CRITICAL ELEMENTS FOR ADAPTATION TO CLIMATE CHANGE
1.1 BACKGROUND OF THE STUDY
Adaptation refers to adjustments in ecological, social, or economic systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli and their effects or impacts. It refers to changes in processes, practices, and structures to moderate potential damages or to benefit from opportunities associated with climate change (Adams et al; 1995).
Estimates of likely future adaptations are an essential ingredient in impact and vulnerability assessments. The extent to which ecosystems, food supplies, and sustainable development are vulnerable or “in danger” depends both on exposure to changes in climate and on the ability of the impacted system to adapt. In addition, adaptation is an important policy response option, along with mitigation. There is a need for the development and assessment of planned adaptation initiatives to help manage the risks of climate change.
Adaptations vary according to the system in which they occur, who undertakes them, the climatic stimuli that prompts them, and their timing, functions, forms, and effects. In unmanaged natural systems, adaptation is autonomous and reactive; it is the process by which species and ecosystems respond to changed conditions. This chapter focuses on adaptations consciously undertaken by humans, including those in economic sectors, managed ecosystems, resource use systems, settlements, communities, and regions. In human systems, adaptation is undertaken by private decision makers and by public agencies or governments.
Adaptation depends greatly on the adaptive capacity or adaptability of an affected system, region, or community to cope with the impacts and risks of climate change. The adaptive capacity of communities is determined by their socioeconomic characteristics. Enhancement of adaptive capacity represents a practical means of coping with changes and uncertainties in climate, including variability and extremes. In this way, enhancement of adaptive capacity reduces vulnerabilities and promotes sustainable development.
1.2 STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM
Current knowledge of adaptation and adaptive capacity is insufficient for reliable prediction of adaptations; it also is insufficient for rigorous evaluation of planned adaptation options, measures, and policies of governments. Climate change vulnerability studies now usually consider adaptation, but they rarely go beyond identifying adaptation options that might be possible; there is little research on the dynamics of adaptation in human systems, the processes of adaptation decision making, conditions that stimulate or constrain adaptation, and the role of non-climatic factors. There are serious limitations in existing evaluations of adaptation options; Economic benefits and costs are important criteria but are not sufficient to adequately determine the appropriateness of adaptation measures; there also has been little research to date on the roles and responsibilities in adaptation of individuals, communities, corporations, private and public institutions, governments, and international organizations. Given the scope and variety of specific adaptation options across sectors, individuals, communities, and locations, as well as the variety of participants of private and public involved in most adaptation initiatives, it is probably infeasible to systematically evaluate lists of particular adaptation measures; improving and applying knowledge on the constraints and opportunities for enhancing adaptive capacity is necessary to reduce vulnerabilities associated with climate change.