Indigo Development
--- divider ---
Introduction to Climate Adaptation

Climate change is now perceived as the top environmental problem, gaining global attention through LiveEarth, Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth documentary, and the consensus of the great majority of climate scientists reported in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2007 report. News stories report accelerating impacts -- melting glaciers, melting Antarctic and Arctic ice, record temperatures over the last decade, a warming ocean making hurricanes more intense, droughts and floods. In California 2007 included an extreme drought in the south, flooding in the north, and fires in central and southern regions. High winds accompanied the flooding and fanned the fires, at times reaching hurricane force.

So far the strongest response has been creating policies and strategies for cutting greenhouse gases (GHG) to “save the planet.”  This side of the response to climate change is called mitigation or reducing the major emssions from human activities that cause global warming –-carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) nitrous oxide (N2O), and hydrofluorocarbons. These heat-trapping gases increase the natural greenhouse effect that normally balances the Earth’s surface air temperature. The stock of GHGs now in the system increase temperatures of the atmosphere and oceans and change the dynamics of climate regionally. Mitigation efforts act through policies, carbon markets, investment in new technologies, and best practices. The goal is to cut emissions and find means of sequestering GHGs, especially carbon dioxide.

Mitigation is not enough since we have already increased the stock of GHGs in the atmosphere and this will drive climate change for decades. Even if we achieve extraordinary emission reductions in the next years, we will need to deal with the impacts of climate change on all natural systems, economic sectors, and cities, towns, and villages. These impacts are unfolding in the present and require proactive planning to adapt. A few of the trends include:
  • Changes in sea level, chemical balance, and temperature, affecting coastal areas and islands everywhere;
  • Increasing temperatures and more variable, often more extreme climate patterns;
  • Higher incidence of extreme weather events, such as typhoons, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, draughts, heat waves, and cold waves;
  • Less reliable access to water for all human and natural uses;
  • Shifts in wild and farm habitats, with corresponding impacts on biodiversity, crops, invasive plants, and insect pests;
  • New demands on municipal and regional infrastructure to handle flooding, water shortages, heating and cooling, and water treatment.
The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) defines adaptation as:

“. . .  adjustment in ecological, social, or economic systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli and their effects or impacts. This term refers to changes in processes, practices, or structures to moderate or offset potential damages or to take advantage of opportunities associated with changes in climate. It involves adjustments to reduce the vulnerability of communities, regions, or activities to climatic change and variability.”

Adaptation planning is a major initiative in UN agencies, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the European Commission, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand. However, the US effort faltered after a significant start under President Clinton. The US is just now reviving adaptation planning, mostly at the level of research institutes and a few regional organizations. For instance, the California Climate Action Team has set a research agenda on vulnerabilities and adaptation. Scientists in multiple disciplines are developing higher resolution climate models and regional scenarios of impacts.

However, public agencies, regional planning associations, industrial groups, and universities need to build capacity for adaptation planning and begin the process, without waiting for completion of scientific studies. Planning is always a reiterative process, beginning with understanding the present situation and a desired outcome. We repeat it in cycles as our understanding grows and uncertainty is reduced.

Proactive adaptation planning and investment will help reduce the costs of climate events and trends and enable businesses and governments to benefit from positive impacts of climate change. Some adaptation strategies will generate multiple benefits whether or not the pattern of impacts unfolds as predicted. Some “no regrets” options include:
  • Increasing the efficiency of  water, energy, and materials use;
  • Limiting the footprint of development on the landscape, particularly in vulnerable habitats such as wetlands and areas subject to fires, floods, and landslides;
  • Creating nature reserves designed to accommodate future climate changes and necessary range shifts and migrations of plants and animals;
  • Reducing urban heat island impacts;
  • Using permeable pavements so that storm water runoff can be beneficially used to recharge groundwater systems. 
Ideally, planning for adaptation to the impacts of climate change would be based upon high resolution regional models and scenarios of likely impacts. However, the early impacts are taking place now, often much faster than expected. So while climate scientists deepen their models, it is important to begin the process of capacity development, strategic planning, and investing in early no regrets projects.

How does one begin? By creating Adaptation Processes & Strategies    Or return to adaptation home page

Contact Us | Copyright © 2007 Indigo Development | Last Updated: August 2007