IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

14.5.3 Constraints and opportunities

Social and cultural barriers

High adaptive capacity, as in most of North America, should be an asset for coping with or benefiting from climate change. Capacity, however, does not ensure positive action or any action at all. Societal values, perceptions and levels of cognition shape adaptive behaviour (Schneider, 2004). In North America, information about climate change is usually not ‘mainstreamed’ or explicitly considered (Dougherty and Osaman Elasha, 2004) in the overall decision-making process (Slovic, 2000; Leiss, 2001). This can lead to actions that are maladapted, for example, development near floodplains or coastal areas known to be vulnerable to climate change. Water managers are unlikely to use climate forecasts, even when they recognise the vulnerability, unless the forecast information can fit directly into their everyday management decisions (Dow et al., 2007).

Informational and technological barriers

Uncertainty about the local impacts of climate change is a barrier to action (NRC, 2004). Incomplete knowledge of disaster safety options (Murphy, 2004; Murphy et al., 2005) further constrains adaptive behaviour. Climate change information must be available in a form that fits the needs of decision-makers. For example, insurance companies use climate models with outputs specifically designed to support decisions related to the risk of insolvency, pricing and deductibles, regulatory and rating agency considerations, and reinsurance (Swiss Re, 2005a). Some electrical utilities have begun to integrate climate model output into planning and management of hydropower production (Ouranos, 2004).

A major challenge is the need for efficient technology and knowledge transfer. In general, questions about responsibility for funding research, involving stakeholders, and linking communities, government and markets have not been answered (Ouranos, 2004). Another constraint is resistance to new technologies (e.g., genetically modified crops), so that some promising adaptations in the agricultural, water resource management and forestry sectors are unlikely to be realised (Goklany, 2000, 2001).

Financial and market barriers

In the U.S., recent spending on adaptation to extremes has been a sound investment, contributing to reduced fatalities, injuries and significant economic benefits. The Multihazard Mitigation Council (2005) found that US$3.5 billion in spending between 1993 and 2003 on programmes to reduce future damages from flooding, severe wind and earthquakes contributed US$14 billion in societal benefits. The greatest savings were in flood (5-fold) and wind (4-fold) damage reduction. Adaptation also benefited government as each dollar of spending resulted in US$3.65 in savings or increased tax revenue. This is consistent with earlier case studies; the Canadian $65 million invested in 1968 to create the Manitoba Floodway has prevented several billion dollars in flood damage (Duguid, 2002).

Economic issues are frequently the dominant factors influencing adaptive decisions. This includes community response to coastal erosion (Moser, 2000), investments to enhance water resource systems (Report of the Water Strategy Expert Panel, 2005), protective retrofits to residences (Simmons et al., 2002; Kunreuther, 2006), and changes in insurance practices (Kovacs, 2005a). The cost and availability of economic resources clearly influence choices (WHO, 2003), as does the private versus public identity of the beneficiaries (Moser, 2000).

Sometimes, financial barriers interact with the slow turnover of existing infrastructure (Figure 14.3). Extensive property damage in Florida during Hurricane Andrew in 1992 led to significant revisions to the building code. If all properties in southern Florida met this updated code in 1992, then property damage from Hurricane Andrew would have been lower by nearly 45% (AIR, 2002). Florida will, however, still experience extensive damage from hurricanes through damage to the large number of older homes and businesses. Other financial barriers come from the challenge property owners face in recovering the costs of protecting themselves. Hidden adaptations tend to be undervalued, relative to obvious ones. For example, homes with storm shutters sell for more than homes without this visible adaptation, while less visible retrofits, such as tie-down straps to hold the roof in high winds, add less to the resale value of the home, relative to their cost (Simmons et al., 2002).

Figure 14.3

Figure 14.3. Typical infrastructure lifetimes in North America (data from Lewis, 1987; Bettigole, 1990; EIA, 1999, 2001; Statistics Canada, 2001a; BEA, 2003), in relation to projected North American warming for 2000 to 2100 (relative to 1901-1950) for the A1B scenario, from the IPCC AR4 Multi-Model Dataset (yellow envelope). Measured and modelled anomalies for 2000 are shown with black and orange bars, respectively. Projected warming for 2091 to 2100 for the B1, A1B and A2 scenarios are indicated by the blue, yellow and red bars, respectively at the right (data from Christensen et al., 2007: Box 11.1 Figure 1).