6 Climate Change Analogue

As was mentioned at the beginning of this book, in the conventional world of climate science and international development, a climate analogue is the climate that one is set to become with climate change. In this book, we are referring to that as the “climate change analogue”, and using “climate analogue” to refer to an area that is similar to another climate currently.

One important point to consider is the timing of any climate change forecasts, and why we would look at one time span over another. It is unknown whether or not the climate will reach some stable state or whether we will continue, decelerate or accelerate human caused climate change. Most of the forecasting maps that are currently available tend to look at the last quarter of the 21st century. The reason that this seems like an appropriate time frame is that by the year 2100, a child born today will be into their 80’s, which is considered a full life span in the industrialized world today. So we are planning for the world that a baby today will live through. Seems appropriate, right? But practicality must be taken into account. Introducing species that will thrive at the end of the century could be a failure in the present. The change needs to be incremental and experimental.

Locating climate change analogues is valuable for a number of reasons, and has already been adopted as a practical tool by research organizations like the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CCAFS), the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), and the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF). Programs like the Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security are locating climate change analogue locations and actually facilitating farmer trainings between locations and exchange of genetic material. [1]

Many of the reasons that it is beneficial to locate a climate analogue are also relevant for a climate change analogue. Some of the specific goals of the research program mentioned above are:

1) Locating plant, fungi, and animal species that will thrive in your future climate and exchange of that genetic material.

A few excellent examples of the practical use of this tool are highlighted on the website of the Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security:

“Climate models predict a 1°C rise in average temperatures by 2030 during the maize-growing season near the city of Durban, South Africa; this could result in a 20% drop in yield. The analogues tool suggests looking to northern Argentina and Uruguay, where maize farmers are enjoying good yields under average temperatures that are 3°C higher than those around Durban.”

“The 2030 climate in a soybean-growing area near Shanghai, China will be similar to current climates in soybean-growing zones in the USA and South America. Farmers in Shanghai can learn from these analogous climates as their own climate shifts.”

“An analogue of present day Los Angeles shows that the southeastern USA, France, northern Germany and the Netherlands might all experience southern California’s mild winter climate by 2030, with implications for the agriculture in these regions.”[2]

These examples crack open the window of possibility in the creative Permaculture mind for the endless possibilities of learning and systems development that can come from directly visiting and exchanging with one’s climate change analogue. For plant breeders, to begin to introduce the genetics of climate change analogue species into regional varieties of plants  and animals helps us partner with nature to create a biodiverse and resilient agricultural gene pool.

2) Putting farmers directly in touch with their agricultural futures by taking them to visit their climate change analogues and facilitating an exchange of knowledge.

Again, the Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security actually took a group of farmers from one part of Tanzania over 1,000km away to another part of the nation that represents their climate change analogue. This glimpse at their “future farms” and facilitated exchanges between them and their analogues’ farmers left them with a clear sense of what they are facing and a strategy to address that. The group of 15 farmers then returned to their region and shared their findings among their community. [3]

They have also undergone similar tours in Kenya and Nepal, and have conducted workshops and trainings in Costa Rica, Ghana, Vietnam, and other places. This is the sort of tool and perspective that could be very useful to Permaculturists working throughout the world. Permaculture does claim to be the largest decentralized aid organization on the planet, and would do well to become proficient with the Climate Analogue Online Platform interactive tool that the Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security provides. [4]

Aside from agricultural information, there are the other items that can be learned from identifying a climate change analogue similar to those of a current climate analogue. Those include building design and methods, civil engineering related to water systems, infrastructure that’s resilient to climate and weather events, cultural practices that enhance comfort and safety in relation to weather and climate, and folk wisdom that can help people cope and make connections in their new climate.

Methodology for Locating Climate Change Analogues

There is more than one computer model that attempts to identify climate change analogues and others that claim to be under development. For the purposes of this writing, we will not rely on any one particular tool, as tools on the internet come and go and it’s important to build the capacity to think this through oneself. The goal of this section is to provide a simple and low-tech process for determining a climate change analogue.  Below are a series of simple steps. Please see [ Appendix B: Climate Change Analogue Survey] for a printable form.

Step 1) Locate the site on a Koppen Geiger climate change forecast map and identify the projected climate classification.

The most common Koppen Geiger climate change projection maps are for the years 2076-2100 [See Appendix E]. That is still nearly 60 years away from the time of this writing, and may or may not be a relevant time frame based on the designer’s goals. It also may not be accurate due to so many unforeseen circumstances and unknown climatic feedback loops. But as an exercise in acting on what is considered consensus forecast models, it shows a general direction based on a warming planet.

It is also an important exercise to imagine what the agent of a shift in vegetative types will be. Fire, extreme drought and heat, flooding, extreme cold, and large scale insect damage are all factors that can cause the die-off of species and facilitate replacement of others.

These can be catastrophic events that can threaten the habitability of areas. So if the climate is going to shift to a new ecosystem, it is the role of the Permaculture designer to foresee the potential agent of that shift and design for resilience as a response to that possibility. There is a very complicated series of ecological events that need to happen for those colors to shift on the Koppen maps. It is the role of the climate change designer to lean into that.

Step 2) Research region-specific climate change forecasts.

Previously in this book I discussed major trends that have consensus among climate scientists to be unavoidable. I will summarize them here and add a bit more:

  1. A general warming trend over the entire planet. Even though year over year there could be cooling and extreme cold events, statistically the average temperature on Earth is warming and that is a trend that will continue. Much of climate change is a response to this basic fact.
  2. Acidification of the ocean. The pH and chemistry of the ocean is changing, and this is having a negative effect on the existing oceanic food chain
  3. The stalling and undulating of the jet stream. This is making weather systems persist longer, whether they are precipitation, drought, heat, or cold.
  4. The tropics are getting wetter. This is due to greater evaporation in warmer oceans.
  5. Dry areas are expanding. Hot places are getting hotter, leading to further evaporation and evapotranspiration, leading to a greater drying of the landscape and the resulting changes in biota and fire danger.
  6. High latitude regions are warming the most. This has to do with disappearing sea ice and greater heat absorption by a darker ocean.
  7. Warming is causing shifts in the altitudinal stratification of vegetation. This means glaciers are retreating or disappearing, boreal forests are moving up or disappearing, and shrub dominated ecosystems are replacing tree dominated ones, often with fire as the agent of change.

There are many regional and governmental organizations that have distilled information into distinct climate change forecasts. For example, for the Pacific Northwest of the USA, there is a website called the Northwest Climate toolbox[5] that was created by two different entities within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). It is an interactive site addressing issues of agriculture, climate, fire, and water with loads of information and specific projections aimed at people who seek to understand how to adapt and prepare.

So do your best to locate what information exists out there and summarize the projections in as simple terms as is possible. See [Appendix F: Resources for predictions and climate models]

Step 3) Using a climate data chart, see how close the area is to shifting climate zone classifications.

When studying the forecasted Koppen maps, there are many areas that do not change their climate classification and many which do. Just because an area does not shift its climate classification does not mean that the climate does not experience a dramatic shift. It’s important to recognize how close or far a given location is to the next classification.

Here we revisit the parameters that define the Koppen Geiger classification system: specific average temperatures for a certain amount of months combined with the seasonality of precipitation determine the classification. In the Appendix C & D of this book, you’ll find the specific temperature and precipitation parameters for each Koppen Geiger and Koppen Trewartha classification.

The next step is to locate a climate data chart for your location, or find one for the closest analogous area if none exists. Examine the climate data chart alongside the Koppen Geiger or Koppen Trewartha climate type parameters, and discern how the climate data validates the classification.

If your climate is projected to be hotter, then look at the parameters of the next hotter climate type, and see how close the climate data is to it. If your climate is projected to get wetter, then find the next wetter climate type. The information about what the general projections are for the study area will inform which climate type is examined as the potential climate change analogue.

Step 4) Find regions that are located now within the projected new climate type.

Following some of the same methodology from the climate analogue identification process, there are some specifics to examine. The two main areas to begin searching are areas of either different latitude, elevation, or both. Whether or not you are more likely to find your analogue by changing latitude or elevation depends on the landscape positioning of the site.

Here are actions from the climate analogue identification process adapted to finding a climate change analogue:

a) Look for areas within 10 degrees North or South of your latitude.

The closer to the site’s latitude that can be located as a climate change analogue, the better. This is because both sites will have similar seasonal sun cycles. In fact, the closer the site is period, the closer the conditions will be an accurate analogue.

b) Examine Thornthwaite climate classification.

If the climate for a location is projected to get drier or wetter, looking on the Thornthwaite climate map could be an easy way to identify another area with the forecasted moisture index.

c) Look for areas with the same proximity to water; oceanic or continental.

What are the similarities and differences between your site and this potential climate change analogue? Are both locations on the same coast East or West, North or South?

d) Compare elevation.

A change in elevation may be the easiest way to find a nearby analogue. It could be that dropping elevation 1000 ft or 300 m is the easiest way to locate the closest analogue.

e) Compare precipitation amounts.

Is precipitation forecasted to go up or down for the area? Can you find a location with the projected new precipitation trend?

f) Compare precipitation seasonality.

Are dry or rainy periods forecasted to lengthen or shorten, increase or decrease in volume or intensity? Is it possible to find a climate that already exhibits these projected qualities.

g) Examine global air circulation and storm tracks.

Are there particular air circulation patterns that reflect the forecasted climate change?

h) Examine nearby ocean currents (if applicable).

Are there particular ocean currents that affect temperature and seasonal weather events? (i.e. North Atlantic Current bringing warm water North or California Current bringing cold water South etc.)

i) Compare topographic features and landscape positioning.

Are there mountain ranges or major rivers in the region? What are they called and what are their elevations in feet or meters? If there are topographic features present, what is the proximity of the site and directional relationship to them (North, South, East or West)? Is there a major plateau, delta, are you on an island? Are there other distinctive feature that characterizes the area?

j) Examine plant hardiness zones.

How is the plant hardiness zone of the site projected to change in degrees Celsius or Fahrenheit? Looking at areas that have the new forecasted zone could be a quick way to locate potential climate change analogues.

k) Compare global soil regions.

If the sites have dramatically different soil regions, with one site having sand dunes and the other clay, that means that geologic forces are a dominant characteristic and it could have an impact on the analogous nature of the sites.


  1. “Climate Analogues”. Climate Change, Agriculture, and Food Security (CCAFS). Web.  https://ccafs.cgiar.org/tool-climate-analogue-tool#.Wql8bJPwZBL
  2. “Climate Analogues”. Climate Change, Agriculture, and Food Security (CCAFS). Web.  https://ccafs.cgiar.org/tool-climate-analogue-tool#.Wql8bJPwZBL
  3. Mungai, Catherine, and Maren Radeny and Caity Peterson. “One Farmer's Future is Another Farmer's Present: Farms of the Future Hits Tanzania”. Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS). Web. https://ccafs.cgiar.org/blog/one-mans-future-another-mans-present-farms-future-hits-tanzania#.Wql8_JPwZBJ
  4. https://ccafs.cgiar.org/tool-climate-analogue-tool#.Wql8bJPwZBL
  5. “The Northwest Climate Toolbox”. Climate Impacts Research Consortium and NOAA Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments. Web. http://www.climatetoolbox.org

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