2.3.7. What Recent Progress has been Made in Assessing Adaptive Capacity?
In recent years, assessment of adaptive capacity has emerged as a critical
focus of attention, for two reasons: the realization that the Kyoto Protocol
is inadequate to prevent substantial changes in climate, and the rising expectation
that social and natural systems can cope with climate change, at least within
limits, and that adaptation is a viable option to reduce GHG emissions.
Although there are numerous examples of model calculations for adaptive shifts
in flora, far less attention has been paid to assessing the adaptability of
the system as a whole (e.g., White et al., 1999). In contrast with other
phenomena, such as changes in the water cycle, changes in natural ecosystems
are related to a long-term process of adaptation and extinction. As noted above,
transient climate change scenarios have become a mainstream research procedure.
The recent literature concerned with the impacts of climate change on the managed
environment [e.g., on agriculture (see Section 5.3) and
coastal zones (see Section 6.7)] generally considers adaptive
strategies (e.g., Rosenzweig and Parry, 1994). Water management, for example,
has a long history of evaluation of strategies for adapting to climate change
and variation (Frederick et al., 1997). However, adaptation often is
approached narrowly in terms of technological options. Adaptation processesincluding
the environmental, behavioral, economic, institutional, and cultural factors
that serve as barriers or incentives to adaptation over timeoften are
Five methodological directions could enhance future work on adaptation (see
Chapter 18). First, methods for increasing understanding
of the relationship between adaptation, individual decisionmaking, and local
conditions are required. For example, adaptation by farmers could avoid more
than half of the potential impacts of climate change on agriculture (e.g., Darwin
et al., 1995; El-Shaer et al., 1997). The mix of appropriate measures
depends, however, on the local context of soils, climates, economic infrastructure,
and other resources (Rosenzweig and Tubiello, 1997) and how they are perceived
by farmers. Assessments of adaptation could address these issues of site-scale
characteristics and local knowledge, perhaps through participatory methods (e.g.,
Cohen, 1997, 1998) or interviews and expert opinion (as in the UK Climate Impacts
ProgrammeMackenzie-Hedger et al., 2000; see <http://www.ukcip.org>).
Second, interactions across scale are likely to be significant for adaptation.
In the agricultural sector, for example, adaptive strategies are influenced
by multi-scale factorsat the farm, national, and global levelsand
their integration into decisionmaking. Methods and tools for examining these
multi-scale interactions and their implications for adaptation are required,
such as multi-level modeling (Easterling et al., 1998), integrated assessment
(see Section 2.4), and agent-based simulation (Downing
et al., 2000).
Third, specific measures (such as changing planting dates and cultivars) and
longer term adaptation strategies and processes (such as monitoring and research)
need to be addressed. Many studies focus on the former; assessing the latter
is a major methodological challenge.
Fourth, comparative frameworks are required for assessing the priority of adaptation
strategies across populations, regions, and sectors, in addition to evaluating
specific measures. Fankhauser (1998) devised a list of adaptation policy options,
discussed conceptual issues of economic evaluation, and illustrated typical
cost/benefit calculation methods. Section 2.5 considers
the use of economic evaluation methods, but nonmonetary frameworks are alternatives
(see Huq et al., 1999, for a case example). Issues of equity and valuation
on indirect benefits and costs are salient.
Fifth, adaptation to extremes and variability already are important areas of
assessment (see above) but need to be more explicitly tied to longer term climate
Sixth, stakeholder evaluation of adaptation strategies and measures is requiredfor
example, using decision analytical tools, as noted in Section
2.7. Indicators of vulnerability could be used to monitor the effectiveness
of adaptative strategies and measures (see Downing et al., 2001)