6.6.4 Adaptive capacity
Adaptive capacity is the ability of a system to evolve in order to accommodate climate changes or to expand the range of variability with which it can cope (see Chapter 17 for further explanation). The adaptive capacity of coastal communities to cope with the effects of severe climate impacts declines if there is a lack of physical, economic and institutional capacities to reduce climate-related risks and hence the vulnerability of high-risk communities and groups. But even a high adaptive capacity may not translate into effective adaptation if there is no commitment to sustained action (Luers and Moser, 2006).
Current pressures are likely to adversely affect the integrity of coastal ecosystems and thereby their ability to cope with additional pressures, including climate change and sea-level rise. This is a particularly significant factor in areas where there is a high level of development, large coastal populations and high levels of interference with coastal systems. Natural coastal habitats, such as dunes and wetlands, have a buffering capacity which can help reduce the adverse impacts of climate change. Equally, improving shoreline management for non-climate change reasons will also have benefits in terms of responding to sea-level rise and climate change (Nicholls and Klein, 2005). Adopting a static policy approach towards sea-level rise conflicts with sustaining a dynamic coastal system that responds to perturbations via sediment movement and long-term evolution (Crooks, 2004). In the case of coastal megacities, maintaining and enhancing both resilience and adaptive capacity for weather-related hazards are critically important policy and management goals. The dual approach brings benefits in terms of linking analysis of present and future hazardous conditions. It also enhances the capacity for disaster prevention and preparedness, disaster recovery and for adaptation to climate change (Klein et al., 2003).