Adaptation to climate change

As we have seen, some of the impacts of climate change are already apparent. A degree of adaptation63 therefore has already become a necessity. Numerous possible adaptation options for responding to climate change have already been identified - examples are given in Table 7.2. Because it takes some decades for the oceans to warm, there also exists a substantial commitment to further climate change even if carbon dioxide emissions were to be halted. Urgent action is therefore necessary to consider the further substantial adaptation which will be necessary.

These can reduce adverse impacts and enhance beneficial effects of climate change and can also produce immediate ancillary benefits, but they cannot prevent all damages. Many of the options listed are presently employed to cope with current climate variability and extremes; their expanded use can enhance both current and future capacity to cope. But such actions may not be as effective in the future as the amount and rate of climate change increase. To make a list of possible adaptation options is relatively easy. If they are to be applied effectively, much more information needs to be generated regarding the detail and the cost of their application over the wide range of circumstances where they will be required.

Of particular importance is the requirement for adaptation to extreme events and disasters such as floods, droughts and severe storms.64 Vulnerability to such events can be substantially reduced by much more adequate prepara-tion.65 For instance, following Hurricanes George and Mitch, the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) identified a range of policies to reduce the impact of such events:66

• undertaking vulnerability studies of existing water supply and sanitation systems and ensuring that new systems are built to reduce vulnerability;

• developing and improving training programmes and information systems for national programmes and international cooperation on emergency management;

• developing and testing early warning systems that should be coordinated by a single national agency and involve vulnerable communities. Provision is also required for providing and evaluating mental care, particularly for those who may be especially vulnerable to the adverse psychosocial effects of disasters (e.g. children, the elderly and the bereaved).

Table 7.2 Selected examples of planned adaptation by sector


Adaptation option/ strategy

Underlying policy framework

Key constraints and opportunities for implementation (Normal font=constraints; italics=opportunities)


Expanded rainwater harvesting; water storage and conservation techniques; water reuse; desalination; water use and irrigation efficiency

National water policies and integrated water resources management; water-related hazards management

Financial, human resources and physical barriers; integrated water resources management; synergies with other sectors


Adjustment of planting dates and crop variety; crop relocation; improved land management, e.g. erosion control and soil protection through tree planting

R&D policies; institutional reform; land tenure and land reform; training; capacity building; crop insurance; financial incentives, e.g. subsidies and tax credits

Technological and financial constraints; access to new varieties; markets; longer growing season in higher latitudes; revenues from 'new' products

Infrastructure/ settlement (including coastal zones)

Relocation; seawalls and storm surge barriers; dune reinforcement; land acquisition and creation of marshlands/wetlands as buffer against sea level rise and flooding; protection of existing natural barriers

Standards and regulations that integrate climate change considerations into design; land-use policies; building codes; insurance

Financial and technological barriers; availability of relocation space; integrated policies and management; synergies with sustainable development goals

Human health

Heat-health action plans; emergency medical services; improved climate-sensitive disease surveillance and control; safe water and improved sanitation

Public health policies that recognise climate risk; strengthened health services; regional and international cooperation

Limits to human tolerance (vulnerable groups); knowledge limitations; financial capacity; upgraded health services; improved quality of life

Table 7.2 Gont.


Adaptation option/ strategy

Underlying policy framework

Key constraints and opportunities for implementation (Normal font = constraints; italics=opportunities)


Diversification of tourism attractions and revenues; shifting ski slopes to higher altitudes and glaciers; artificial snow-making

Integrated planning (e.g. carrying capacity; linkages with other sectors); financial incentives, e.g. subsidies and tax credits

Appeal/ marketing of new attractions; financial and logistical challenges; potential adverse impact on other sectors (e.g. artificial snow-making may increase energy use); revenues from 'new' attractions; involvement of wider group of stakeholders


Realignment/relocation; design standards and planning for roads, rail and other infrastructure to cope with warming and drainage

Integrating climate change considerations into national transport policy; investment in R&D for special situations, e.g. permafrost areas

Financial and technological barriers; availability of less vulnerable routes; Improved technologies and integration with key sectors (e.g. energy)


Strengthening of overhead transmission and distribution infrastructure; underground cabling for utilities; energy efficiency; use of renewable sources; reduced dependence on single sources of energy

National energy policies, regulation, and fiscal and financial incentives to encourage use of alternative sources; incorporating climate change in design standards

Access to viable alternatives; financial and technological barriers; acceptance of new technologies; stimulation of new technologies; use of local resources

Note: Other examples from many sectors would include early warning systems.

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