When Hannah Campbell started her career conducting paleoclimate research on an ice-breaker off the coast of western Antarctica, she was just beginning her adventure into the world of climate change and adaptation. This journey would lead her to work as a climate advisor for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; to a project with NASA, Colombia and the City of New York on a climate adaptation strategy for their water resource management; and finally — and currently — to the position of senior manager of Climate Adaptation and Communities at Conservation International (CI).
Throughout her time in these different roles, Hannah has maintained a passion for ensuring that the environment is valued and understood in the complex climate dialogue.
In her role at CI, Hannah works on climate adaptation policy and capacity–building, helping make sure that people around the world will be able to adapt to the changes in climate that are occurring and will continue to occur.
She does this work jointly within CI's Indigenous and Traditional People's Program and CI's International Policy team both in the Center for Conservation and Government — typifying CI's "feet-in-the-mud, head-in-the-sky" approach. Hannah leads CI's engagement in climate adaptation policy at the international level and ensures that communities are engaged in the adaptation policy process as well.
"I work on communicating and supporting the science to strengthen the link between the need for healthy ecosystems and the ability of people (and species) to adapt to climate change," she explains.
IN DEPTH: Supporting Communities
Adaption: Making Sustainable Decisions
When it comes to climate change, mitigation strategies are oftentimes at the forefront of the conversation. Yet while reducing greenhouse gases is critical for combating climate change, even if we stopped all emissions today, we would continue to see changes for decades to come — which is where adaptation comes into play.
"Adaptation used to be a bad thing to talk about, because it means that you weren't serious about reducing emissions," Hannah says. "But, over the past several years, people have begun to see that we have to start preparing for things like sea level rise and changing rain patterns."
"Adaptation is about making sustainable decisions that include climate risks and supporting healthy human and natural communities so they are more resilient to impacts," she continues.
CI is working in several countries on the ground to identify their vulnerability to climate change impacts through assessments that include scientists, government and community leaders. It's also working to actually put adaptation efforts into place — things such as protecting areas of vulnerable watersheds, installing rain catchment systems, and developing early warning strategies for inclement weather. These important elements of successful adaptation can bring about positive outcomes, such as healthy mangroves that protect communities from storms and water supplies that aren't contaminated by saltwater.
And those positive outcomes, in turn, can help the international policy community understand that adaptation is necessary in the continued fight against climate change.
In these efforts, it is essential that local and traditional knowledge is valued. Data and analysis must be available to decision-makers on all levels in a way that is easy to access and that addresses the questions that must be answered if people are to make good policy and resource management decisions. Further, ecosystem- and community-based adaptation must be included in international policy.
DOWNLOAD: Climate Solution: Ecosystem-Based Adaptation (PDF - 577 KB)
"The link is often very direct between ecosystem health and human well-being in adaptation, and communities understand that well." Hannah says.
UNFCCC COP 16: Showing Governments That Climate Adaptation is Possible
Hannah was drawn to this natural link between ecosystem health and human well-being in adaptation as she witnessed the emergence of more and more compelling research and data on climate impacts over the last decade.
LEARN MORE: Human health and the environment
"That information was not being used to make smart decisions about how we run countries, business or even plan for conservation," Hannah says. As a geologist and someone who was managing climate-impact research for the federal government, she saw tools that were being developed to help resource managers include climate risk in their decision-making.
"I found this to be very inspiring and was concerned that this work takes time, resources and expertise, something many developing countries don't have. That is why I am passionate about engaging with the UNFCCC on adaptation policy — to demonstrate to governments that good climate adaptation action is possible, and that developing countries should be supported in order to enable them to develop their own strategies and protect their people and ecosystems."
Hannah is representing CI at the UNFCCC COP 16 in Cancún, where CI hopes to see a robust agreement that includes substantial support for developing countries to adapt to climate change. CI wants to ensure that an agreement highlights community-based adaption (CBA) and ecosystem-based adaptation (EBA).
"Large investments in adaptation that don't include CBA and EBA will undermine the long-term viability of people to have safe water, adequate food and many other essential services," Hannah warns.
Constant Change: Piecing Together Environmental Puzzles
Hannah's career path not only evolved from the new climate change data that was emerging, but was also heavily influenced by her family and upbringing. Most of her family is from Appalachia, in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky. Her grandfather was one of the first Peace Corps trainers and worked with U.S. volunteers and farmers in Chile in the early 1960s. Moving from Kentucky to Chile proved to be an adventure for Hannah's mother and family, fostering in Hannah a love of cultural diversity, a fondness for language-learning, and an understanding of the value of people's shared experiences that was passed down from mother to daughter.
Hannah was also influenced by her hometowns — she grew up between Baltimore, Md., and Galveston, Texas. While the two cities have their differences, they also share a lot of similarities: Both are ports, and places where different cultures have merged. Hannah's love for geomorphology, the sea and "understanding the puzzles of environmental processes" comes partly from spending so much time in Galveston, where the coast is constantly changing and where the island was almost completely destroyed by a hurricane in 1900, and then again heavily damaged in the 1980s and 2008.
"People there have a good sense of the power of nature and the power of informed decisions," she says. "Cleaning out my family's home in 2008 after Hurricane Ike when it was flooded with two feet of water and throwing away most of our belongings was a huge lesson in how to adapt and how good information saves lives."
And Hannah is hopeful that this is what the power of adaptation will provide for the communities where CI is working — informed decisions, based in science, that give people the knowledge to create policies to protect the ecosystems that will allow them to adapt to climate change.
"It is still a challenge sometimes to get people to understand and value the discussion on adaptation and put resources into changing the way we plan and build, and conserve nature. But, I look at it as a huge opportunity," Hannah says. "This planet and the people on it will need to adapt — that will include sustainable development, green economies and truly valuing nature for the services it provides."
IN DEPTH: CI's climate change strategies