Lets say that one day you and everyone else in your street receive a phone call telling you that in one weeks time, a very large storm is going to come to your area. It’s unclear how strong the storm is going to be, or where it is going to come from, but it is definitely coming, and it probably won’t be good for you or your property, at least in the short-term. What do you do?
You might choose to leave home. Head to your cousins in the countryside, or to another city where there isn’t going to be a storm. Or you might decide to stick it out, save up some provisions to last out the storm, and deal with the consequences later. You might even start putting money aside in case the roof is blown off, or selling some possessions so that you have a little fund available in case it happens. Perhaps you’ll even start taking precautions now, building wind and rain shelters and reinforcing your house against potential damage. Or even take out some insurance while you still can. What you choose to do will depend on your specific situation – can you save money? Do you have the know-how to fix your house? Are you on good terms with the neighbours – could you club together to build a shelter for your street for when the storm hits? Perhaps, if you have no job (maybe you work from home), and no cousins, you’ll just wait it out and hope for the best – if you’re lucky, maybe the government will send some help, or rescue you afterwards if it gets really bad. Or maybe not. Perhaps, if you’re the entrepreneurial sort, you might put in a quick investment in roofing materials and tools,since you know that if the storm is bad, the neighbours are all going to want to fix their roofs at a cheap cost, and fast, once it dies down. Maybe you have lived in a storm prone area before, and you already have a 4×4 or a dinghy that you keep in the basement for just these situations. Maybe you’ll charge people to use your car and boat when all this happens again in the future?
All of these options would constitute adaptation. by taking some action to manage a perceived change, you would be adapting, either through leaving, making use of an opportunity, or preparing yourself for the worst in order to reduce the anticipated damage. These last two might constitute building “resilience” – that is, making you resistant to anticipate negative effects, and ideally, able to take advantage of them. The example above only describes a short term threat, but the issue is equally important for long-term “slow-onset” changes. The gradual changing of weather patterns, average temperatures, sea levels, health threats etc.
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) defines climate change adaptation as referring “to adjustments in ecological, social or economic systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli and their effects or impacts. It refers to changes in processes, practices, and structures to moderate potential damages or to benefit from opportunities associated with climate change”.
That’s a broad, technical and somewhat vague definition, and it has to be, as there is no one way to “adapt to climate change”. Very simply, we know that the climate is changing – changing temperatures, weather patterns, seasons, rainfall (both in its timing, intensity and distribution across a geographic area), and we know that these changes will have a wide array of consequences. There might be less water , more water, more salt in the water, less salt in the water, more heat, more ice, more plankton, less fish … the list goes on. And each combination of changes to the usual environment have consequences that go on down the line indefinitely. These changes affect livelihoods, for example, salty water from flooded coastal lands means it gets much harder to grow crops, which is a major problem if you’re income depends on your farm. . Or things might be hotter, or not hot enough, or hot but not for a long enough time, meaning that the crops your used to growing won’t grow anymore. What’s more, The increase in temperature might have impacts on health, say, because Malaria carrying mosquito’s will be able to live in new places. Or sudden flooding might carry water-bourne parasites far further than they have ever been before.
Put simply, there is an element of unpredictability to climate change adaptation, bringing with it a significant measure of uncertainty. And whether there is uncertainty, there is debate and discussion, and in these environments, there is politics.