6. Adaptation, Sustainable Development, and Equity
Adaptation to climate change has the potential to substantially reduce many
of the adverse impacts of climate change and enhance beneficial impacts, though
neither without cost nor without leaving residual damage. In natural systems,
adaptation is reactive, whereas in human systems it also can be anticipatory.
Figure TS-9 presents types and examples of adaptation
to climate change. Experience with adaptation to climate variability and extremes
shows that in the private and public sectors there are constraints to achieving
the potential of adaptation. The adoption and effectiveness of private, or market-driven,
adaptations in sectors and regions are limited by other forces, institutional
conditions, and various sources of market failure. There is little evidence
to suggest that private adaptations will be employed to offset climate change
damages in natural environments. In some instances, adaptation measures may
have inadvertent consequences, including environmental damage. The ecological,
social, and economic costs of relying on reactive, autonomous adaptation to
the cumulative effects of climate change are substantial. Many of these costs
can be avoided through planned, anticipatory adaptation. Designed appropriately,
many adaptation strategies could provide multiple benefits in the near and longer
terms. However, there are limits on their implementation and effectiveness.
Enhancement of adaptive capacity reduces the vulnerability of sectors and regions
to climate change, including variability and extremes, and thereby promotes
sustainable development and equity. [18.2.4, 18.3.4]
Planned anticipatory adaptation has the potential to reduce vulnerability and
realize opportunities associated with climate change, regardless of autonomous
adaptation. Adaptation facilitated by public agencies is an important part of
societal response to climate change. Implementation of adaptation policies,
programs, and measures usually will have immediate and future benefits. Adaptations
to current climate and climate-related risks (e.g., recurring droughts, storms,
floods, and other extremes) generally are consistent with adaptation to changing
and changed climatic conditions. Adaptation measures are likely to be implemented
only if they are consistent with or integrated with decisions or programs that
address nonclimatic stresses. Vulnerabilities associated with climate change
are rarely experienced independently of nonclimatic conditions. Impacts of climatic
stimuli are felt via economic or social stresses, and adaptations to climate
(by individuals, communities, and governments) are evaluated and undertaken
in light of these conditions. The costs of adaptation often are marginal to
other management or development costs. To be effective, climate change adaptation
must consider nonclimatic stresses and be consistent with existing policy criteria,
development objectives, and management structures. [18.3.5,
The key features of climate change for vulnerability and adaptation are related
to variability and extremes, not simply changed average conditions (Figure
TS-10). Societies and economies have been making adaptations to climate
for centuries. Most sectors, regions, and communities are reasonably adaptable
to changes in average conditions, particularly if the changes are gradual. However,
losses from climatic variations and extremes are substantial and, in some sectors,
increasing. These losses indicate that autonomous adaptation has not been sufficient
to offset damages associated with temporal variations in climatic conditions.
Communities therefore are more vulnerable and less adaptable to changes in the
frequency and/or magnitude of conditions other than average, especially extremes,
which are inherent in climate change. The degree to which future adaptations
are successful in offsetting adverse impacts of climate change will be determined
by success in adapting to climate change, variability, and extremes. [18.2.2]
6.1. Adaptive Capacity
Figure TS-9: Types of adaptation to climate change, including
Figure TS-10: Climate change, variability, extremes, and coping
The capacity to adapt varies considerably among regions, countries, and
socioeconomic groups and will vary over time. Table TS-14
summarizes adaptation measures and capacities by sector, and Table
TS-15 provides this information for each region covered by the TAR. The
most vulnerable regions and communities are highly exposed to hazardous climate
change effects and have limited adaptive capacity. The ability to adapt and
cope with climate change impacts is a function of wealth, scientific and technical
knowledge, information, skills, infrastructure, institutions, and equity. Countries
with limited economic resources, low levels of technology, poor information
and skills, poor infrastructure, unstable or weak institutions, and inequitable
empowerment and access to resources have little capacity to adapt and are highly
vulnerable. Groups and regions with adaptive capacity that is limited along
any of these dimensions are more vulnerable to climate change damages, just
as they are more vulnerable to other stresses. [18.5,
|Table TS-14: Adaptation and adaptive capacity in
sectors (key findings from Chapters 4 through 9).
||- Water managers have experience with adapting to change. Many techniques
exist to assess and implement adaptive options. However, the pervasiveness
of climate change may preclude some traditional adaptive strategies, and
available adaptations often are not used.
- Adaptation can involve management on the supply side (e.g., altering
infrastructure or institutional arrangements) and on the demand side (changing
demand or risk reduction). Numerous no-regret policies exist, which will
generate net social benefits regardless of climate change.
- Climate change is just one of numerous pressures facing water managers.
Nowhere are water management decisions taken solely to cope with climate
change, although it is increasingly considered for future resource management.
Some vulnerabilities are outside the conventional responsibility of water
- Estimates of the economic costs of climate change impacts on water
resources depend strongly on assumptions made about adaptation. Economically
optimum adaptation may be prevented by constraints associated with uncertainty,
institutions, and equity.
- Extreme events often are catalysts for change in water management,
by exposing vulnerabilities and raising awareness of climate risks. Climate
change modifies indicators of extremes and variability, complicating adaptation
- Ability to adapt is affected by institutional capacity, wealth, management
philosophy, planning time scale, organizational and legal framework, technology,
and population mobility.
- Water managers need research and management tools aimed at adapting
to uncertainty and change, rather than improving climate scenarios.
|Ecosystems and Their Services
||- Adaptation to loss of some ecosystem services may be possible,
especially in managed ecosystems. However, adaptation to losses in wild
ecosystems and biodiversity may be difficult or impossible.
- There is considerable capacity for adaptation in agriculture, including
crop changes and resource substitutions, but adaptation to evolving climate
change and interannual variability is uncertain.
- Adaptations in agriculture are possible, but they will not happen
without considerable transition costs and equilibrium (or residual) costs.
- Greater adverse impacts are expected in areas where resource endowments
are poorest and the ability of farmers to adapt is most limited.
- In many countries where rangelands are important, lack of infrastructure
and investment in resource management limit options for adaptation.
- Commercial forestry is adaptable, reflecting a history of long-term
management decisions under uncertainty. Adaptations are expected in land-use
management (species-selection silviculture) and product management (processing-marketing).
- Adaptation in developed countries will fare better, while developing
countries and countries in transition, especially in the tropics and subtropics,
will fare worse.
||- Without adaptations, the consequences of global warming and sea-level
rise would be disastrous.
- Coastal adaptation entails more than just selecting one of the technical
options to respond to sea-level rise (strategies can aim to protect, accommodate,
or retreat). It is a complex and iterative process rather than a simple
- Adaptation options are more acceptable and effective when they are
incorporated into coastal zone management, disaster mitigation programs,
land-use planning, and sustainable development strategies.
- Adaptation choices will be conditioned by existing policies and development
objectives, requiring researchers and policymakers to work toward a commonly
acceptable framework for adaptation.
- The adaptive capacity of coastal systems to perturbations is related
to coastal resilience, which has morphological, ecological, and socioeconomic
components. Enhancing resilienceincluding the technical, institutional,
economic, and cultural capability to cope with impactsis a particularly
appropriate adaptive strategy given future uncertainties and the desire
to maintain development opportunities.
- Coastal communities and marine-based economic sectors with low exposure
or high adaptive capacity will be least affected. Communities with lower
economic resources, poorer infrastructure, less-developed communications
and transportation systems, and weak social support systems have less access
to adaptation options and are more vulnerable.
|Human Settlements, Energy, and Industry
||- Larger and more costly impacts of climate change occur through
changed probabilities of extreme weather events that overwhelm the design
resiliency of human systems.
- Many adaptation options are available to reduce the vulnerability
of settlements. However, urban managers, especially in developing countries,
have so little capacity to deal with current problems (housing, sanitation,
water, and power) that dealing with climate change risks is beyond their
- Lack of financial resources, weak institutions, and inadequate or
inappropriate planning are major barriers to adaptation in human settlements.
- Successful environmental adaptation cannot occur without locally
based, technically competent, and politically supported leadership.
- Uncertainty with respect to capacity and the will to respond hinder
assessment of adaptation and vulnerability.
|Insurance and Other Financial Services
||- Adaptation in financial and insurance services in the short term
is likely to be to changing frequencies and intensities of extreme weather
- Increasing risk could lead to a greater volume of traditional business
and development of new financial risk management products, but increased
variability of loss events would heighten actuarial uncertainty.
- Financial services firms have adaptability to external shocks, but
there is little evidence that climate change is being incorporated into
- The adaptive capacity of the financial sector is influenced by regulatory
involvement, the ability of firms to withdraw from at-risk markets, and
fiscal policy regarding catastrophe reserves.
- Adaptation will involve changes in the roles of private and public
insurance. Changes in the timing, intensity, frequency, and/or spatial distribution
of climate-related losses will generate increased demand on already overburdened
government insurance and disaster assistance programs.
- Developing countries seeking to adapt in a timely manner face particular
difficulties, including limited availability of capital, poor access to
technology, and absence of government programs.
- Insurers' adaptations include raising prices, non-renewal of
policies, cessation of new policies, limiting maximum claims, and raising
deductiblesactions that can seriously affect investment in developing
- Developed countries generally have greater adaptive capacity, including
technology and economic means to bear costs.
||- Adaptation involves changes in society, institutions, technology,
or behavior to reduce potential negative impacts or increase positive ones.
There are numerous adaptation options, which may occur at the population,
community, or personal levels.
- The most important and cost-effective adaptation measure is to rebuild
public health infrastructurewhich, in much of the world, has declined
in recent years. Many diseases and health problems that may be exacerbated
by climate change can be effectively prevented with adequate financial and
human public health resources, including training, surveillance and emergency
response, and prevention and control programs.
- Adaptation effectiveness will depend on timing. "Primary"
prevention aims to reduce risks before cases occur, whereas "secondary"
interventions are designed to prevent further cases.
- Determinants of adaptive capacity to climate-related threats include
level of material resources, effectiveness of governance and civil institutions,
quality of public health infrastructure, and preexisting burden of disease.
- Capacity to adapt also will depend on research to understand associations
between climate, weather, extreme events, and vector-borne diseases.
6.2. Development, Sustainability, and Equity
|Table TS-15: Adaptation and capacity in regions
(key findings from Chapters 10 through 17).
||- Adaptive measures would enhance flexibility and have net benefits
in water resources (irrigation and water reuse, aquifer and groundwater
management, desalinization), agriculture (crop changes, technology, irrigation,
husbandry), and forestry (regeneration of local species, energy-efficient
cook stoves, sustainable community management).
- Without adaptation, climate change will reduce the wildlife reserve
network significantly by altering ecosystems and causing species' emigrations
and extinctions. This represents an important ecological and economic vulnerability
- A risk-sharing approach between countries will strengthen adaptation
strategies, including disaster
management, risk communication, emergency evacuation, and cooperative water
- Most countries in Africa are particularly vulnerable to climate change
because of limited adaptive capacity as a result of widespread poverty,
recurrent droughts, inequitable land distribution, and dependence on rainfed
- Enhancement of adaptive capacity requires local empowerment in decisionmaking
and incorporation of climate adaptation within broader sustainable development
||- Priority areas for adaptation are land and water resources, food
productivity, and disaster preparedness and planning, particularly for poorer,
- Adaptations already are required to deal with vulnerabilities associated
with climate variability, in human health, coastal settlements, infrastructure,
and food security. Resilience of most sectors in Asia to climate change
is very poor. Expansion of irrigation will be difficult and costly in many
- For many developing countries in Asia, climate change is only one
of a host of problems to deal with, including nearer term needs such as
hunger, water supply and pollution, and energy. Resources available for
adaptation to climate are limited. Adaptation responses are closely linked
to development activities, which should be considered in evaluating adaptation
- Early signs of climate change already have been observed and may
become more prominent over 1 or 2 decades. If this time is not used to design
and implement adaptations, it may be too late to avoid upheavals. Long-term
adaptation requires anticipatory actions.
- A wide range of precautionary measures are available at the regional
and national level to reduce
economic and social impacts of disasters. These strategies include awareness-building
and expansion of the insurance industry.
- Development of effective adaptation strategies requires local involvement,
inclusion of community
perceptions, and recognition of multiple stresses on sustainable management
- Adaptive capacities vary between countries, depending on social structure,
culture, economic capacity, and level of environmental disruptions. Limiting
factors include poor resource and infrastructure bases, poverty and disparities
in income, weak institutions, and limited technology.
- The challenge in Asia lies in identifying opportunities to facilitate
sustainable development with strategies that make climate-sensitive sectors
resilient to climate variability.
- Adaptation strategies would benefit from taking a more systems-oriented
approach, emphasizing multiple interactive stresses, with less dependence
on climate scenarios.
|Australia and New Zealand
||- Adaptations are needed to manage risks from climatic variability
and extremes. Pastoral economies and communities have considerable adaptability
but are vulnerable to any increase in the frequency or duration of droughts.
- Adaptation options include water management, land-use practices and
policies, engineering standards for infrastructure, and health services.
- Adaptations will be viable only if they are compatible with the broader
ecological and socioeconomic environment, have net social and economic benefits,
and are taken up by stakeholders.
- Adaptation responses may be constrained by conflicting short- and
long-term planning horizons.
- Poorer communities, including many indigenous settlements, are particularly
vulnerable to climate-related hazards and stresses on health because they
often are in exposed areas and have less adequate housing, health care,
and other resources for adaptation.
||- Adaptation potential in socioeconomic systems is relatively high
because strong economic conditions, stable population (with capacity to
migrate), and well-developed political, institutional, and technological
- The response of human activities and the natural environment to current
weather perturbations provides a guide to critical sensitivities under future
- Adaptation in forests requires long-term planning; it is unlikely
that adaptation measures will be put in place in a timely manner.
- Farm-level analyses show that if adaptation is fully implemented
large reductions in adverse impacts are possible.
- Adaptation for natural systems generally is low.
- More marginal and less wealthy areas will be less able to adapt;
thus, without appropriate policies of response, climate change may lead
to greater inequities.
||- Adaptation measures have potential to reduce climate-related losses
in agriculture and forestry.
- There are opportunities for adapting to water shortages and flooding
through water resource management.
- Adaptation measures in the fishery sector include changing species
captured and increasing prices to reduce losses.
||- Strain on social and economic systems from rapid climate and sea-level
changes will increase the need for explicit adaptation strategies. In some
cases, adaptation may yield net benefits, especially if climate change is
- Stakeholders in most sectors believe that technology is available
to adapt, although at some social and economic cost.
- Adaptation is expected to be more successful in agriculture and forestry.
However, adaptations for water, health, food, energy, and cities are likely
to require substantial institutional and infrastructure changes.
- In the water sector, adaptations to seasonal runoff changes include
storage, conjunctive supply management, and transfer. It may not be possible
to continue current high levels of reliability of water supply, especially
with transfers to high-valued uses. Adaptive measures such as "water
markets" may lead to concerns about accessibility and conflicts over
- Adaptations such as levees and dams often are successful in managing
most variations in weather but can increase vulnerability to the most extreme
- There is moderate potential for adaptation through conservation programs
that protect particularly threatened ecosystems, such as high alpines and
wetlands. It may be difficult or impossible to offset adverse impacts on
||- Adaptation will occur in natural polar ecosystems through migration
and changing mixes of species. Species such as walrus, seals, and polar
bears will be threatened; while others, such as fish, may flourish.
- Potential for adaptation is limited in indigenous communities that
follow traditional lifestyles.
- Technologically developed communities are likely to adapt quite readily,
although the high capital investment required may result in costs in maintaining
- Adaptation depends on technological advances, institutional arrangements,
availability of financing, and information exchange.
|Small Island States
||- The need for adaptation has become increasingly urgent, even if
swift implementation of global agreements to reduce future emissions occurs.
- Most adaptation will be carried out by people and communities that
inhabit island countries; support from governments is essential for implementing
- Progress will require integration of appropriate risk-reduction strategies
with other sectoral policy initiatives in areas such as sustainable development
planning, disaster prevention and management, integrated coastal zone management,
and health care planning.
- Strategies for adaptation to sea-level rise are retreat, accommodate,
and protect. Measures such as retreat to higher ground, raising of the land,
and use of building set-backs appear to have little practical utility, especially
when hindered by limited physical size.
- Measures for reducing the severity of health threats include health
education programs, health care facilities, sewerage and solid waste management,
and disaster preparedness plans.
- Islanders have developed some capacity to adapt by application of
traditional knowledge, locally appropriate technology, and customary practice.
Overall adaptive capacity is low, however, because of the physical size
of nations, limited access to capital and technology, shortage of human
resource skills, lack of tenure security, overcrowding, and limited access
to resources for construction.
- Many small islands require external financial, technical, and other
assistance to adapt. Adaptive capacity may be enhanced by regional cooperation
and pooling of limited resources.
Activities required for enhancement of adaptive capacity are essentially
equivalent to those promoting sustainable development. Enhancement of adaptive
capacity is a necessary condition for reducing vulnerability, particularly for
the most vulnerable regions, nations, and socioeconomic groups. Many sectors
and regions that are vulnerable to climate change also are under pressure from
forces such as population growth and resource depletion. Climate adaptation
and sustainability goals can be jointly advanced by changes in policies that
lessen pressure on resources, improve management of environmental risks, and
enhance adaptive capacity. Climate adaptation and equity goals can be jointly
pursued through initiatives that promote the welfare of the poorest members
of societyfor example, by improving food security, facilitating access
to safe water and health care, and providing shelter and access to other resources.
Development decisions, activities, and programs play important roles in modifying
the adaptive capacity of communities and regions, yet they tend not to take
into account risks associated with climate variability and change. Inclusion
of climatic risks in the design and implementation of development initiatives
is necessary to reduce vulnerability and enhance sustainability. [18.6.1]