Millions of people around the world are already adapting to the effects of climate change. Many vulnerable communities have been displaced and forced to migrate. Others are experiencing extreme heat, violent storms, floods, fires, and rising seas caused by the planet’s warming temperatures.
Reducing greenhouse gas emissions can help slow the causes of climate change, but since the effects of climate change are already being felt, strategies must be implemented to protect people’s homes, food supplies, and livelihoods.
If humanity is going to survive climate change, we are going to have to learn to live with it — and help others adapt as well.
What is climate adaptation?
Adaptation means figuring out how to live with the effects of climate change. This requires a long-term vision for the future that means changing the way we grow food, build our homes, and modify our lives to better adapt to a new environment.
Climate adaptation focuses on the future, coming up with strategies for agriculture, energy, and other essential sectors.
How does climate adaptation differ from climate mitigation?
Climate mitigation focuses on what needs to be done immediately to reduce carbon emissions and slow down the causes of climate change. This involves reducing carbon emissions to prevent further warming of the planet. Climate change adaptation means learning to live with the changes that have and will come from climate change.
How does climate adaptation differ from climate resilience?
Climate resilience is the capacity to cope with serious climate events. Planning, preparation, and anticipation of shocks are needed to help people and communities recover quickly and efficiently.
Challenges with climate adaptation
Climate change currently impacts millions already at risk of political instability, food insecurity, lack of services, and other harsh conditions which are intensified by environmental disaster. These communities are in the most need of climate adaptation resources, but are the least able to fund and implement strategies. For countries that already struggle with meeting the basic needs of their citizens, these plans can seem like an insurmountable challenge.
The United Nations estimates that by 2030 adapting to the changing environment will cost developing countries US$300 billion each year, which is meant to be offset by wealthier countries as set forth by the Paris Climate Agreement. As of now, only 21% (about US$16.8 billion) of financial resources contributed by wealthier countries is directed to people in these vulnerable countries.
In the meantime, many countries are already coming up with their own ways to adapt to climate change.
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Climate adaptation strategies
While the United Nations Committee on Climate Change says there is no “one size fits all” solution for climate adaptation, it does have a framework for supporting individual countries’ strategies for facing the future.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) assists efforts in over 50 countries with programs that include:
- Ecosystem-based adaptation — Implementing projects that use existing biodiversity and ecosystem services.
- Knowledge, analysis and networking — Utilizing global networks to share information and resources between countries.
- World Adaptation Science Programme — Overseeing a common platform for the adaptation research community and global decision-makers.
- Access to adaptation finance — Supporting governments and partners in obtaining funding for climate responses and innovations.
- National Adaptation Plans — Helping individual countries navigate the National Adaptation Plan (NAP) process. The NAP process seeks to identify medium- and long-term adaptation needs, informed by the latest climate science, and then plan strategies to address major vulnerabilities.
Kenya submitted a National Adaptation Plan in 2017 to address increased flooding and worsening drought conditions related to famine, disease, and lack of access to clean water. The plan also directs effort into adapting to rising sea levels in the country on the coast of East Africa and devotes resources into strengthening fisheries, agriculture, and other food chain sectors in Kenya for its most vulnerable populations.
Adaptation measures are making a difference in the Philippines, where rising seas, food insecurity, and storm surges threaten properties and livelihoods. Since the government passed the Climate Change Act in 2009, the Philippines has supported flood-resistant infrastructure projects and improved financial safety nets for coastal farmers.
In Costa Rica, where climate change was named the government’s number one priority in 2007, a plan of comprehensive adaptive climate strategies was recently announced to fast-track the country’s readiness. It includes plans for the adaptation of public services, production systems, and infrastructure, and the implementation of nature-based solutions.
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Covering the costs of climate adaptation
Building climate-resilient infrastructure, improving food security, and evolving the way we live takes money, and plenty of it. While some countries have the resources to cover the costs of climate adaptation, many do not.
As mentioned above, the Paris Agreement, as well as the Kyoto Protocol, requires these wealthier countries — which are responsible for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions — to offset the needs of less developed countries. To this end, several funds have been established to direct financial resources towards the governments of these nations.
But what about individuals, many of whom have the least power or ability to adapt to climate change and are the most vulnerable to loss? There are ways to help people around the world adapt to climate change and increase their resilience. One of these avenues is microfinance, which increases access to loans and other financial services to those previously excluded from traditional banking.
Microloans can improve quality of life for farmers and provide much-needed capital to help them implement adaptive strategies, such as drought-tolerant maize that increases crop yields in the face of unpredictable rainfall. Microloans also offer ways for individuals to diversify their livelihoods and create new revenue streams as the environment continues to change.
For lenders, loans provide an opportunity to support others — after all, we are all living on the same planet.