Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

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2.7. Adaptation is a Necessary Strategy at All Scales to Complement Climate Change Mitigation Efforts

Adaptation has the potential to reduce adverse impacts of climate change and to enhance beneficial impacts, but will incur costs and will not prevent all damages. Extremes, variability, and rates of change are all key features in addressing vulnerability and adaptation to climate change, not simply changes in average climate conditions. Human and natural systems will to some degree adapt autonomously to climate change. Planned adaptation can supplement autonomous adaptation, though options and incentives are greater for adaptation of human systems than for adaptation to protect natural systems. Adaptation is a necessary strategy at all scales to complement climate change mitigation efforts. [6]

Experience with adaptation to climate variability and extremes can be drawn upon to develop appropriate strategies for adapting to anticipated climate change. Adaptation to current climate variability and extremes often produces benefits as well as forming a basis for coping with future climate change. However, experience also demonstrates that there are constraints to achieving the full measure of potential adaptation. In addition, maladaptation, such as promoting development in risk-prone locations, can occur due to decisions based on short-term considerations, neglect of known climatic variability, imperfect foresight, insufficient information, and over-reliance on insurance mechanisms. [6]

2.8 Those with the Least Resources have the Least Capacity to Adapt and are the Most Vulnerable

The ability of human systems to adapt to and cope with climate change depends on such factors as wealth, technology, education, information, skills, infrastructure, access to resources, and management capabilities. There is potential for developed and developing countries to enhance and/or acquire adaptive capabilities. Populations and communities are highly variable in their endowments with these attributes, and the developing countries, particularly the least developed countries, are generally poorest in this regard. As a result, they have lesser capacity to adapt and are more vulnerable to climate change damages, just as they are more vulnerable to other stresses. This condition is most extreme among the poorest people. [6.1; see also 5.1.7, 5.2.7, 5.3.5, 5.4.6, 5.6.1, 5.6.2, 5.7, and 5.8.1 for regional-scale information]

Benefits and costs of climate change effects have been estimated in monetary units and aggregated to national, regional, and global scales. These estimates generally exclude the effects of changes in climate variability and extremes, do not account for the effects of different rates of change, and only partially account for impacts on goods and services that are not traded in markets. These omissions are likely to result in underestimates of economic losses and overestimates of economic gains. Estimates of aggregate impacts are controversial because they treat gains for some as canceling out losses for others and because the weights that are used to aggregate across individuals are necessarily subjective. [7.2.2 and 7.2.3]

Notwithstanding the limitations expressed above, based on a few published estimates, increases in global mean temperature9 would produce net economic losses in many developing countries for all magnitudes of warming studied (low confidence6), and losses would be greater in magnitude the higher the level of warming (medium confidence6). In contrast, an increase in global mean temperature of up to a few °C would produce a mixture of economic gains and losses in developed countries (low 6), with economic losses for larger temperature increases (medium confidence6). The projected distribution of economic impacts is such that it would increase the disparity in well-being between developed countries and developing countries, with disparity growing for higher projected temperature increases (medium confidence6). The more damaging impacts estimated for developing countries reflects, in part, their lesser adaptive capacity relative to developed countries. [7.2.3]

Further, when aggregated to a global scale, world gross domestic product (GDP) would change by ± a few percent for global mean temperature increases of up to a few °C (low confidence6), and increasing net losses would result for larger increases in temperature (medium confidence6) (see Figure SPM-2). More people are projected to be harmed than benefited by climate change, even for global mean temperature increases of less than a few °C (low confidence6). These results are sensitive to assumptions about changes in regional climate, level of development, adaptive capacity, rate of change, the valuation of impacts, and the methods used for aggregating monetary losses and gains, including the choice of discount rate. [7.2.2]

The effects of climate change are expected to be greatest in developing countries in terms of loss of life and relative effects on investment and the economy. For example, the relative percentage damages to GDP from climate extremes have been substantially greater in developing countries than in developed countries. [4.6]

2.9. Adaptation, Sustainable Development, and Enhancement of Equity can be Mutually Reinforcing Many communities and regions that are vulnerable to climate change are also under pressure from forces such as population growth, resource depletion, and poverty. Policies that lessen pressures on resources, improve management of environmental risks, and increase the welfare of the poorest members of society can simultaneously advance sustainable development and equity, enhance adaptive capacity, and reduce vulnerability to climate and other stresses. Inclusion of climatic risks in the design and implementation of national and international development initiatives can promote equity and development that is more sustainable and that reduces vulnerability to climate change. [6.2]

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