Exploring the value of regional decadal climate prediction for adaptation planning

On-going and future climate change threaten societies and communities around the world. Climate adaptation improves preparedness as one of two broad strategies (along with climate mitigation) for climate risk management. Informing the extensive preparations needed to manage climate risks, avoid damages, and realise opportunities, has given rise to a new transdisciplinary field called ‘climate services’. In broad terms, climate services involve the generation, provision, and contextualization of information and knowledge derived from climate research for decision making at all levels of society. Regional decadal climate prediction is a promising new area of climate science with considerable potential to benefit society. The scientific community is currently advancing the use of numerical models and assessing the skill of decadal climate predictions at global and regional scales. The Met Office is the acting World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Lead Centre for Annual-to-Decadal Climate Prediction, producing the WMO Global Annual to Decadal Climate Update, most recently for 2023 and 2023-2027. The timescales of decadal predictions match well the planning horizon of many organisations (1-5 years), yet their potential to inform decision-making has not been well explored.

The aim of this collaborative and interdisciplinary PhD studentship between the University of Leeds and the Met Office (the CASE partner) is to assess the value of regional decadal climate prediction in informing decision-making, focusing on the overseas aid and humanitarian sector. The studentship will be jointly supervised between researchers from the Sustainability Research Institute at the University of Leeds, Prof. Suraje Dessai and Dr. Susanne Lorenz, the Institute for Climate and Atmospheric Science at the University of Leeds, Prof. Amanda Maycock, and experts in the development and provision of climate services from the UK Met Office Dr Joseph Daron and Nicola Golding.

Using social science methods, the credibility, legitimacy, and salience of regional predictions will be assessed from a multi-stakeholder perspective. The project will build on past stakeholder research undertaken by the PhD supervisors and the Met Office, focusing on two case studies from the humanitarian and overseas aid sector which could benefit from decadal predictions. The exact case studies will be determined once the studentship commences but are expected to build on the H2020 funded EUCP (European Climate Prediction) and Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office funded WISER (Weather and Climate Information Services) Africa and Asia Pacific programmes coordinated by the Met Office, as well as the Horizon Europe funded ASPECT project.

The work will be carried out in four stages:

Stage 1 (6 months): Understanding regional decadal climate prediction

During this stage the student will familiarise themself with the technological and scientific aspects of regional decadal climate prediction and services, including learning about the Met Office decadal forecasting system, DePreSys. The student will visit the Met Office in Exeter for a minimum duration of four weeks to interact with PhD supervisors Dr Joseph Daron and Nicola Golding and leading experts in decadal climate prediction (Smith, Scaife, Dunstone, Seabrooke etc.). The student will also develop a broad understanding of the current limitations of decadal prediction with regards to decision-making.

 Stage 2 (6 months): Understanding decision-making contexts

This stage of the research will require the student to choose and develop an understanding of two case studies in the humanitarian and overseas aid sector. Climate change is a leading driver of humanitarian need and human suffering, particularly for the poorest countries. The impacts threaten to deepen already wide inequalities, resulting in consequences felt by the world at large, including food and water insecurity, political instability, violence, and displacement. Leaps forward in science and technology continue to improve predictions and early warning of climate-related crises, shaping anticipatory actions and allowing faster action when disaster is about to strike.

 Stage 3 (1 year): Organisational decision-making and climate information

This stage of the research will involve the student working collaboratively with an organisation in each case study (such as e.g., WISER partners, like the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre or World Food Programme) to pilot the incorporation of annual and multi-annual climate forecast information into their decision-making processes (6 months with each case study). The Met Office will help facilitate the hosting of the student for some of stage 3 enabling the student to interact and collaborate with specific case study partners.

 Stage 4 (1 year): The value of climate information for decision-making

The final stage of the research will involve assessing the of value of regional decadal climate information for decision-making in the case studies selected and the wider sector. This research will make use of qualitative and participatory approaches which allow co-evaluation with decision-makers. Using quantitative surveys, the student will assess if the value of the decadal climate information is scalable beyond the two case studies across the sector.

This PhD studentship presents a unique opportunity for interdisciplinary and collaborative research and work between the University of Leeds and the UK Met Office, with a very applied and decision-relevant application for the humanitarian and overseas aid sector.