Adaptation to global warming

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Adaptation to global warming is a response to global warming that seeks to reduce the vulnerability of social and biological systems to current climate change and thus offset the effects of global warming.[1] Even if emissions are stabilized relatively soon, global warming and its effects will last many years, and adaptation will be necessary to the resulting changes in climate.[2] Adaptation is especially important in developing countries since those countries are predicted to bear the brunt of the effects of global warming.[3] That is, the capacity and potential for humans to adapt (called adaptive capacity) is unevenly distributed across different regions and populations, and developing countries generally have less capacity to adapt (Schneider et al., 2007).[4] Furthermore, the degree of adaptation correlates to the situational focus on environmental issues.[5] Therefore, adaptation requires the situational assessment of sensitivity and vulnerability to environmental impacts.[6] Adaptive capacity is closely linked to social and economic development (IPCC, 2007).[7] The economic costs of adaptation to climate change are likely to cost billions of dollars annually for the next several decades, though the amount of money needed is unknown. Donor countries promised an annual $100 billion by 2020 through the Green Climate Fund for developing countries to adapt to climate change. However, while the fund was set up during COP16 in Cancún, concrete pledges by developed countries have not been forthcoming.[8] [9][10] The adaptation challenge grows with the magnitude and the rate of climate change.

Another policy response to climate change, known as climate change mitigation (Verbruggen, 2007)[11] is to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and/or enhance the removal of these gases from the atmosphere (through carbon sinks).[12] Even the most effective reductions in emissions, however, would not prevent further climate change impacts, making the need for adaptation unavoidable (Klein et al., 2007).[13] In a literature assessment, Klein et al. (2007) assessed options for adaptation. They concluded, with very high confidence, that in the absence of mitigation efforts, the effects of climate change would reach such a magnitude as to make adaptation impossible for some natural ecosystems. For human systems, the economic and social costs of unmitigated climate change would be very high.

Effects of global warming

The projected effects for the environment and for civilization are numerous and varied. The main effect is an increasing global average temperature. The average surface temperature could increase by 3 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century if carbon emissions aren't reduced.[14] This causes a variety of secondary effects, namely, changes in patterns of precipitation, rising sea levels, altered patterns of agriculture, increased extreme weather events, the expansion of the range of tropical diseases, and the opening of new marine trade routes.

Potential effects include sea level rise of 110 to 770 mm (0.36 to 2.5 feet) between 1990 and 2100, repercussions to agriculture, possible slowing of the thermohaline circulation, reductions in the ozone layer, increased intensity and frequency of extreme weather events, lowering of ocean pH, and the spread of tropical diseases such as malaria and dengue fever.

A summary of probable effects and recent understanding can be found in the report made for the IPCC Third Assessment Report by Working Group II.[15] The 2007 contribution of Working Group II detailing the impacts of global warming for the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report has been summarized for policymakers.[16]

Adaptation is handicapped by uncertainty over the effects of global warming on specific locations such as the Southwestern United States or phenomena such as the Indian monsoon.[17]

Necessity for adaptation

In the February 8, 2007 issue of Nature, a team of science policy experts argue that adapting to climate change would be a more effective means of dealing with global warming than reducing emissions of greenhouse gases.[18]

National Academy of Sciences

One prominent attempt to address adaptation was a 1991 report by the United States National Academy of Sciences, "Policy Implications of Greenhouse Warming." The National Academy report cautioned that agricultural adaptation will be essential in a greenhouse world.[19]

United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction

The United Nations Disaster Risk Reduction Office (UNISDR) recognizes climate change adaptation as part of the disaster risk reduction domain as it intends to reduce the risks that vulnerable populations might encounter due to climate change.[20]

IPCC Working Group II

IPCC Working Group II argues that mitigation and adaptation should be complementary components of a response strategy to global warming. Their report makes the following observations:

  1. Adaptation is a necessary strategy at all scales to complement climate change mitigation efforts.
  2. Those with the least resources have the least capacity to adapt and are the most vulnerable
  3. Adaptation, sustainable development, and enhancement of equity can be mutually reinforcing.[21]

Adaptation is a necessary strategy

Because of the current and projected climate disruption precipitated by high levels of greenhouse gas emissions by the industrialized nations, adaptation is a necessary strategy at all scales to complement climate change mitigation efforts because we cannot be sure that all climate change can be mitigated. And indeed the odds are quite high that in the long run more warming is inevitable, given the high level of GHGs in the atmosphere, and the (several decade) delay between emissions and impact.

Adaptation can mitigate the adverse impacts of climate change, but it will incur costs and will not prevent all damages. Extremes, variability, and rates of change are all key features in addressing vulnerability and adaptation to climate change, not simply changes in average climate conditions. Planned adaptation can supplement autonomous adaptation, though there are more options and greater possibility for offering incentives in the case of adaptation of human systems than in the case of adaptation to protect natural systems.[22]

Disadvantaged nations

The ability of human systems to adapt to and cope with climate change depends on such factors as wealth, technology, education, infrastructure, access to resources, management capabilities, acceptance of the existence of climate change and the consequent need for action, and sociopolitical will. Populations and communities are highly variable in their endowments of these attributes, with developing nations being among those worst-placed to adapt to global warming.

Mutual reinforcement

Many communities and regions that are vulnerable to climate change are also under pressure from forces such as population growth, resource depletion, and poverty. Policies that lessen pressures on resources, improve management of environmental risks, and increase the welfare of the poorest members of society can simultaneously advance sustainable development and equity, enhance adaptive capacity, and reduce vulnerability to climate and other stresses. Inclusion of climatic risks in the design and implementation of national and international development initiatives such as polar cities can promote equity and development that is more sustainable and that reduces vulnerability to climate change.[23]


Yohe et al. (2007) assessed the literature on sustainability and climate change.[24] With high confidence, they suggested that up to the year 2050, an effort to cap GHG emissions at 550 ppm would benefit developing countries significantly. This was judged to be especially the case when combined with enhanced adaptation. By 2100, however, it was still judged likely that there would be significant climate change impacts. This was judged to be the case even with aggressive mitigation and significantly enhanced adaptive capacity.

Tradeoffs and economics

Adaptation and mitigation can be viewed as two competing policy responses, with tradeoffs between the two. The other tradeoff is with climate change impacts. In practice, however, the actual tradeoffs are debatable (Schneider et al., 2001).[25] This is because the people who bear emission reduction costs or benefits are often different from those who pay or benefit from adaptation measures.

Economists, using cost-benefit analysis, have attempted to calculate an "optimal" balance of the costs and benefits between climate change impacts, adaptation, and mitigation (Toth et al., 2001).[26] There are difficulties in doing this calculation, for example, future climate change damages are uncertain, as are the future costs of adaptation.

Also, deciding what "optimal" is depends on value judgements made by the economist doing the study (Azar, 1998).[27] For example, how to value impacts occurring in different regions and different times, and "non-market" impacts, e.g., damages to ecosystems (Smith et al., 2001).[28] Economics cannot provide definitive answers to these questions over valuation, and some valuations may be viewed as being controversial (Banuri et al., 1996, pp. 87, 99).[29]

Some reviews indicate that policymakers are uncomfortable with using the results of this type of economic analysis (Klein et al., 2007).[30] This is due to the uncertainties surrounding cost estimates for climate change damages, adaptation, and mitigation. Another type of analysis is based on a risk-based approach to the problem. Stern (2007) (referred to by Klein et al., 2007), for example, used such an approach. He argued that adaptation would play an important role in climate policy, but not in an explicit trade-off against mitigation.


In the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which most countries are Parties to (UNFCCC, n.d.),[31] countries have made commitments to assist those most vulnerable in adapting to climate change (Banuri et al., 1996, p. 98).[29] The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), set up as part of the Kyoto Protocol to the Framework Convention, is the main source of income for the UNFCCC Adaptation Fund. This fund was established in 2007 (World Bank, 2010, pp. 262–263).[32] The CDM is subject to a 2% levy, which could raise between $300 million and $600 million over the 2008-12 period. The actual amount raised will depend on the carbon price.

Although established under the Kyoto Protocol, the Adaptation Fund has been very slow to operationalize and has not as yet (August 2010) disbursed any funding. The call for Proposals was issued in April 2010[33]

Institution of Mechanical Engineers

In February 2009, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (UK) issued a report in which they expressed pessimism about the ability of any international agreement, such as Kyoto Treaty to reduce carbon emissions. While it did not dismiss mitigation policy all together, it stated that they are "realistic enough to recognise that global CO2 emissions are not reducing and our climate is changing so unless we adapt, we are likely to face a difficult future." [34][35]

Conceptualising adaptation

Adaptation can be defined as adjustments of a system to reduce vulnerability and to increase the resilience of system to change, in this case in the climate system.[36] Adaptation occurs at a range of inter-linking scales, and can either occur in anticipation of change (anticipatory adaptation), or be a response to those changes (reactive adaptation).[37] Most adaptation being implemented at present is responding to current climate trends and variability, for example increased use of artificial snow-making in the European Alps. Some adaptation measures, however, are anticipating future climate change, such as the construction of the Confederation Bridge in Canada at a higher elevation to take into account the effect of future sea-level rise on ship clearance under the bridge.[36]

Adaptive capacity and vulnerability are important concepts for understanding adaptation; vulnerability can be seen as the context in which adaptation takes place, and adaptive capacity is the ability or potential of a system to respond successfully to climate variability and change, in order to reduce adverse impacts and take advantage of new opportunities.[36] Those societies that can respond to change quickly and successfully have a high adaptive capacity.[38] High adaptive capacity does not necessarily translate into successful adaptation. For example, the adaptive capacity in Western Europe is high, and the risks of warmer winters increasing the range of livestock diseases was well documented, but many parts of Europe were still badly affected by outbreaks of the Bluetongue virus in livestock in 2007.

Adaptive capacity is driven by factors operating at many different interlinked scales, and it is important to understand the ways in which the different drivers of adaptive capacity interact. Physical constraints are important, but in most cases it is social processes which increase or decrease adaptive capacity; it can be said that adaptive capacity is socially constructed.[38] The social drivers of adaptive capacity are varied but may include broad structures such as economic and political processes, as well as processes which operate at a very local scale, such as access to decision-making and the structure of social networks and relationships within a community. Adaptive capacity at a local scale is constrained by larger scale processes. For example, a farmer’s adaptive capacity will not only depend on access to resources (both physical and social) within the community which allow a crop to be grown successfully, but also the effect of macro-scale economic processes on the price received for the crop.[37] Gender is another factor which is important in determining adaptive capacity constrain adaptive capacity and vulnerability,[39] for example women may have participation in decision-making, or be constrained by lower levels of education.[36]

The social construction of adaptive capacity is very important when thinking about the risks and impacts of a changing climate. It is not just the change in climate which will affect vulnerability and livelihoods, but the way that these changes are negotiated through complex social systems. A 10% decrease in rainfall may be acceptable and manageable to members of a community who have access to improved agricultural techniques, or whose livelihoods are in some way diversified, whereas marginalised members of the community may not be able to cope with these changes.[37] Adaptation can be seen as a social and institutional process that involves reflecting on and responding to current trends and projected changes in climate.[40]

Both temporal and spatial scales are very important in thinking about adaptation, as is the frame of reference taken for looking at adaptation. Much adaptation takes place in relation to short-term climate variability, however this may cause maladaptation to longer-term climatic trends. For example, the expansion of irrigation in Egypt into the Western Sinai desert due to a period of higher river flows is a maladaptation when viewed in relation to the longer term projections of drying in the region[41]). Adaptations at one scale can also create externalities at another by reducing the adaptive capacity of other actors. This is often the case when broad assessments of the costs and benefits of adaptation are examined at smaller scales and it is possible to see that whilst the adaptation may benefit some actors, it has a negative effect on others.[37]

From the current literature on the subject, people have always adapted to a changing climate and that coping strategies already exist in many communities, for example changing sowing times or adopting new water-saving techniques.[41] Traditional knowledge and coping strategies must be maintained and strengthened, otherwise adaptive capacity may be weakened as local knowledge of the environment is lost. Strengthening these indigenous techniques and building upon them also makes it more likely that adaptation strategies will be adopted, as it creates more community ownership and involvement in the process.[36] In some cases however this will be not be enough to adapt to new conditions which are outside the range of those previously experienced, and new techniques will be needed.[38]

Criteria for assessing responses

James Titus, project manager for sea level rise at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, identifies the following criteria that policy makers should use in assessing responses to global warming:[42]

  • Economic Efficiency: Will the initiative yield benefits substantially greater than if the resources were applied elsewhere?
  • Flexibility: Is the strategy reasonable for the entire range of possible changes in temperatures, precipitation, and sea level?
  • Urgency: Would the strategy be successful if implementation were delayed ten or twenty years?
  • Low Cost: Does the strategy require minimal resources?
  • Equity: Does the strategy unfairly benefit some at the expense of other regions, generations, or economic classes?
  • Institutional feasibility: Is the strategy acceptable to the public? Can it be implemented with existing institutions under existing laws?
  • Unique or Critical Resources: Would the strategy decrease the risk of losing unique environmental or cultural resources?
  • Health and Safety: Would the proposed strategy increase or decrease the risk of disease or injury?
  • Consistency: Does the policy support other national state, community, or private goals?
  • Private v. Public Sector: Does the strategy minimize governmental interference with decisions best made by the private sector?


The United Nations Development Programme estimated that an additional USD $86 billion per year would be needed in 2015.[43]

According to UNFCCC estimates in 2007, costs of adaptation to climate change would cost $49–171 billion per annum globally by 2030,[citation needed] of which a significant share of the additional investment and financial flows, USD $28–67 billion would be needed in 2030 in non-Annex I Parties.[44] This represents a doubling of current official development assistance (ODA).

This estimate has been critiqued by Parry et al. (2009), in a joint study by IIED and the Grantham Institute, which argues that the UNFCCC estimate underestimates the cost of adaptation to climate change by a factor of 2 or 3.[45] Moreover, sectors such as tourism, mining, energy, and retail were not included in the UNFCCC estimate.

The more recent World Bank Study on the 'Economics of Adaptation to Climate Change' found that the costs of adaptation would be in the range of $75–100 billion per year between 2010 and 2050; with higher estimates under the wetter global scenario than the drier scenario, assuming that warming will be about 2 degrees by 2050.[46]

The benefits of strong, early action on mitigation considerably outweigh the costs.[47] The Copenhagen Accord was agreed on in order to create a commitment by developed countries to provide:[48]

new and additional resources...approaching USD $30 billion for the period 2010- 2012 with balanced allocation between adaptation and mitigation... [and] in the context of meaningful mitigation actions and transparency on implementation, developed countries commit to a goal of mobilizing jointly USD$100 billion a year by 2020 to address the needs of developing countries.

However, a key point of contention between states at the UNFCC Copenhagen Climate Summit was who was to foot the bill and if aid is to be given, how is it to affect other levels of development aid.[48] The concept of additionality has thus arisen and the EU has asked its member states to come up with definitions of what they understand additionality to mean, the four main definitions are:[48]

  1. Climate finance classified as aid, but additional to (over and above) the ‘0.7%’ ODA target;
  2. Increase on previous year's Official Development Assistance (ODA) spent on climate change mitigation;
  3. Rising ODA levels that include climate change finance but where it is limited to a specified percentage; and
  4. Increase in climate finance not connected to ODA.

The main point being that there is a conflict between the OECD states budget deficit cuts, the need to help developing countries adapt to develop sustainably and the need to ensure that funding does not come from cutting aid to other important Millennium Development Goals.[48]

Adaptation mechanisms

Scheraga and Grambsch[49] identify 9 fundamental principles to be considered when designing adaptation policy.

  1. The effects of climate change vary by region.
  2. The effects of climate change may vary across demographic groups.
  3. Climate change poses both risks and opportunities.
  4. The effects of climate change must be considered in the context of multiple stressors and factors, which may be as important to the design of adaptive responses as the sensitivity of the change.
  5. Adaptation comes at a cost.
  6. Adaptive responses vary in effectiveness, as demonstrated by current efforts to cope with climate variability.
  7. The systemic nature of climate impacts complicates the development of adaptation policy.
  8. Maladaptation can result in negative effects that are as serious as the climate-induced effects that are being avoided.
  9. Many opportunities for adaptation make sense whether or not the effects of climate change are realized.

Methods of adaptation

Adaptation through local planning

Local landuse and municipal planning represent important avenues for adaptation to global warming. These forms of planning are recognised as central to avoiding the impacts of climate related hazards such as floods and heat stress, planning for demographic and consumption transition, and plans for ecosystem conservation.[50] This type of planning is different from the National Adaptation Programs of Action (NAPAs) which are intended to be frameworks for prioritizing adaptation needs.[51] At the local scale, municipalities are at the coal face of adaptation where impacts are experienced in the forms of inundation, bushfires, heatwaves and rising sea levels.[52]

Cities are planning for adapting to global warming and climate change. The New York Times began a series of articles on this subject with Chicago's adaptation initiatives being highlighted.[53] Projects include changing to heat tolerant tree varieties, changing to water permeable pavements to absorb higher rainfalls and adding air conditioning in public schools. New York and other cities are involved in similar planning.[54][55][56] Carefully planned water storage could help urban areas adapt to increasingly severe storms by increasing rainwater storage (domestic water butts, unpaved gardens etc.) and increasing the capacity of stormwater systems (and also separating stormwater from blackwater, so that overflows in peak periods do not contaminate rivers). According to English Nature, gardeners can help mitigate the effects of climate change by providing habitats for the most threatened species, and/or saving water by changing gardens to use plants which require less.[57]

Adaptation through local planning occurs in two distinct modes. The first is strategic planning, which is important but not unique to local governments. At the local scale it fosters community vision, aspirational goals and place-making, along with defining pathways to achieve these goals. The second form is land-use planning, and is focused on the allocation of space to balance economic prosperity with acceptable living standards and the conservation of natural resources. Although these two types of planning are quite different in practice, and in many cases are managed by different departments, we propose that both are highly important to climate change adaptation, and can contribute to achieving adaptation at the local scale.[58] Significant constraints are recognised to hinder adaptation through planning, including limited resources, lack of information, competing planning agendas and complying with requirements from other levels of government.[59] Examples of adaptation include defending against rising sea levels through better flood defenses, and changing patterns of land use like avoiding more vulnerable areas for housing.

Planning for rising sea levels is one of the key challenges for local planning in response to climate change. Many national governments around the world have attempted to address the problem of rising sea levels through policy and planning reforms designed to increase adaptive capacity.[60] In the United States, many state and local governments are now assessing innovative, locality-specific options for sea-level rise adaptation.[61][62] Although adaptation planning occurs through a variety of processes, local adaptation initiatives in the U.S. often pass through three stages of adaptation planning: 1) building community awareness of sea level rise as a local risk, 2) undertaking a scientific assessment of these risks in the medium and long-terms, and 3) using a public process to develop an adaptation plan and supportive policies.[63]

Enhancing adaptive capacity

In a literature assessment, Smit et al. (2001) concluded that enhanced adaptive capacity would reduce vulnerability to climate change.[64] In their view, activities that enhance adaptive capacity are essentially equivalent to activities that promote sustainable development. These activities include:[65]

Researchers at the Overseas Development Institute found that development interventions to increase adaptive capacity have tended not to result in increased agency for local people.[66] They argue that this should play a more prominent part in future intervention planning because agency is a central factor in all other aspects of adaptive capacity.

Agricultural production

A significant effect of global climate change is the altering of global rainfall patterns, with certain effects on agriculture.[67] Rainfed agriculture constitutes 80% of global agriculture. Many of the 852 million poor people in the world live in parts of Asia and Africa that depend on rainfall to cultivate food crops. As the global population swells, more food will be needed, but climate variability is likely to make successful farming more difficult. Extended drought can cause the failure of small and marginal farms with resultant economic, political and social disruption. However, such events have previously occurred in human history independent of global climate change. In recent decades, global trade has created distribution networks capable of delivering surplus food to where it is needed, thus reducing local impact.[67]

Drought tolerant crop varieties

Agriculture of any kind is strongly influenced by the availability of water. Climate change will modify rainfall, evaporation, runoff, and soil moisture storage. Changes in total seasonal precipitation or in its pattern of variability are both important. The occurrence of moisture stress during flowering, pollination, and grain-filling is harmful to most crops and particularly so to corn, soybeans, and wheat. Increased evaporation from the soil and accelerated transpiration in the plants themselves will cause moisture stress. As a result, there will be a need to develop crop varieties with greater drought tolerance.

More spending on irrigation

The demand for water for irrigation is projected to rise in a warmer climate, bringing increased competition between agriculture—already the largest consumer of water resources in semi-arid regions—and urban as well as industrial users. Falling water tables and the resulting increase in the energy needed to pump water will make the practice of irrigation more expensive, particularly when with drier conditions more water will be required per acre. Other strategies will be needed to make the most efficient use of water resources. For example, the International Water Management Institute has suggested five strategies that could help Asia feed its growing population in light of climate change. These are:

  • modernising existing irrigation schemes to suit modern methods of farming
  • Supporting farmers' efforts to find their own water supplies, by tapping into groundwater in a sustainable way
  • Looking beyond conventional 'Participatory Irrigation Management' schemes, by engaging the private sector
  • Expanding capacity and knowledge
  • Investing outside the irrigation sector[68]

Forest resources

The forestry resources are most crucial means of adaptation to forest dependent people whose lives have been depending on it. If long duration of drought persist, definitely affect to rain-fed agricultural system. In this situation, people can collect the edible fruits, roots and leaves for their life survival. Similarly, forest resources provides not only goods but also services such as regulation of ecosystem, maintain linkage of upstream-downstream through watershed conservation, carbon sequestration and aesthetic value. These services become crucial part of life sustained through increased adaptive capacity of poor, vulnerable, women and socially excluded communities.

Rainwater storage

Providing farmers with access to a range of water stores could help them overcome dry spells that would otherwise cause their crops to fail. Field studies have shown the effectiveness of small-scale water storage. For example, according to the International Water Management Institute, using small planting basins to 'harvest' water in Zimbabwe has been shown to boost maize yields, whether rainfall is abundant or scarce. And in Niger, they have led to three or fourfold increases in millet yields.[69]

Weather control

Russian and American scientists have in the past tried to control the weather, for example by seeding clouds with chemicals to try to produce rain when and where it is needed. A new method being developed involves replicating the urban heat island effect, where cities are slightly hotter than the countryside because they are darker and absorb more heat. This creates 28% more rain 20–40 miles downwind from cities compared to upwind.[70] On the timescale of several decades, new weather control techniques may become feasible which would allow control of extreme weather such as hurricanes.[71]

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) through its Commission for Atmospheric Sciences (CAS) has issued a "STATEMENT ON WEATHER MODIFICATION" as well as "GUIDELINES FOR THE PLANNING OF WEATHER MODIFICATION ACTIVITIES" in 2007, stating among others that "Purposeful augmentation of precipitation, reduction of hail damage, dispersion of fog and other types of cloud and storm modifications by cloud seeding are developing technologies which are still striving to achieve a sound scientific foundation and which have to be adapted to enormously varied natural conditions." [72]

Damming glacial lakes

Glacial lake outburst floods may become a bigger concern due to the retreat of glaciers, leaving behind numerous lakes that are impounded by often weak terminal moraine dams. In the past, the sudden failure of these dams has resulted in localized property damage, injury and deaths. Glacial lakes in danger of bursting can have their moraines replaced with concrete dams (which may also provide hydroelectric power).[73]


In a literature assessment, Barker et al. (2007) described geoengineering as a type of mitigation policy.[74] IPCC (2007) concluded that geoengineering options, such as ocean fertilization to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, remained largely unproven.[75] It was judged that reliable cost estimates for geoengineering had not been published.

The Royal Society (2009) published the findings of a study into geoengineering. The authors of the study defined geoengineering as a "deliberate large-scale intervention in the Earth's climate system, in order to moderate global warming" (p. ix).[76] According to the study, the safest and most predictable method of moderating climate change is early action to reduce GHG emissions.

Scientists such as Ken Caldeira and Paul Crutzen,[77] suggest geoengineering techniques, which can be employed to change the climate deliberately and thus control some of the effects of global warming. These include:

Assisting disadvantaged nations

In 2000, there was a proposal made at the Sixth Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change that called for the creation of an Adaptation Fund of $1 billion per year for developing countries, especially the least developed and small island states, to enable them to combat the consequences of climate change.

Many scientists, policy makers and the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report have agreed that disadvantaged nations, especially in the global south need more attention to the negative impacts of climate change. These regions are highly populated and people have generally lower adaptive capacity. A balance, however, between development and climate change mitigation and adaptation needs to be found.

In the global south, national governments are largely responsible for formulation and implementation of the adaptation plan, from local to the national level. In this context, a contradictory situation exists. National governments attach high priority to development polices and plans—not climate change. Development agendas are driven by pre-existing problems such as poverty, malnutrition, food insecurity,[78] availability of drinking water, indebtness, illiteracy, unemployment, local resource conflicts, lower technological development etc. Here, it is important to recognize that if climate change phenomenon is not properly understood and coping strategies such as mitigation and adaptation are not adopted on timely manner, climate change impacts will exacerbate these pre-existing problems.

Hence, there is a need of exploring strategies of integration between the climate change plans and development plans in the global south. This integration should include principles such as social justice and equity, inclusion of marginal population in decision making, women’s participation and promotion of social cohesion. Inclusion of these principles will not only promote mitigation and adaptation to climate change but will also make development more distributive.

Collaborative research from the Institute of Development Studies draws links between adaptation and poverty to help develop an agenda for pro-poor adaptation that can inform climate-resilient poverty reduction. Adaptation to climate change will be "ineffective and inequitable if it fails to learn and build upon an understanding of the multidimensional and differentiated nature of poverty and vulnerability".[79] Poorer countries tend to be more seriously affected by climate change, yet have reduced assets and capacities with which to adapt. This has led to more activities to integrate adaptation within development and poverty reduction programmes. The rise of adaptation as a development issue has been influenced by concerns around minimising threats to progress on poverty reduction, notably the MDGs, and by the injustice of impacts that are felt hardest by those who have done least to contribute to the problem, framing adaptation as an equity and right issue.[80]


Recent literature has also put forward the concept of migration as a climate change coping mechanism. Climate change push factors are weighed against economic or social pull factors: the role of climate change in migration is thus not a linear one of cause and effect. Migration frequently requires would-be migrants to have access to social and financial capital, such as support networks in the chosen destination, and the funds to be able to move. It is frequently the last adaptive response households will take when confronted with environmental factors that threaten their livelihoods, and mostly resorted to when other mechanisms to cope have proven unsuccessful. Migration and Climate Change, a UNESCO publication, explores the dynamics of environmental migration and the role of migration as an adaptive response to climate change.[81]


One method of climate adaptation is the encouragement of individual actions to mitigate, spread, or transfer the risk of damages. Specifically, one existing tool is insurance, for either general catastrophe or actual flooding. The idea is to allow for reactive options to rebuild communities after adverse impacts from extreme weather events.[82] Although it can be preferable to take a proactive approach to eliminate the cause of the risk, reactive post-harm compensation can be used as a last resort.[83] Access to reinsurance may be a form of increasing the resiliency of cities.[84] Where there are failures in the private insurance market, the public sector creates residual market mechanisms (RMM) to encourage individual risk reduction by subsidizing premiums.[85] A study identified key equity issues for policy considerations:

(a) transferring risk to the public purse does not reduce overall risk (b) governments can spread the cost of losses across time rather than space (c) governments can force home-owners in low risk areas to cross-subsidize the insurance premiums of those in high risk areas (d) cross-subsidization is increasingly difficult for private sector insurers operating in a competitive market, and (e) governments can tax people to pay for tomorrow’s disaster.[86]

Government-subsidized insurance, such as the U.S. National Flood Insurance Program, is criticized for providing a perverse incentive to develop properties in hazardous areas, thereby increasing overall risk.[87] This behavioral effect may be countered with appropriate land-use policies that limit new construction where current or future climate risks are perceived and/or encourage the adoption of resilient building codes to mitigate potential damages.[88]

Adaptation finance

The aggregate of current climate change adaptation programs will not raise enough money to fund adaptation to climate change.[89] There are, however, several programs and proposals to finance adaptation to climate change in developing countries. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change runs a program called the Global Environmental Facility, which provides some funding for adaptation to least developed countries and small island states.[90] Under the GEF umbrella, the GEF Trust Fund, the Least Developed Countries Fund (LDCF), and the Special Climate Change Fund (SCCF) operate to carry out the climate change adaptation financing goals of the GEF.[90] Another mechanism has been implemented through the Adaptation Fund, as a result of negotiations during COP15 and COP16, which provides funds for projects that prove to have additional benefits for adaptation to climate change. There are several other climate change adaptation finance proposals, most of which employ official development assistance or ODA.[9] These proposals range from a World Bank program, to proposals involving auctioning of carbon allowances, to a global carbon or transportation tax, to compensation-based funding.[9] Other proposals suggest using market-based mechanisms, rather than ODA, such as the Higher Ground Foundation's vulnerability reduction credit (VRC™)[91] or a program similar to the Clean Development Mechanism,[92] to raise private money for climate change adaptation. The Copenhagen Accord, the most recent global climate change agreement, commits developed countries to goal of sending $100 billion per year to developing countries in assistance for climate change mitigation and climate change adaptation through 2020.[93] This agreement, while not binding, would dwarf current amounts dedicated to adaptation in developing countries. This climate change fund is called the Green Climate Fund from the 2010 United Nations Climate Change Conference.[94]

Adaptation measures by country

Numerous countries, including Australia, have held inquiries into and have planned or started adaptation measures.

United States

The state of California has also issued a document titled "2009 California Climate Adaptation Strategy Discussion Draft" that summarizes the best known science on climate change impacts in seven specific sectors and provides recommendations on how to manage against those threats.[95] Within the state of Florida four counties (Broward, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Palm Beach) have created the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact in order to coordinate adaptation and mitigation strategies to cope with the impact of climate change on the region.[96] Poorer communities have gotten help with climate adaptation in places like Bangladesh as well.[97][98][99][100] The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has issued grants to coastal cities and towns for adaptation activities such as fortification against flooding and preventing coastal erosion.[101] New York State is requiring climate change be taken into account in certain infrastructure permitting, zoning, and open space programs; and is mapping sea level rise along its coast.[102] After Hurricane Sandy, New York and New Jersey accelerated voluntary government buy-back of homes in flood-prone areas. New York City announced in 2013 it planned to spend between $10 and $20 billion on local flood protection, reduction of the heat island effect with reflective and green roofs, flood-hardening of hospitals and public housing, resiliency in food supply, and beach enhancement; rezoned to allow private property owners to move critical features to upper stories; and required electrical utilities to harden infrastructure against flooding.[103][104] A large storm barrier spanning the entire harbor was previously proposed, but was not included in government plans.[105]

National Adaptation Programme of Action for Least Developed Countries

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) helps least developed countries (LDCs) identify climate change adaptation needs by funding the development of National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA). NAPAs are meant to provide LDCs with an opportunity to identify their “urgent and immediate needs” for adapting to climate change.[106] As part of the NAPA process, LDC government ministries, typically assisted by development agencies, assess their countries’ vulnerability to climate change and extreme weather events. They then develop a prioritized list of adaptation projects that will help the country cope with the adverse effects of climate change. LDCs that submit NAPAs to the UNFCCC then become eligible for funding through the Least Developed Countries Fund (LDC Fund) for NAPA projects. The LDC Fund was designed through the UNFCCC to specifically assist least developed countries, as they are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change.[107] To date, forty five LDCs have written and submitted NAPAs to the UNFCCC, with Nepal as the latest country to submit its NAPA in November 2010.[108] Three more countries (Angola, Myanmar, and Timor Leste) are scheduled to complete their NAPAs by the end of 2011.[109]

Opposition to adaptation

According to Al Gore, writing in 1992 in Earth in the Balance,[110] adaptation represented a “kind of laziness, an arrogant faith in our ability to react in time to save our skins”.[111]

Climate Adaptation Denial

According to a report[112] released by Greenpeace USA in September 2013, climate change denial and the campaigns designed to block adaptation measures grew mainly out of the 1990s negotiations slated to develop a global agreement. During these talks, a number of lobby groups were established with an objective of developing doubt within policymakers and the media through the use of publications in the guise of true science. This tactic, similar to those of large tobacco companies, was utilized by the lobby groups in the hopes of delaying action and blurring the lines between the valid scientific efforts to challenge climate change findings and those designed to merely undermine the credibility of the scientific community. This strategy feeds into the “uncertainty argument” and develops an impression of debate through references to the uncertainty of scientific findings that exist in any research model. Additional tactics that the lobbyist groups have used include releasing non-stories manufactured from stolen emails and communications plans to develop more media coverage of the uncertainty argument.[113]

See also


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Relevant IPCC reports

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) produced two separate reports: Climate Change 2001: Mitigation and Climate Change 2001: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

Relevant United States sources

Other government sources

Several countries have taken a lead in climate vulnerability assessment and adaptation planning. Their web sites contain reports, strategies, and tools which other countries can customize to their own situation.

Other relevant sources

In addition to government and United Nations reports, an extensive research literature assesses options for response to global warming. Much of this literature addresses the potential economic costs associated with different strategies.