Adaptation Takes Work, Too
Climate change has already reshaped our world to the point that adaptation is necessary -- even if global efforts to stop using fossil fuels succeed. As the IPCC report released last week describes it, "Adaptation, in response to current climate change, is reducing climate risks and vulnerability mostly via adjustment of existing systems." The report describes several adaptive measures that could be feasible, including:
- Improving early warning systems for weather hazards like flooding and heatwaves, which are becoming more frequent and intense
- Making fishing and aquaculture more sustainable as marine species migrate in search of colder waters
- Restoring marine ecosystems like mangrove forests and seagrass meadows, which protect coasts from more intense storms and remove carbon from the atmosphere
IPCC: Recording of the IPCC Press Conference 2022, March 1, 2022.
Why This Matters
Just because people are adapting to their changing environment doesn't mean that they will produce a better result. Details and execution matter, especially to ensure adaptations are equitable. Changes often happen in response to a disaster, so planning and implementing new measures and following up with monitoring and evaluation can help promote climate adaptation.
"Gaps exist between current levels of adaptation and levels needed to respond to impacts and reduce climate risks," the report cautions. So far, most climate funding has been put toward mitigation efforts, not adaptation.
What's In A Successful Adaptation?
Maladaptations, or changes that "lead to an increase in the climate vulnerability of a system, sector or group," are to be avoided. One example of maladaptation involves failed mitigation efforts, or the unintended negative impacts of strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Meaning, the expansion of wind and solar could have impacts on biodiversity. "[T]he most serious emerging conflicts are between land-based approaches to mitigation and the protection of biodiversity," the report states.
For successful adaptations, the report calls out three metrics to use as benchmarks: effectiveness, feasibility, and justice. This IPCC report was the first to explicitly say that using justice as a guiding force in climate decision-making leads to better outcomes.
As Carbon Brief summarizes, using justice to make climate decisions means looking through three different justice lenses:
Distributive justice: Adaptation solutions that achieve fairness between individuals, states, and generations.
Procedural justice: Requiring communities to be well-acquainted with climate risks and given a voice in adaptation planning, and "genuine, not merely formal" participation from people affected.
Recognition: The "basic respect and robust engagement with and fair consideration of diverse values, cultures, perspectives, and worldviews." It is closely tied with the first two and without it actors "may not benefit" from them.
Climate change will exacerbate worsening poverty, injustice and inequity, and environmental degradation. Closing the gap between response and reduction of climate risks is critical and requires successful adaptation. Without, the report warns efforts "are leading away from, rather than toward, sustainable development."
The Guardian: Tuvalu minister gives Cop26 speech while standing knee deep in seawater, November 8, 2021.
CongoPeat: Exploring the Central Congo Basin Peatlands, November 9, 2021.