one-half of the participants from the Asia’s high mountain region stated that climate risk information was not available. In Myanmar, the main reason was that there are no financial or human resources available to respond (31%) and in Bhutan almost one-half of the participants stated that there are no financial or human resources available to respond.

2) By profession

Unavailability of climate risk information, the main factor preventing the use of climate risk information in decision-making, was also the main reason selected by both conservation and other professionals (although more conservationists ranked this factor higher). The second factor “no financial or human resources available to respond” was much higher for conservation professionals (40%), when compared with other professionals (27%).

e. Useful sources of information

The survey provides additional insights into what have been the most useful sources of information (overall and at the project level) and what type of information format and structure is most useful for the stakeholders. Overall, participants found scientific reports (29%), climate scientists (21%), and online sources (19%) to be the most useful sources of climate risk information. Government (44%), online (44%), and climate scientists (42%) were sources ranked as very useful by participants. The most useful sources were scientific reports and climate scientists, indicating that participants valued credible sources and online accessibility.

1) By project region/country

About one-third of participants in Colombia (35%), Myanmar (31%), and Bhutan (30%) found climate scientists to be the most useful source of climate risk information. In Paraguay, this was as low as 5%. Only a small portion of participants selected community leaders as “most useful” source of climate risk information, with Myanmar having the highest (16%) and Paraguay having the lowest (0%) responses. In Myanmar, 31% of participants selected government sources as the most useful source for climate risk information. A large portion of participants in this workshop worked for the government. In Colombia and Bolivia, none of the participants selected government source as being the most useful source of climate risk information.

Overall, just 7% of participants selected media and news as the most useful sources of climate risk information. In Myanmar, 22% selected media and news as the most useful source of information, with 13% selecting NGOs as the most useful source for climate risk information. Almost one-fifth of all participants found online sources of climate risk information to be most useful, especially in Bhutan (37%) and Colombia (35%). Scientific reports were the most useful source overall (29%); this was as high as 59% for participants from Colombia and 52% for those in Bhutan. Last, just 7% selected WWF colleagues as the most useful source for climate risk information overall, with Myanmar participants reporting them to be useful sources more frequently at 19%.

2) By profession

When comparing conservation professionals with other professionals, we found that respondents differed only slightly with respect to which type of information format they found most useful. Conservation professionals (84 of 224) found scientific reports (32%; 27 of 84), online sources (21%; 18 of 84), and climate scientists (19%; 16 of 84) to be the most useful sources for climate risk information. They found climate scientists (48%; 40 of 84) and scientific reports, governments, and online sources to be very useful (45%; 38 of 140 for each source). Other professionals (140 of 224) found scientific reports (27%; 38 of 140) and climate scientists (22%; 31 of 140) and online resources (17%; 24 of 140) to be the most useful sources for climate risk information. They found online and government sources (44%; 61 of 140 for each source) and climate scientists (38%; 53 of 140) to be very useful.

A large proportion (63%) of participants preferred information to be presented in maps and illustrations. Over 70% of conservation professionals favored this format. Information presented in scenarios format was the second-most-favored format, with over one-half of overall participants favoring this. When broken down by professions, over 60% of conservation professionals favored this format as compared with 51% of other professionals. Almost one-half the participants selected information presented as data tables, graphs, and charts (this was the third-most-favored format). Participants did not favor information presented with a lot of front matter with regard to climate change processes, with just over 1/10th of participants responding favorably to this format.

A very small proportion of participants wanted details on climate processes when presented with climate risk information. A little over one-fifth of participants wanted information to be presented in a need-to-know basis, indicating that they probably prefer having access to information so it can be referred to when needed. Almost one-half of participants selected information as data tables, charts, and graphs, possibly favoring access to detailed information. This information could be presented as extra information, for those interested in potentially using the data to conduct their own analyses.

3) By project region/country

A very large proportion (82%) of participants from Mexico favored information presented in maps and illustrations followed by Colombia (76%) and Asia’s high mountains (72%). Information presented in scenarios format was preferred mostly by Colombian participants (82%), followed by those from Mexico (66%) and Bhutan (63%). Information presented as data tables, graphs, and charts were most favored by Bhutanese participants (70%), followed by those from Asia’s high mountains (65%). Bhutanese participants favored information presented as data tables, graphs, and charts over other formats. Over one-quarter (26%) were also interested in information presented with a lot of front matter with regard to climate change processes, indicating that these participants valued context and background.

4) By profession

Over 70% of conservation professionals favored information to be presented in maps and illustrations. Information presented in scenarios format was the second-most-favored format. When broken down by professions, over 60% of conservation professionals favored this format as compared with 51% of other professionals.

5. Discussion

The results illustrate diverse climate risk perceptions and use of climate risk information among the survey participants. The question of how to increase the use of climate risk information remains significant. One pathway to address this is question is to further investigate the conditions that distinguish those who use climate information frequently from those who use climate risk information very infrequently (in the survey less than once a year).

Participants from Paraguay (59%) and Colombia (41%) used climate information most frequently (from daily to weekly). The largest proportion of participants who claimed that they have not used climate risk information was from the Asia’s high mountains region—this included similar frequencies of use between conservation and other professionals. Community organizations (67%) and private sector/businesses (29%) had large proportions that did not use climate information, based on the use of climate risk information by each sector. It must be noted with caution that there were very few representatives from these sectors and thus may not adequately represent the sector.

Some of the findings in the analysis are the result of perceptions being context-dependent. Questions related to the use and frequency of climate risk information, sources, and types of information, and so on, were not as context dependent as the questions on current and future risks. The importance of context is especially highlighted through the differences in responses between respondents from coastal and inland countries when participants were asked about which current and future climate hazards currently pose the greatest risk to their work. Not surprisingly, a much larger proportion of participants from coastal regions are concerned about coastal climate hazards, when compared to those from inland regions. In coastal regions, 44% of participants are concerned about coastal storms, 31% about sea level rise, and 41% about other ocean changes including sea surface temperatures, acidification, changing currents, and upwelling. In inland regions participants concerned about these hazards are 7%, 8%, and 6%, respectively. A large proportion of coastal participants continue to be concerned about coastal climate hazards. There is an increase in the concern for sea level rise 31%–54%, while concern for coastal storms declines from 44% to 38%. The difference between coastal and inland participants is narrower when considering future hazards, as concern for coastal hazards in inland areas increases when considering future risks.

The analysis also looked specifically at another key category: government officials in coastal regions. This group was particularly concerned about coastal storms as a current risk (61% of the group). Institutional mandate and memory might explain this result, especially given that coastal storms can be highly destructive events of record for which governments are held responsible in regard to citizen protection.

The shift in concern for future climate hazards, when compared with current hazards occurred both in the overall sample and also in specific countries. For droughts, 10% of those who identified it as a current risk did not consider it to be a concern in the future. This was likely driven by the respondents from Bolivia, where there was a large drop in future concern with regard to droughts. In Myanmar there was a declining shift for extreme heat, even though projections show an increase in extreme heat.

There could be a many reasons for their assessment, perhaps foremost a lack of understanding about future risks. Respondents might also assume that novel risks will rise in importance in the future, whereas previously identified risks will be less important (perhaps because they have already been factored into decisions and are thus being addressed). People may identify new risks and assume that previously identified risks will carry not over. The implication from the survey results that future risks are been discounting is concerning. There is a need to investigate this finding in future surveys because it could have implications for risk communication and management.

Another condition that seemed to limit the effectiveness of the use of climate risk information was that some stakeholders felt that the typical climate risk information to which they are exposed is too generic and not relevant or useful at the spatial and/or temporal scale needed. Twelve percent of conservation professionals reported that available climate risk information was too generic (most significant) as compared with 4% of other professionals. Regionally, 18% from Colombia selected the same generic limit to effectiveness, followed by 11% from the Mesoamerican Reef region of Mexico and Asia’s high mountain participants (9%).4

Thirteen percent of conservation professionals selected the response that information was not relevant at the spatial scale needed (most significant), compared to 6% of other professionals. Thirty-five percent of respondents from Colombia selected the same response, followed by 11% from the Mesoamerican Reef region of Mexico. WWF (15%), other NGO (12%), and university/research institutes (10%) also selected this. Seven percent of conservation professionals selected the response that information was not relevant at the temporal scale required (most significant), as compared with 2% of other professionals. Eighteen percent from Colombia selected the same response, followed by 7% from Bolivia. Participants from local government (20%) and university/research institutes (10%) also selected this.

Another significant consideration with regard to why climate change information is not incorporated was because there are more urgent risks. It is interesting to compare what factors differentiate those stakeholders who feel that way as opposed to those that do not. Twenty percent of conservation professionals responded that climate change information is not incorporated because there are more urgent risks, as compared with 13% of other professionals. Twenty-nine percent from the Mesoamerican Reef region of Mexico selected the same response, followed by 19% from Asia’s high mountains and 18% from Colombia. High proportions from state government (33%) and other NGOs (25%) also selected this response. It must be noted with caution that there were very few representatives from state government, and thus these findings may not adequately represent the sector.

6. Conclusions

Overall, a very high proportion of the conservation manager participants used climate risk information (87%), with 48% of all participants being frequent users (daily, weekly, or monthly) and 39% being occasional users (several times per year or less than once a year). The biggest surprise in the results was the decline in concern for some future climate hazards, when compared with current hazards. This result raised the following question: Do people assume that novel risk will rise in importance in the future, in addition to previously identified risks? It also raises questions on whether people discount future risk and whether it is hard for people to internalize future risks, or even perceive them.

These survey results suggest the need for a greater focus on the perception and understanding of future risks. In most of the WWF ADVANCE workshops, the surveys were conducted prior to presenting climate change projections. In future iterations of the survey, it would be useful to investigate whether people’s perceptions change after projections are shown.

The main factors preventing the use of climate risk information in decision-making were unavailability of climate risk information, no or limited financial or human resources available to respond, lack of organizational mandate or support, and no or limited institutional incentives. While solutions are always more complex in reality, measures such as increasing accessibility of climate risk information, funding to respond to climate change impacts, and organizational policies and incentives to include climate risk information in planning and implementation could help address these barriers and obstacles.

The two biggest problems highlighted by the survey on use of climate change information were too much uncertainty about future climate projections and not at a relevant scale for planning and management at the local level. Guiding natural resource conservation stakeholders on how to use climate risk information under uncertainty and how to obtain and interpret localized projections could resolve these issues. Survey respondents identified scientific reports, climate scientists, and online sources as the most useful information sources of climate risk information, while (i) maps and illustrations; (ii) scenarios format; and (iii) data tables, graphs, and charts were identified as user-friendly formats. Providing accessible, credible, science-based resources in a simple, easy to understand format, while providing guidance on incorporating climate risk information on a project-by-project basis, can minimize barriers and enable integration of knowledge of climate change into resilience-building activities in the field of natural resource conservation.

Acknowledgments

This work was funded by the World Wildlife Fund and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (WBS 281945.02.80.01.13). We say thank you to Sanketa Kadam for preparing the maps.

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1

Background on the ADVANCE process can be found at Horton et al. (2016).

2

Given that survey was directed at respondents’ description of their professional status, activities, and needs or those of their employer and did not focus on personal opinions or attitudes, it was determined after consultation that formal institutional review board approval was not needed for the survey.

3

All of the sites where surveys were conducted were within areas of the globe at the latitude of subtropical or tropical locations. Approximately one-half the locations were inland, landlocked countries and one-half were within countries with extensive coasts. In countries with coasts where the survey was conducted, often the sites were in coastal nature preserves or similar locations.

4

It must be noted with caution that there were very few representatives from these sectors and thus they may not adequately represent the sector; 21% of WWF staff and community organizations also selected this.

Supplementary Materials

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  • Alam, F., Q. Alam, S. Reza, S. M. Khurshid-ul-Alam, K. Saleque, and H. Chowdhury, 2017: Sourcing green power in Bhutan: A review. Energy Procedia, 110, 586591, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.egypro.2017.03.189.

    • Search Google Scholar
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  • Baldwin, R. F., S. C. Trombulak, P. B. Leonard, F. R. Noss, J. A. Hilty, H. P. Possingham, L. Scarlett, and M. G. Anderson, 2018: The future of landscape conservation. BioScience, 68, 6063, https://doi.org/10.1093/biosci/bix142.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bremer, S., and S. Meisch S, 2017: Co-production in climate change research: Reviewing different perspectives. Wiley Interdiscip. Rev.: Climate Change, 8, e482, https://doi.org/10.1002/wcc.482.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Briley, L., D. Brown, and S. E. Kalafatis, 2015: Overcoming barriers during the co-production of climate information for decision-making. Climate Risk Manage., 9, 4149, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.crm.2015.04.004.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Campos, I., A. Vizinho, C. Coelho, F. Alves, M. Truninger, C. Pereira, F. Duarte Santos, and G. Penha Lopes, 2016: Participation, scenarios and pathways in long-term planning for climate change adaptation. Plann. Theory Pract., 17, 537556, https://doi.org/10.1080/14649357.2016.1215511.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Carr, E., and S. N. Onzere, 2018: Really effective (for 15% of the men): Lessons in understanding and addressing user needs in climate services from Mali. Climate Risk Manage., 22, 8295, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.crm.2017.03.002.

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